“Those who developed initiative in adolescence were fortunate in their choice of parents or surrogates when they were born. Adults who are themselves emotionally mature have free minds and do not play dominance-submission games with their children, so that their children have a chance to develop initiative. You have to start free to end free! So children of such parents have not learned to struggle against their parents and others for some useless dominance and are not interested in games of one-upmanship. Their transition from childhood to adult life is not a stormy series of defeats and struggles against outside authorities. It is a quiet growth in self-confidence in which they learn that there are few irremediable mistakes, and they regard a mistake as nothing more than a friendly invitation to keep trying — not a loss of love, approval and prestige, or as a humiliation to be avoided at any cost.
Those of us who have been caught in the net of conformity, however, have a wholly different picture of life, filled with struggle, fear, humiliation, envy and the endless hungry craving for personal recognition that never leaves us. Even when we are feeding it! And this presents us the answer to the second question! This eternal hunger for personal recognition, which is sometimes mistakenly called by a sick title, The Need for Love. Exactly those who most of all need to give up this infantile striving for outside recognition they call love are those who find it most impossible to imagine enjoyment in anything apart from being the center of attention. They fly like moths around a candle until they fly into the flame to end the torture of enslavement.
The habitually negative obedient or positive conformist cannot imagine how he would structure, program or organize his daily activity if he did not depend on outside initiative to do it for him. As Eric Berne pointed out in his book Games People Play, most of our day is programmed for us by the necessity for sleep, getting up, going to work, doing a job, going to events, theaters, church, clubs or watching television. In all such activities, the initiative is in the hands of the outside agent, and we just go along for the ride until the undertaker comes. The we hop on his wagon and go along with him to Boot Hill, as they say in the western. In truth, there isn’t much time during day or evening when we have the need or opportunity to exercise full initiative on what we do with our energies. Most of our initiative is abdicated in the above situations, and we pretend that people in general are going to show the same parental warmth and eagerness to program and advance our welfare as our parents did when we were children. Alas for us!
But as adults, we may not abdicate our initiative at any time. Just as we would not lay down our pocketbook and not watch it while we do something else, we may not lay down our initiative and turn it over to someone else to exercise for us or in our default! We are born alone, we live alone and we die alone! No man can escape this fate. That is exactly why we have been given this initiative so that we have something on which to depend — when we no longer have parents on whom to lean!
But the habitual conformist feels that a life in which he had to take full charge of his own initiative, and could not park it on some baby sitter or other parent substitute, would be bleak, cold, lacking in interest and wholly unrewarding. He is so dependent on expecting “goodies” from others as rewards for his behavior that he cannot imagine any independent life in which he is self-motivated and not dependent on someone else for his motivation and initiative.
It is exactly this angel with flaming sword who blocks the Eden of dreams! He would love to be a hero and do independent, heroic deeds; but since no actor ever bothers to play to an empty house, he can’t imagine doing it unless he is the center of attention and is guaranteed his reward. There has to be someone standing in the wings to pat him on the head and say, “Nice doggie” when he comes panting off the stage! As a child he had his parents, his siblings, his teachers. On the job he has the boss, his fellow workers, and at home his wife; he firmly believes they care and have nothing more rewarding to do for themselves than to keep watching to applaud his act. He counts on them to give him Brownie points or Green Stamps for his good deeds, and be emotional over his defeats! He lives in an emotional fog of wishful thinking that Big Brother (the boss) will single him out from all others for a reward and put his head higher than his siblings on the job!
The thought that he must give up this warm spicy brew of dreams, hopes, competition, anxiety, worry, fear, anticipation of Christmas or fear of defeat for the calm world — in which he would use his own initiative and not have to beg Brownie points or otherwise depend on the good opnion of others — seems as bleak and empty as an Arctic landscape. Not even a polar bear in sight or an igloo with smoke rising from the vent to cheer or motivate him to the release of initiative for himself.
He is so accustomed to the evils that grow out of dependence that he cannot imagine life without them. The fact that he labels them as threatening him with being cut off from those around him probably constitutes the basic reason why it is so difficult for him to give up his old way of life. This is obvious with alcoholics, drug addicts, gamlers and similarly trapped individuals. It isn’t that they are so much in love with their addicting agent — liquor, drugs, horses — it is simply that they can’t mange to live without the good or bad Brownie points they are accustomed to get from their pals who share the same addiction. Their whole social life is made up of others who have made the same conformist mistake, and they engage in constant sibling rivalry and the amusingly painful games of one-upmanship with these individuals. Conformity is a way of life in which one can escape his own initiative and responsibility for creating his own happiness. The conformists lean on Lady Luck or a mother substitute.
The objection made to the self-reliant approach outlined in this way of looking at life always boils down to the issue of how lonely one would be if he were emotionally independent. Such an individual cannot imagine how one would manage friendships, marriage and other close associations unless there are the customary immaturities, the abdication of initiative to another, the craving for personal recognition, pats on the head and other maternal rewards of obedient behavior. Before we can let go of our infantile habits and move onward to emotionally adult self-sufficiency, we must picture how we would achieve awareness, intimacy and spontaneity so we can enjoy the world around us and especially the company of the people next to us. But without having to leanon them.
People imagine that the self-sufficient person is aloof, cold, unsympathetic, disinterested and unfriendly toward those more dependent and less fortunate than he. But exactly the contrary is true. If this were not so, then there would indeed be no advantage to giving up playing infantile games of one-upmanship. The fact is that we cannot begin either to enjoy our own inner capacities, association with others, or the world around us until and unless we have liberated ourselves from our leaning, dependent, derivative, enslaved, imitative, competitive, subaltern, childish habit of mind. No self-respecting life can exist when we are attached and merely an appendage of someone else, since “when they take snuff we also have to sneeze.” It is difficult to see how we can believe freedom is something to be avoided and believe that it would surely lead to loneliness and isolation.
Before we go further, then, let us picture in some detail how a person who has his own initiative acts and still enjoys fully and spontaneously the turmoil and variety of the whole life around him. In the first place, he is liberated from partiality and partisanship. If someone pipes a sad tune, he is not depressed by it and he does not have to dance along with the one who pipes it. Nor does he have to fight the feuds and hate the hates of others — just to be admitted to their circle and win approval or Green Stamps for his loyalty to their bias. He is free to be a friend to people regardless of whether or not they are on speaking terms with each other. Since he does not seek to win rewards from them, he has no fear that they can hurt him. It is only when we seek benefits from others that we fear or hate them. Only our dependent acquisitiveness spoils our relationships, when we approach our friends to get goodies from them and fear they may hold back on us.
When we are independently mature, our association with those around us will be free of any competitive attitude on our part. We will find no need to struggle for dominance and fear or resist submission. A person who approaches life with a self-reliant point of view puts no head higher than his own and therefore has no reason to be envious or obediently follow the heels of a pacemaker. Since he has no need to prove himself to anyone or to show off his personal superiority in order to win praise or admiration, he is like a good cardplayer who does not care what cards are dealt him since his fun lies in the free play he improvises in the playing of each hand. Each game is its own reward and he seeks nothing outside of the unfolding of each hand as it is played into the hands of others. He enjoys the whole experience and all that his partners do as well.”
— Beyond Success and Failure
by Willard & Marguerite Beecher
Waking up to this chapter, exactly what I needed, funny how things always work this way for me — life presents a questionable moment, and the answer presents itself. Grateful for all the people who put up with me, time to stop all my dreamer nonsense and be my own person for the first time.
Peacefully yours in this glorious morning, and I promise to write only fun things from now on