Why You Want to Separate, Individuate and Be Special

Do you want to separate from the pack? Stand out from the crowd? Be special, noticed?

Do you want to belong? Feel connected and loved?

We have both drives within us. Love is virtually our life force. Infants cannot survive and thrive without loving care.  Social isolation has deadly effects. But eventually, we need to cut the apron strings. To be mature, productive adults, we must be able to stand on our own.

One can successfully fulfill these two seemingly conflicting drives. The desire for love and connection is fulfilled in relationships, the workplace, community. The drive for specialness is fulfilled in self-development and achievement. But today, it seems that the drive to separate has gone to an unhealthy, unfulfilling extreme.

There are two primary motives behind the urge to separate…

Success-Driven Separation

When we seek our value and identity from external sources, we go to great lengths to be recognized. A false sense of pride drives us to set ourselves apart and highlight our differences. We compete to outdo one another, to prove we are better. Whether it is us alone or our team, our product or our country, we want to win, be #1. That’s what our society glorifies, and that’s our goal. But at what cost?

Winners must have losers. Superior necessitates inferior. Did you play the game King of the Hill when you were a child? Everyone struggles to reach the top of a hill and hold that position. How? By pushing contenders down the hill as they approach. Sooner or later, the king is outnumbered and thrown from his perch. The position is claimed by someone else who then turns against those who helped him achieve the coveted spot.

The excitement of gaining the top of the hill was always accompanied by fear of losing it. The apex is a scary, shaky place when attained by pushing others down. There’s always someone nipping at our heels, anxious to overthrow the king. Winning is ephemeral, the thrill of victory short lived, replaced by a sense of separation and isolation. 

Too much self-centered attitude…brings isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering. Dalai Lama

Little did we know that our game echoed the game of life. Competition is one of the primary forces in business and athletics, in life. It drives a wedge in relationships. Partners compete: who is contributing more? Who is the better parent? More accomplished? Parents and children compete: who is in control? Students compete: who is smarter? Friends compete: who is more popular? Competition can separate us from those we most want to connect with.

Ironically, it doesn’t matter whether we are better than everyone else

or worse, as long as we stand out, are special.

We are natural born attention seekers. Whether we are clothed in the finest apparel or covered in tattoos, we will – we hope – be noticed.

Fear-Driven Separation

Just as we have an innate drive to connect and belong, we have an instinctual fear of others. Long before the development of agriculture and with it the establishment of settlements, we lived as nomadic tribes. Practically everyone within the tribe was related. We were totally interdependent and shared a group consciousness. On the occasions we encountered another tribe, we were naturally suspicious. Were they friend or foe? Were they after our food, water, territory?

This instinctual response to strangers is still within us. It was tempered when we settled in communities, and cooperation was necessary to survive. Nevertheless, within those settlements, we were drawn to people and groups with whom we felt a certain kinship. We still are.

We join churches of a particular faith and clubs of shared interests. We are wary of those who are or appear significantly different. Slavery developed because whites did not recognize blacks as fully human. Torture takes place when people see the other as evil, sub-human.

Fear is at the root of separation and hatred. Fear becomes magnified when it is the common thread that joins us.

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. Michel de Montaigne

We are afraid of people of different cultures, colors, religions, sexuality, belief systems. We are afraid of our specialness and belief systems being threatened. We are afraid of losing something. We are afraid of being deprived. We are afraid of being hurt.

We are simply afraid. Take all those objects of fear away and we will find another.

Walls will not protect us. Wars will not protect us. Fear is internal and cannot be erased by external measures. We are not going to overcome our automatic instincts to distrust and separate from our fellow human beings until we recognize our primal fear and deal with it rationally.

Fear can only be overcome but its opposite: Love. And by that I mean acceptance, kindness, integration, understanding. It is impossible to understand and hate.

Yes, there are those in the world who would do another harm. But they do not fit into any one country or religion. If those of peace and goodwill are unified, those who are not will be more easily recognized and dealt with.

As love attracts love, fear attracts fear. We must not be swept up in a tide of group fear and paranoia lest it leads to the downfall not only of ourselves but of our country.

   …the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked & denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
Hermann Goering during the Nuremberg trials

Thoughts to Ponder from Former Presidents

This month we celebrate President’s Day. It is a national holiday created to honor the births of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Two other presidents were also born in February – William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan. The words of these four gentlemen are worth pondering.

  1. GEORGE WASHINGTON 
First President and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Born: February 22, 1732
President: April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
Died: December 14, 1799

 

George Washington was the only president to be elected unanimously. In accepting the presidency, he believed he had given up “all expectations of private happiness in this world.”

