Friday, June 12, 2009

Is Life a Journey of Self-Discovery?

The first time you hear it, it sounds like a good idea. According to the therapy culture life is a voyage of self-discovery leading to self-actualization.

But then, if you start asking what would motivate you to make your life into a search for the real You, things become a bit murky.

We become most inquisitive about who we really are when things go wrong. When we make mistakes, when our routines are disrupted, when we experience traumas... those are the times when we cease to recognize our old familiar selves and start asking whether we really know who we are.

We ask: How could I have done such a thing? How could such a thing have happened to me?

At that point, we are propelled into a voyage of self-discovery.

To put it another way, we search for the meaning of defeat, not of victory.

Beyond that, when we perform our everyday rituals and routines we do not wonder what it all means. When things happen as they always happen, we do not ask why.

When things go awry, however, we always ask why, and we usually come up with a story, with a drama.

Everyday courtesy is never worth a story. Rudeness always lends itself to drama.

If you believe that life is a journey of self-discovery you will find something redeeming about things going wrong and will turn away in disdain when things go right.

The therapy culture has no real use for simple gestures of kindness, congeniality, or conviviality.

When Gretchen Rubin recommends that you say "Good Morning" to everyone in your office when you arrive in the morning, the therapy culture will have trained you to ignore, disparage, and disdain the advice. You are likely to think that it is meaningless, mindless, and superficial. Link to Rubin's post here.

However much your "Good Morning" contributes to good feeling and cooperation in the office, it teaches you nothing about your deepest unconscious stirrings.

If you are curt and rude, you are likely to provoke meaningful dramatic exchanges and waves of stress that will send you scurrying to discover who you really are.

Take another piece of advice that Rubin offered on her blog: "Each week walk around the office and talk to a few people you don't know well. You'll feel more comfortable, plus knowing more people facilitates work flow. Remember the exposure effect as well: repeated exposure makes people like music, faces, even nonsense syllables, better. That means that the more often you see someone the more intelligent and attractive that person will seem."

This might seem like a prescription for repeated meaningless encounters. In fact, it promotes social harmony and connection; thus it produces team cohesion.

Familiarity breeds comfort, not contempt. The same applies to everyday rituals and routines. Surprise and disruption are strange. They feel threatening. They make us want to unpack their meaning.

People feel at home with the familiar; they invent stories to make sense of the strange.

They open up when faced with the familiar; they close down when confronting the strange.

If your goal is to have a happy and productive work day, you would do well to take Rubin's advice. If, however, you want to pursue a voyage of personal self-discovery and self-actualization you would do better to be rude, disruptive, and bizarre.

Yours to choose.

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