When everything is going right, we think we see things as they are. It is only when things go wrong that we are awakened to just how complex the world really is. But it isn’t the complexity of life that unnerves us. It is our obliviousness of the fact. It is the fact that one moment we can be blissfully unaware of our incompetence and the next stumbling vulnerably in the dark.
Although life can come at us hard and fast, generally it warns us of what is just beyond the bend. (And there is always a bend.) Truly, if we’re paying attention, (warning) signs abound! The problem, however, is our capacity for wishful thinking. Indeed, maintaining our ignorance has a certain appeal. We’d rather not know our spouse is unhappy, our kids are out of control, our friends are shady, our character is deficient, our faith is failing, our debts are piling up, our bodies and minds are sick, etc. By pretending a thing doesn’t exist might make it go away, or so we tell ourselves. Or worse, if things go badly enough, God will do for us what we refuse to do for ourselves.
If the problem is small, we think we can ignore it. But by ignoring the problem it inevitably gets bigger. It wants to be noticed. But, regrettably, it can’t get our attention until it wreaks havoc on our lives. It is only when we are left with no other option that we finally see a doctor. But even then, if we are lucky enough to have discovered the malignancy before it has metastasized, there’s no guarantee that we’ve learned our lesson. So the probability of the problem persisting is relatively high. For this reason, the cycle tends to repeat itself. Although we tell ourselves we’ll change, and sometimes sincerely, unless we begin to grasp the complexity of the problem and wholeheartedly commit to upgrading our character and competency, our attempt at affecting change will be like grasping at a fish in frigid temperatures as it fights for its survival. We just can’t seem to hang on.
By definition, problems exist to be overcome. They challenge us to be better. But they don’t solve themselves. And we aren’t naturally inclined to want to solve them, either. We’d prefer to maintain the illusion that “all is well”. To eat, drink and be merry has its advantages. But of course that is a problem, too.
So even though illusions provide some momentary reprieve from the vicissitudes of life, ultimately, they just cause the truth to hurt more.
Conversely, there’s always the danger of naïve interventionism. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes we simply make matters worse. Alarmingly, for example, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In his groundbreaking work evaluating and working with criminal offenders, Dr. Samuel Yochelson discovered that, at least in certain instances, psychiatry was providing criminals with nothing more than excuses for their crimes. That is because we don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. And if we are not the right person for the job, i.e., if our competency is lacking or our character deficient, we will inadvertently become part of the problem. We will insert ourselves into the story only to regret we unwittingly played the part of one of the villains. The fact that we are trying to help is irrelevant.
To put it mildly, to be in this world is no easy task. Of course, to not be of this world is even harder. Fortunately, despite life’s problems, our biology is specifically wired to keep us alive. This helps us bide our time as we hopefully learn, among other things, that we don’t suffer in vain. Otherwise, giving up on life in the face of life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges would be far too tempting. All the same, when things break, as they inevitably do, it should be our hearts that break with them, not our spirits. A broken heart invites us to learn, to grow, and to be better. A broken spirit, on the other hand, jeopardizes our biology’s hardwiring and falsely signals: resistance is futile.
But of all our problems, I am convinced pride is our greatest. Whether we are avoiding life’s problems and making them worse or are addressing them and yet still making them worse, pride prevents us from seeing things as they are. It goes without saying that if we cannot see a problem, or see it accurately, not only does it not disappear but we cannot solve it. We are, quite literally, living in darkness. Indeed, pride can obscure the truth to such a degree that we become incapable of seeing what’s right in front of us. Our houses, as it were, have been built on foundations of sand. Given the consequences, that should concern us.
Pride invites darkness and darkness invites chaos. Do away with your pride and not only will you be able manage the chaos and complexity inherent in life, but you will be enabled to set your own life in order.