Calling My Shot

19365_717013806513_9223634_39963040_868241_nThe earth starts to rumble
World powers fall
A’warring for the heavens
A peaceful man stands tall

– Megadeth

We have a set of very simple choices in front of us:

We can be part of someone’s bad day, or we can be that which makes it better.

We can be silent partners in a world in decline, or we can take responsibility for the shares we hold and work toward recovery.

We can take hold of what we have and hold on for dear life, or we can let go and share the wealth, precisely because life is so dear.

One of my favorite quotes, from George Monbiot’s Age of Consent:

All those with agency are confronted by a choice. We can use that agency to secure for ourselves a safe and comfortable existence. We can use our life, that one unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbours. We can place upon our walls those tombstones which the living erect to themselves: the framed certificates of their acceptance into what Erich Fromm has called the ‘necrophiliac’ world of wealth and power. We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on the earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny us.

Simple decisions? Yes: simple decisions with fearfully complex implications. Once I decide to step up, once I call my shot, life becomes a whole new ballgame. I said in an earlier post that this isn’t about me, and on one hand that is true. On the other, though, it’s all about me. It’s about who I decide to be in relation to the world around me. Which shouldn’t be about me. Who I decide to be, expressed in the actions I take and the decisions I make. Which, again, shouldn’t be about me. Never about me. The world has to come first, starting with my family (spouse, children, etc.) and spiraling ever outward. Because it’s not about me, it’s all about who I decide to be.

Small exercise: Pinpoint one aspect of “you” that might be conceived of as the weakest link. At its most basic, what sort of work does it need? For me, it’s all about patience (impatience, really). So I look to the traffic light. At its most basic, my impatience stems from a belief that my time, my affairs, are the most important consideration in the world, and when I find myself fuming at a red light, it can be boiled down, pretty much, to that selfish impulse. It’s all about me, and this stupid light is getting in the way.

My first step, then, toward moving myself out of the way and living a world-centered life is, oddly enough, about learning to let stoplights be, and recognizing the importance of others’ lives. When I manage even this insignificant little feat, then it’s not about me anymore. Stress levels drop, frustration falls away, and I’m free to love a world my selfish side demands that I hate. And once that first, baby step is taken, I’m ready for the next: I’m ready to cultivate patience in all situations. Waiting for a table at a restaurant, standing in line at the grocery store–am I really the only person in the world who needs to eat? Much as I’d like to think so, probably not… :0)

Impatience lies at the root of my egocentric world; remove the cornerstone, and the whole structure begins to weaken, and will eventually collapse. And that’s the goal. Therein lie the seeds of the new world order: it’s not about political systems, or religion, or economics; it’s all about who I decide to be.

Choose to be a peaceful person in a world of chaos. It just might be contagious.

23 thoughts on “Calling My Shot

  1. Vance,

    I liked the street light example a lot. I always tell people if they want to see the worst in me come ride shotgun on my commute to and from work.

    Selflessness and empathy are aspects of humanity that have always been deeply held values of mine. I like what Victoria said about finding a balance. I’ve also always wondered about how in some sense even acts of empathy have a selfish aspect to them because just as you wrote they give us “the simple satisfaction of serving others” – so our satisfaction is still involved. Nevertheless there’s obviously a clear difference between the person who says “I only think about #1”, and the person who tries to consider everyone they interact with.

    1. And I’ve only got Waco traffic to deal with… :0)

      V’s got a point about balance. But I think a distinction needs to be made between modes of “selfishness”; I think insisting that acts from which we derive satisfaction stemming from service to others are somehow selfish focuses on the actor rather than those on the receiving end of the act. That’s what I mean by saying it shouldn’t be about me. In other words, I’d rather be damned if I do than damned if I don’t.

      Also, while we may derive a sense of satisfaction after the fact, in many instances the act itself is anything but satisfying. It’s often counterintuitive, and sometimes even painful. Giving things up is never fun. There’s a difference, I think, between selfish satisfaction of personal wants and needs, and satisfaction deriving from the momentary transcendence of self inherent in selfless acts. Which is what you’re saying, I guess, so…I agree! :0)

      1. Vance, your last sentence made me laugh, because everything you wrote matches my thoughts on the subject. I agree completely that there are distinctions, and “selfless” actions definitely have a benefit to them in many ways. I’ve just never been able to remove the “I” from the equation without completely removing desires from the decision making which then would make us like computers.

  2. I could not agree more ~ the choice of how we want to live a life is ours and ours alone. “Choose to be a peaceful person in a world of chaos” Amen to that brother!

  3. “Which, again, shouldn’t be about me. Never about me. The world has to come first, starting with my family (spouse, children, etc.) and spiraling ever outward.”

    Never?? Your post was quite thought provoking, Vance. My research through the years has taught me that the most self-centered tend to be the most insecure and that when addressing this propensity, we must address the root causes in order to produce long-term behavioral changes. For example:

    “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

    My conservative Christian indoctrination taught me that it should never be about me — that I must die to myself, my desires — my own needs — always putting others first. This turned out to have profound repercussions for me such as depression and low self-worth. I had to reconnect with that inborn balance between selflessness and selfishness.

