The External Solution
The Greek Philosopher Epictetus once said: “People are disturbed not by things, but by their view of things.”
It is not our life that is our problem, but our view of our life. The internal view we have of ourselves is one of being less than. It has been placed in our mind by society, and each individual bought into it. Despite the fact that we are all created equal, we have forgotten our true nature. In the book, How to Know God, Depak Chopra concurs: “Nothing would seem easier than to be yourself, but people complain endlessly about how hard it is. When you are little, your parents won’t let you be yourself. They have different ideas on eating the whole cake or drawing on the walls with crayons. Later on the teachers keep you from being yourself. Then the teenage peer pressure takes over, and finally, once society has imposed its demands, freedom is more restricted still.” (Chopra, 2000)
Society leads us to believe we just can’t be, we must be a certain way. To be a particular way, we must have. If you have enough, you will be enough. The opposite conclusion might follow if you do not have enough. The danger of this approach to living is explained in Erich Fromm’s book, To Have or to Be: “The having persons enjoy security, yet by necessity they are very insecure. They depend on what they have: money, prestige, their ego – that is to say, on something outside themselves. But what becomes of them if they lose what they have? For, indeed, whatever one has can be lost. Most obviously, one’s property can be lost – and with it usually one’s position, one’s friends – and at any moment one can, and sooner or later one is bound to, lose one’s life.” (Fromm, 1976)
Fromm goes on to speculate on what happens if we never have or lose what we have:
“If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I? Nobody but a defeated, deflated, pathetic testimony to a wrong way of living. Because I can lose what I have, I am necessarily constantly worried that I shall lose what I have. I am afraid of thieves, of economic changes, of revolutions, of sickness, of death, and I am afraid of love, of freedom, of growth, of change, of the unknown. Thus I am continuously worried, suffering from a chronic hypochondriasis, with regard not only to loss of health but to any other loss of what I have; I become defensive, hard, suspicious, lonely, driven by the need to have more in order to be better protected.” (Fromm,1976)
In our goal to become “better than”, we actually try to establish control over our life by controlling the uncontrollable. “If I have enough, I will be enough, and then I will be safe and feel good on the inside.” We place our internal happiness in a state of dependency on the unpredictable outside world. You might say we choose a path of external locus of control. It is interesting to note that we try to establish control via a path of external locus of control where things really cannot be guaranteed. As you might remember, Rotter’s(1966) definition of external locus of control is when you perceive events as resulting from chance, or the control of powerful others, or as unpredictable. Because we may never have enough or lose it once we have it, the strategy is somewhat flawed. Society teaches us all the same path though, which explains the common nature of our approach. We go after the goals for the wrong reasons, because we believe we have to – it is out of fear and an effort to protect ourselves from loss. The paradox of our power quest is that we try to achieve internal satisfaction by external means. You cannot control what happens outside of you – only your conclusions about what happens to you.