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

Some day, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe.

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

2. WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON

William Henry Harrison Sr. was the 9th President of the United States, and the last president born as a British subject. 

Born: February 9, 1773, Charles City County, Virginia, VA
President: March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Died: April 4, 1841, Washington, D.C.

William Henry Harrison died one month after taking office. The wet and freezing weather in which he delivered the longest inaugural address in history may have contributed to his death. His vice-president, John Tyler, assumed the presidency. He was the first to take office without being elected to that office. People questioned his legitimacy and nicknamed him ‘His Accidency.’

There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.

The liberties of a people depend on their own constant attention to its preservation.

Times change, and we change with them.

Sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true and lasting happiness.

A decent and manly examination of the acts of government should not only be tolerated, but encouraged.

All the measures of the Government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

3. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, revered for abolishing slavery and preserving the Union.

Born: February 12, 1809
President: March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Died: April 15, 1865

Hours before he was assassinated, Lincoln said, “I believe there are men who want to take my life and I have no doubt they will do it.” He did not want to go to the theater that fateful night but was unwilling to disappoint people who expected him.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

4. RONALD REAGAN 

40th president. Seven Congressmen moved for impeachment following his invasion of Grenada.

Born: February 6, 1911, Tampico, IL
President: January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Died: June 5, 2004, Bel-Air, Los Angeles, CA

Before entering politics, Reagan was an actor and was considered for the role of Rick in the movie Casablanca.

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.

Trust, but verify.

To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.

Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders.

How can a president not be an actor?

There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.

Life Lessons from the Panama Canal

We recently completed a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Los Angeles, California via the Panama Canal. Though we have transited the canal many times, I looked at it differently on this journey. I saw it as a metaphor for life. 

1. BE PATIENT. Great ideas take time to manifest.

The idea of cutting a pathway across central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific was first conceived in 1513 when Balboa spied the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal did not open until
1914. Before that, ships had to circumvent South America.  

Everything starts with a thought. Contemplation, imagination, and daydreaming lay the foundation.

2.  SET YOUR GOAL. Where are you going and why?

The goal of the canal was clear: construct an opening between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans thereby creating a new shipping route that saved thousands of miles* and avoided the treacherous passage around Cape Horn. 

What do you want to do and why?

*14,000 miles from New York to San Francisco around the Cape versus 6,000 miles through the Panama Canal.

3.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Study the landscape. 

The French attempted construction of a canal at sea level in 1881. They did not take into account the rainy season, climate, and changing elevations.  After millions of dollars were spent and over 20,000 lives lost, the project was abandoned. 

Know what you are getting into.

4.  EXPERIMENT. TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  

In 1903, engineers from the United States undertook the project with an entirely different method. They adapted to the rising and falling topography by incorporating locks to raise and lower ships.

If one method doesn’t work, try another.

5.  CUT A NEW PATH. EXPECT TO STRUGGLE. 

The building of the canal required years of extensive clear cutting, dredging and drilling through jungle, mountains and rock cliffs.

There is always a way – over, under, around or through. Finding your way takes time and effort.

6.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Have resources in place that will nourish and energize you. 

A dam was built to create Gatun Lake, a manmade reservoir that supplies the water that fills the locks.

 Take time to rest and refuel.

7.  SEEK GUIDANCE. No one succeeds totally ALONE.

Train tracks run along each side of the canal. Little silver cars have cables attached to the ship that guide it through the canal.

Listen. Learn. Accept help and guidance from others.

8.  LOOK TO THE FUTURE. Be prepared to expand.

The ever-growing size of cruise ships and freighters necessitated the building of a third set of locks that opened in May 2016.

Ongoing success requires ongoing growth.

9. ANTICIPATE COMPETITION. Success attracts attention and competition.

Over 14,000 ships a year pass through the canal bringing jobs and millions of dollars into Panama. Consequently, the thought of building another canal through Nicaragua has attracted interest and investors.  

Be prepared to continually prove yourself and demonstrate your value. Always be the best you can be and do the best you can do.

Are you in a relationship? Working? Building a business? Are you an artist? Volunteer? Going to school? Raising children? In one way or another, we are all building canals – moving from Point A to Point B. We can learn valuable lessons from the greatest canal of all. In summary…

Everything starts with a thought.
What do you want to do and why?
 

Know what you are getting into.

If one method doesn’t work, try another.

Finding your way takes time and effort.

Take time to rest and refuel.

Accept help and guidance from others.

Ongoing success requires ongoing growth.

Always be the best you can be and do the best you can do.