    Anyway, I agree with you that being very self-centered can have a negative impact on the individual and society. But why are people being so self-focused? Fragile self-esteem?

    1. V, thanks for checking in! I hope you’re doing well!

      The difference here, I think, is a matter of motivation: Christianity, whether intentionally or not, teaches a selflessness that is ultimately selfish. It’s about promoting one’s own agenda: be nice so they’ll listen to your sales pitch. In some ways (and I speak from my own experience; I don’t claim that this is a universal truth), there is little difference between Christians and car salesmen. On the other hand, I have chosen to try to be selfless in a way that at least is not intended to be self-serving (beyond the simple satisfaction of serving others).

      What I’m saying is this: I spent a lot of years serving others for God’s sake; now I want to serve others for their own sake, just because they’re there and I can. Given that, I’m not sure it matters to me why others are self-focused, so long as I succeed in being others-focused. Again, it might just be contagious. :0)

      I really don’t mean that to make me sound superior. Half the time I fail miserably at this little project of mine. I still fume at red lights. But, like I said, baby steps. It’s all any of us can do…

      1. “What I’m saying is this: I spent a lot of years serving others for God’s sake; now I want to serve others for their own sake, just because they’re there and I can.”

        Well said and dare I say, amen.

    2. Also, I’ll think about your question. It is a good one. I apologize if I seemed to blow it off. Talk about self-focused, right? :0)

    3. I think we are self-centered because we live in our own bodies, in our own heads.

      As infants, we don’t even have object permanence. A toy drops from our grip and it is gone forever. Someone leaves the room and they cease to exist.

      We grow and learn that our naive brain software is wrong, life is not so chaotic as that, there is more than just us. But even when we come to intellectually know it, our thoughts don’t catch up with reality for quite some time.

      I’m convinced some people never fully realize the personhood of others. To truly understand the humanity of all people, not just our tiny tribes, is to accept all humankind as a member of your family. That isn’t easy to do. It’s a continual process. One that Vance has helped me keep in the forefront of my mind.

      1. She lives! (I was getting worried, what with all the crazy weather in your neck of the woods.)

        I think our perception of the personhood of others is almost always contingent on the presence or absence of certain “identifiers,” if you will. In some cases (racism or sexism, for example), those identifiers are fairly obvious, but even when they’re not, we seem to go out of our way to create the “Other.” If we share a basic belief system, then we push the comparison just far enough to set up a distinction, to keep that Other outside of our self-perception. If we’re both Christians, then I’m a Baptist and you’re a Catholic (or I’m a Southern Baptist and you’re a General Baptist). If we’re both atheists, then I’m spiritual and you’re not. Etc., etc. And so on. I don’t know why we do this, but we do. V’s question, as to why, is a good one, one that needs to be explored.

        In any case, we very carefully curate the circle we’re willing to call kin (blood or not). Half of our problems, I think, stem from this fact. As to how to get past it…well, who knows. Seriously. Who knows? Anybody? Bueller?

        P.S. I’m not sure much object permanence I have now. I can’t find my pen, and now I’m wondering if it existed at all… :0)

      2. Heart is beating. Lungs are breathing. Live I do.

        It seems like the problem can’t be fixed until everyone opens their hearts and people don’t open their hearts until they get to know others and others don’t come out until they are accepted by the ones that won’t accept them until they know them…
        Hell of a run-on sentence. Hell of a problem.

      3. Madalyn, I agree with both you and Vance. He said “but even when they’re not, we seem to go out of our way to create the “Other.”

        You wrote: “I’m convinced some people never fully realize the personhood of others. To truly understand the humanity of all people, not just our tiny tribes, is to accept all humankind as a member of your family.”

        There’s been a lot of neurological studies done using fMRI scans and it’s clear that we are hardwired to get edgy around the “Other”. The amygdala (fear) lights up like a Christmas tree when we see people who are different than us. The studies also show that people who tend to be more fearful also have a larger right amygdala and that it is indicative of both genes and environment. There are at least 16 peer reviewed studies regarding this last I checked.

        The studies also show that when you subtly bias the subject beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group, the amygdala does not budge. So as I mentioned, and repeating what Dr. Robert Sapolsky said, we may be hardwired to get edgy around the Other, but our views on who falls into that category are decidedly malleable.

        I think having this understanding about how we are hardwired, which has been, throughout history, a way to insure survival from potential predators, can help us to find empathy and understanding for those who still fear the Other. It’s helped me when dealing with conservative Christians who have impacted my life, my well-being and my rights, though I’m still a work in progress.

        I also want to mention, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, but we have neurohormones, neurotransmitters that deactivate neural circuitry regarding critical social assessment. This helps us bond with others, primarily our loved ones. Without those neurochemicals, we would see them as the “Other”, too. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

      4. It does indeed. It seems a little ‘Brave New World’, but I can’t help hoping that they’ll come out with a pill to induce our neurochemicals into more empathetic action.

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