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Finding Balance: how DO we thrive?

by David Shackleton
(David can be reached at david@integraldesign.org)

It sometimes seems that the theme of my life has been discovering all of the ways that we can be out of balance (often by living that way myself), and how to recognize them.  Since I consider that human maturity is primarily about balance, I am beginning a monthly column about balance. Each month I will consider a different aspect of this endlessly interesting phenomenon.

This month’s offering is sparked by my attendance a week ago at the CREWC ‘Free Events Day’ screening of the movie Thrive. The basic message of the movie was that there exists a hidden conspiracy of elite movers and shakers who for many years have kept us all from thriving. The movie holds these powerful individuals responsible for withholding a cure for cancer as well as technology for boundless, cheap energy which is apparently available to anyone from the very fabric of the universe, and for the western pattern of indebtedness, as well as other things that I can’t remember at the moment.

I happen to know from my own researches that some of these ideas are simply wrong: free energy devices just don’t work — they violate the law of conservation of energy, for a start. And fractional reserve banking, far from being a conspiracy to turn us all into debtors, is simply a way of sharing out a valuable resource (credit) for maximum use, the way we share out other resources (telephone connect time, roads, sewers, etc.) for public use. But this is not my main point here. Rather, I want to point to the basic imbalance of the movie’s stance, and why this is appealing, even seductive.

The implicit (and often explicit) message of Thrive is that all of us have been unwitting victims of this powerful, evil conspiracy of a few of the world’s most wealthy and elite families, and that much of the unhappiness of our lives derives from this. In other words, we are all innocent victims, and all of the responsibility rests with these bad guys. Do you see the imbalance? How could it be true that all of the responsibility was on one side, and none on the other. The idea is implausible at best, ridiculous at worst.

Furthermore, the addiction recovery movement has shown us that recovery from addictive patterns begins when we stop seeing ourselves as victims, and take personal responsibility for our situation. And indeed, surely this must be true in general, not just for addictions. After all, if we believe that we are innocent victims, then we believe that we have no power in our lives, that we are totally manipulated by the actions of others. This is not an attitude which would empower a person to make changes in their life, indeed it is the opposite of empowerment. So why is it so attractive?

The answer, of course, is that it is painless to hold others responsible for our misfortunes, but painful to admit to ourselves and others that we are the authors of our own difficulties. If we find ourselves in debt, as so many do these days, it is pleasant to abdicate all of our responsibility for the decisions that created that situation to a few evil manipulators. And yet we were not powerless, we signed the loans and spent the money. The seduction of victimhood is the seduction of innocence, the flight from the pain of guilt. It is a kind of regression into infancy, to a time when we were indeed innocent and powerless. It is an avoidance of adulthood.

Of course, it is important not to go too far in accepting responsibility, not to martyr ourselves to guilt. For the truth is that we are responsible for our choices, and we are also victims of circumstance and of the many constraints of being human. We owe ourselves compassion as we accept responsibility. We are responsible, yes, but our guilt is understandable and forgivable.

And so I reject the message of Thrive. I don’t know whether there is a conspiracy of wealthy industrialists and bankers, but it doesn’t really matter to me. What I reject is the notion that such individuals have power to shape my life, or to stop me from thriving. The power to thrive is a personal power, and I reject the seduction of innocence offered by the movie’s makers. Rather, I hold myself accountable for the shape of my life, with compassion for the fact that my decisions are not unconstrained, and that often I make poor ones. I am both innocent and responsible. I am both powerless and powerful. This is what I mean by balance.

I want this column to be about balance in many ways. One such way is that I want to be both teacher and student, both aware of what I know and equally aware that I have much to learn. Feel free to correspond with me if you feel moved to, whether you wish to agree or to disagree, whether you have questions or can offer correction to me.