Fully realized, Radical Decency brings with it a decisive divergence from the “compete and win, dominate and control” mindset that permeates our culture, systemically replacing it with an alternative set of values. The fundamental reason for making this shift is positive and forward-looking: Radical Decency is a vital and workable pathway toward a more meaningful and nourishing life. See Reflection #13, Radical Decency is its Own Reward.
Equally compelling, however, is the argument against complicity with the values of the mainstream culture. A compete and win way of operating fails to support us in being decent to our self – or to others – or to the world. In other words, it has created, by any fair reckoning, a failed culture. See Reflection #27, The Case for Radical Decency.
Its practical effects, moreover, prove the point. With “winning” as the default setting to which we unthinkingly aspire, someone is always doing better. Indeed, even our “wins” are a temporary phenomenon followed, almost inevitably, by future “losses.” The result: A pandemic of lives in which anxiety, self-judgment, and chronic dissatisfaction are our intimate companions.
At a deeper and, ultimately, more consequential level, however, we need to understand how “compete and win” obscures what is most important in life beginning with this all important, life sustaining fact:
Because I am human, I am loved.
In this Reflection, I discuss the consequences that result when this perspective is lost – and the life altering possibilities that emerge when we are able to fully embrace it.
From a Radical Decency perspective, “I am loved” is not some Kumbaya rallying cry of the tree hugging set. To the contrary, it results from a hardheaded assessment of the realities of our existence and the implications that flow from it.
A grim reality envelops our lives and everything we do.
- We exist, and don’t know why. We’re here through no choice of our own.
- We (and everyone we love) will leave at time not of our choosing. Our physical decline and death is a certainty.
- Despite the pronouncements of an endless stream of prophets and gurus, throughout history, we don’t understand why we’re here or what we’re supposed to do, while we are.
And crucially, we humans, unlike any other species we know of, understand all this.
Whether consciously or not, these existential realities are with us every day of our lives and fundamentally mold our relationships with one another. Because these realities will always prevail, we are like soldiers sharing a foxhole in a never-ending, unwinnable war. And our natural, instinctual reaction – when it isn’t subverted by the cultural processes described below – is no different than the reaction that most soldiers, returning from the front line trenches, report: An intense solidarity with, and love for, our comrades in arms.
We are, in truth, literally surrounded by beings, instinctually ready – out of the shared communion that our desperate, unalterable reality creates – to love and support us. And we don’t have to do anything to be its beneficiary. It is our birthright as a human.
One of life’s unchanging necessities is to somehow, in some way, come to grips with these existential realities. And our predominant win/lose culture does offer a way out: Pay lip service to them but, in your day by day outlook and choices, act as though they (like everything else) can be confronted and defeated.
“Yes I will die, of course. . . . . But given a positive and determined spirit and the right diet, exercise, and spiritual practice, it will always be out there in the future; never a current reality. And even when my final illness arrives, I – steeped in the culture’s “compete and win” worldview – will “beat” my cancer, heart disease, or dementia.”
Rejecting this approach is essential, not because of its irrationality but, instead, because, engaging in this reality denying shell game, we lose sight of the love and solidarity that is our birthright.
Here is how the process works.
Implicitly making myself an exception to life’s unalterable rules, I will necessarily separate myself from the great majority of other humans. After all, we can’t all be exceptions. I will, instead, seek out the handful of others who, in my (mistaken) view, share my exceptional path – and turn away from the solidarity, mutual understanding, and love that I could otherwise so easily and naturally share with the multitude of others, who aren’t exceptional.
Sadly, however, since the relationships I build with the few I chose will be based on this ultimately unsustainable myth of exceptionalism they will, in all likelihood, fail me in my times of greatest need. They will instinctually distance themselves from this searing reminder of their own vulnerability. And in any event – through a life-time of denial and avoidance – they will lack the ability to effectively be with me.
In other words, embracing the mainstream culture’s dance of denial, my access to the nourishment and love of others will be deeply diminished.
Another important consequence of our “compete and win” way of living is the deficit mentality it fosters when it comes to our relationships. How sadly commonplace is it to hear someone complain that his grown children don’t call often enough – or that his spouse paid more attention to a dinner companion than to him – or that a co-worker got more credit for the success of the project?
In each case, the person’s win/lose mindset has eclipsed the fact that he is a dearly loved parent and spouse, and valued employee. With perceived losses as his obsessive focus, he has forfeited the comfort that would otherwise flow from the love and respect that is the larger, overarching reality in each of these relationships; the love that is his birthright.
Note, importantly, that weaning yourself from these mainstream mindsets does not mean that everyone will love you – or vice versa. You will, of course, continue to run in to many people who are uninterested in, or react badly, to you – and vice versa. However, knowing how strong our affiliative instincts are, you can interact with others certain in knowledge that you are inherently lovable and that, as a result, there is an excess of appreciation and love, out there for you, if not from this particular person, then, from many others.
Avoiding the outcomes, described above, requires a decisive shift away from our mainstream ways. And Radical Decency provides a vital pathway toward that goal. As your decency practice deepens, your focus will necessarily shift from “compete and win ” to a habit of mind that I call “possibility and process”: An increasing pre-occupation with (1) an unfolding vision of the “decent” life you seek to live, and (2) the choices you will need to make, to make that vision an increasing day by day, moment by moment reality.
With this shift, good outcomes will no longer be your central pre-occupation. They will, instead, be seen more and more as a by-product of your intention (possibility) and choices (process); something to notice and learn from, certainly, but not to get overly invested in.
And as your need to win – and, with it, to dominate and control – diminishes, so too will your compulsion to push life’s existential realities to the margins of your awareness. You will be empowered to fully accept your fate and that of your fellow humans with increasing empathy and equanimity.
The end result?
With nothing to distract you from your birthright, there will be a natural and deepening reconnection with the love that can so naturally flow between you and others by the very fact of your humanity. And if my experience is a reliable guide, the gratitude you feel for the depth of love that is yours will grow and grow.
The simple fact that “I am loved” will, increasingly, become a settled reality in your life.