I was recently fortunate enough to have had a chance encounter with a higher up from my present employer. As I listened to him spew nonsensical buzz words out of his mouth for the better part of 10 minutes I had one of my many Michael Douglas ‘Falling Down’ moments. The filter between my brain and mouth has long be on hiatus but over time I have learned to tapper down the beast. This is a good thing as I’m quite sure if I had this conversation even just 8 or 10 years ago it might have been my last as an employee. You see life is an insane contradiction of terms.
In this particular case we have the classical conundrum of human redundancy actively seeking out efficiency. I took the time to point out my confusion before even trying to offer any insights. Insights to most people in charge are like having a second asshole…it seems like a good idea to help get rid of waste but really just acts as a way to flush out good ideas. Needless to say after pointing out why this ‘new’ problem exists in the first place I quickly made my simple yet elegant (I just wanted to use that adjective today…there was nothing elegant about it at all) suggestion. Now my current crop of co-workers tend not to be interested in things outside popular culture, gossip and talking about their children (all things I give zero fucks about) but for a brief moment I had all the entire crews attention. After making my suggestion and the supporting evidence as to why it was ideal everyone was in agreement that it made the most sense.
Fast forward several dozen meetings and months from now and what will the solution be? It will of course be any one of hundreds except the obvious one I made. Why is this you ask? The answer is simple – life is a breathtaking array of contradictions. This small, seemingly unimportant (because it is) example can easily be followed up by dozens of others. Take any of a wide ranging number of socio-economic issues. Lets start with taxes, because beyond death and mythical religions this works up Americans the most. Political parties and certain media personalities spout off about the virtues of low taxes and modifying the present structure to something simpler. Huge problem – we have hundreds of thousands of jobs predicated around the complexity and never-ending changes surrounding the current system. Why would any of these people, or the likely millions depending on the income generated from these jobs want to be suddenly jobless? They don’t, on the same token nor do the developers of drugs for type two diabetes (life style caused) want people to really eat healthier or exercise more – your problem represents a multi billion dollar industry.
This leads me to the quintessential paradox of our existence – the problem solving/problem creating paradigm. I’m not intelligent enough to speak on the exact genesis of this – be it rooted in evolutionary biology, the occult, etc – but I can say with great certainty this fascinating contradiction drives the human species in all sorts of directions; some good, some not so good. Perfect example is in the defense manufacturing industry. The right to defend oneself and the general sovereignty of a universally recognized nation is a very legitimate concept. The problem lies in the fact that how does one both a) know they are properly equipped to do so and b) continually support the people who make this possible? This is where we slide into the right side of the curve, problem creation, and in this particular case, with this particular human en devour, it involves playing off two of our favorite emotions – insecurity and greed – to create a problem with someone else — in this case another country, or more recently a rouge, border-less group of individuals we call “terrorists” with the result being casualty filled warfare.
The aforementioned is of course an extreme example, quite possibly the most extreme, but an effective one in grabbing our constantly drifting attention. You see we are unknowing victims to this paradigm on a daily basis simply by the things we say and do. Our actions, or inaction, push the balance toward one direction or the other. Having to participate in this game at times is inevitable because some (perhaps many) people we interact with choose to remain unaware of this phenomenon or even secretly get off on the self-created drama that is the resulting byproduct. The key is taking a moment to analyze a nagging situation or a new one that pops up…or even ideally taking a few moments to look to the future. See the possibilities, potentials or eventualities and strive to position yourself in a position of problem solving. Better yet study, observe and be an ‘future issue identifier’. This will unfortunately require a tremendous amount of energy and isn’t likely to be successfully accomplished on a grand scale but at an individual or even family level is certainly feasible. Besides in the end you should be looking out for number one anyway.
Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.
Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.
As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.
Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.
As someone on the outside looking in at the success of other’s I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Lasting achievement doesn’t resemble a hurricane, it’s more a steady rain that provides the fields of life with just the right amount of sustenance to keep everything green. This is something visible to both the well-known and common person alike. The strange and interesting thing to me is how often this is overlooked. In our desire to have all the necessary items of existence ‘out the box’ ready we fail to recognize where the true success of the average lies – in the process of growth. The concept of steady improvement, adjustment and learning along with calculated planning has taken a back seat to dominance.
From the business world to sports a person can see this everywhere. A company and its board bring in a new CEO to replace an outgoing one who was not given enough time to execute their vision. A team drafts a player that was a high achiever at the collegian level with the blind belief that the level of success will automatically translate in the pro’s. The trouble with this thinking is that it puts little premium on tomorrow while placing nearly all the eggs into ‘today’s’ basket. We trade in impact for stability and in the end often get neither. Is there a solution to this conundrum? You bet there is and it involves a radical process…exercising patient.
To breakdown the pitfall of not allowing natural growth to take hold I’m going to turn to a place where it’s most obvious – the world of sports. Of all the positions in a sport one that has possibly the greatest premium is the quarterback in American football. Let’s take what many analysts consider to be the top five players as of 2018: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. Of these guys only two of the five (40%) were drafted in the first round and neither (Roethlisberger or Rodgers) was selected in the top 10. Also, of note is that the teams Aaron and Ben played were a complete non-factor in the race for a college championship title – Miami of Ohio unranked the entire season and the University of California finishing the season 7-4 in the 25th spot.
The point of this divesture is that reaching a certain level of success, on whatever stratosphere it exists, relies perhaps more in the foundation than the completed project. Time changes things and the ability to adapt is often time as critical as skill level. Peaking, while a naturally occurring phenomenon, should not be where the greatest concentration is placed, albeit sport or life. Rather I purpose a two-prong approach. The first, operate within a healthy framework of output. Whether that is athletically, academically or even professionally – too much, too soon, ultimately equals something that doesn’t last. The second is prepare for the transition. This one is a little tricky because it requires a lot of self-reflection and/or unbiased 3rd party opinion. An ounce of honest, intelligent, reflection is worth a pound of long term future achievement.