What is the single most destructive influence in our society? There are so many stellar candidates out there – but in all honesty I’d be tempted to point the finger at our idea of success. We have somehow married ourselves to an idea of success that doesn’t have anything to do with wholeness – as though the two concepts could be considered completely independent of each other. We define success largely in terms of acquisition: acquisition of money, power, honors, learning, and more money. We can chase after success and entirely neglect our basic calling to become whole; and if in that chase our wholeness has to take a hit – well, that’s collateral damage, just one of the things that might fall by the wayside as we stake out our successes.
By accepting our culture’s understanding of success, we initiate a ripple effect. As we neglect our basic urge to become whole, we start to lose our sense of wholeness. We start to experience the body as something other than us – as a slightly troublesome source of betrayal in our lives – and we lose all sense of its thrumming intelligence; we experience the energy of our emotions as a force to master and subvert to the necessity of our ambitions; and we experience obstacles on the way to success as our enemies, and we find unthinkable the notion that they might be the world’s way of offering guidance.
Losing touch with our own wholeness, we start to lose touch with every other kind of wholeness as well: the wholeness of action and consequence, of our shared humanity, of our intimate give and take with the world around us. The fact that we have chosen acquisition as our benchmark of success aligns us with the mythological tyrant, subject to his anxieties and alienation – and it carries us ever farther into that alienation. I recently heard a compelling interview with Paul Piff, whose research ingeniously demonstrates that as people accumulate wealth, they lose ethics, empathy and compassion, and become increasingly entitled and insular. So becoming really successful doesn’t just neglect your wholeness, it actually corrodes it. It carries you away from compassionate engagement with the world, and ever deeper into the dark and narrow funnel of self-absorption. What a dilemma our idea of success presents: the more ‘successful’ we become, the more destructive we become.
Hmmm. Imagine, even if only for a moment, how radically different our entire world would be, and our individual lives would be, if we deflated the fantasy of success that is wrecking such havoc, and elected instead to guide our lives in accord with a different understanding of success – one that took wholeness to be the ultimate success, and moved us feelingly towards it our entire lives.
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