Motivational Stories Excerpt: Who I Am
Listening to a commercial one day, I noticed an irony that, no doubt, escaped much, if not all of, the listening audience. The advertisement offered the perspective that a watch is about the most individual item that a person can possess, that it, beyond anything else, provides the most significant insight into the personal style and personality of its owner. The commercial closed with the store’s invitation for listeners to visit so a specialist could present the perfect watch for them.
I thought, Okay, what am I missing? If the watch is such an important indicator of the type of individual I am, why exactly would I ever need, or desire for that matter, someone else to select the best anything for me, especially someone who doesn't even know me? How could anyone be better equipped for determining what is me than me? And given the advantage of the ultimate inside track knowing me far beyond the level that anyone else even begins to, why would I ever choose to abdicate that role to anyone else?
Unfortunately, my guess is that a significant percentage of the listeners would have been fine with someone else making this type of decision. Why is that my perception? Well, just think about the extent to which this is demonstrated by many of the choices made on a daily basis, from excitement over the latest “in” clothing, as dictated by the latest “in” popular designer, to being unduly influenced by the latest superstar's funded endorsement; from the influence of omnipresent commercial advertisements to the effects of questionable political ads with unfortunately massive public opinion-swaying power; from, virtually blind acceptance of anything heard, seen, or read in the media to the far too meaningful cliques in our personal and professional lives. The bottom line is that we seem to have a burning need to be told what to think and do.
We often willingly accept the barrage of people and organizations, all on a daily basis, actively endeavoring to define for us what's best, how we feel, and who we are—or at least who we should want to be. Worse, beyond merely accepting it, we have grown to depend on it.
Watching a town hall meeting some time back, a question was posed (I’m paraphrasing):Which was of greater concern in their lives—the problems with the U.S. economy or a particular dictator clear across the other side of the world? Nearly everyone chose the U.S. government foe. Only a few of the sixty or so people indicated the economy. Now, I'm all for the collective value of differing opinions, but it strikes me as peculiar that, given the significantly depressed stock market the previous year, lost family nest-eggs, significantly reduced consumer spending, and a slumping job market, how a regime clear across the world, which had been relatively quiet and pretty boxed in politically and militarily for the better part of a decade, and which most likely had had discernable impact on few of the audience members’ lives, if any, could be of greater concern.
What was the possibility that town-hall participants had been influenced by the administration’s recent blanketing of airwaves with unsubstantiated omens about an immanent threat to the free world? And what was the possibility that the media’s ratings-based, sensationalized coverage, perpetuated daily with the help of incendiary phrases like “Countdown to War,” further influenced those in attendance? That couldn't have been what caused all the folks in the town hall to raise their hands, could it? Interestingly enough, I even noticed one audience member who seemingly wasn't going to raise her hand, but did when she witnessed virtually everyone else with their hands in the air.
How did we get to this point? Well, it seems somewhere along the way we began to abdicate responsibility for the decisions in our life, and slowly but surely it became more and more acceptable that we take that easier route. It seems that, as a society, we are losing a little more ground each day.
As parents, we abdicate to the school systems too often, to some best selling child psychologist (in many cases well-versed in parental case studies, yet unable to reach the children in their household), or, worse, the child him or herself. As citizens, we are too often willing to abdicate our stance on the relevant issues of the day to the perspectives of virtually anyone with notoriety, and sometimes merely anyone with a microphone, from politicians to radio disc jockeys, from religious leaders to the press (seemingly effortlessly able to ride the dependable waves of innuendo and sensationalism when facts alone can’t supply the requisite ripple in public opinion). As individuals, we too often abdicate to friends and acquaintances, regularly subjugating our views to the whims of the group. And we too often abdicate to our employers whom we sometimes allow to define us and too significantly influence who we aspire to be.
Simply put, on a daily basis, many of us too readily abdicate responsibility for the defining decisions in our lives. Big or small, too often we are alarmingly content with allowing avoidance to be our only course of action, happenstance the outcome. Unfortunately, however, while it’s true you don’t have to worry about the possibility of striking out if you never step up to bat, you'll also never know the glory of getting a base hit, not to mention hitting a home run. And, ultimately, our lives are supposed to be about playing the game, not riding the bleachers, watching everyone else play the game for us.
Increasingly, the difficulty is the fact that society not only condones lack of personal thought and expression but often encourages it. Think about it. Would most of your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, managers, and acquaintances prefer the assertive, self-defined you, or the you that fits the proverbial “don't worry, be happy” mold? Given the choice, my theory is most people would opt for the easier-to-convince, less-engaged you. That you, after all, is much easier to influence and manipulate.
Conditioning often begins at an early age and continues throughout life. For example, have you ever asked a young child, who is just learning to express himself, a question and heard the parent say, "Tell Mr. So-And-So, that's because...?” (Personally, it's one of the little things that make my skin crawl.)
In the school system, children are primarily rewarded based on their ability to regurgitate text from the manual and verse from the instructor, not their capability to think and question. Try asking the child questions about why the topic matters and what it means. (In some cases, try asking the instructor for that matter.)
I heard an explanation once about how the circus is able to so easily restrain an adult elephant. Typically, merely one of the animal's massive legs can be bound to a small tree with the lightest of ropes. Why doesn't the massive, incredibly strong animal simply break away from the weak constraint? As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple: When the elephant was much younger, and, obviously, much weaker, the handlers would utilize a heavy chain to bind its leg to a sizeable tree trunk. No matter how much the young elephant struggled, it learned it could not get away. Eventually, this created a life-limiting perception that whenever its leg is bound, no escape is possible. So the actual confinement in the conditioned adult elephant is not so much physical as it is psychological.
As a result, we should be extremely careful about the subliminal lessons we subscribe to ourselves, not to mention those taught to our children. There is a Gladys Knight song, which begins with the lyric, “To fulfill the need to be who I am in this world is all I ask.” There's a message for our youth: Find out who you are. Stand for something. Have an opinion.
Our true destinies in life can not begin to be fulfilled until we at least begin to define ourselves. And the first step is to learn to be true to ourselves, regardless of the circumstance.
When it’s all said and done, no one else can define you. That is an obligation and privilege that only you can truly fulfill, but only if you choose to. So get out there and find your own watch.