Becoming Human (#918)

Over this past week, I found out that someone I consider a friend behaved in a way that I consider incredibly unfriendly towards me, taking advantage of our relationship in a way that could have undermined my business. At first, I was both hurt and upset by what felt like a betrayal of trust and confidence. But then, as everyone around me was ready to string them up on the nearest hanging tree, I noticed my own upset begin to wane. “After all,” I heard myself think, “I kind of knew what I was dealing with when I got into this.”

I thought about a story I first heard from Tony Robbins that used to baffle me, as it points to a limited view of the human character that seemed totally at odds with everything we were teaching about possibility and change:

Once upon a time, a scorpion and a frog met on the bank of a stream that was swollen from the rains that had been falling for many days.

“Will you carry me across the river, oh kind frog?” asked the scorpion. “I really need to get to the other side to help my family.”

The frog was suspicious, and asked the scorpion “How do I know you won’t sting me in the middle of the river and leave me to drown?”

The scorpion shook his head sadly. “Even if you think so little of me, frog, as to think I would return your kindness with cruelty, surely you can see that my own self-interest will keep you safe. If I sting you in the middle of the river, I too will drown, and then there will be no one left to care for my family.”

The frog considered this for a few moments, and then agreed to help the scorpion out by carrying him across the river on his back. When they got to the very center of the river, the scorpion sank his tail into the frog’s heart, filling it with poison.

As the frog began to drown with the scorpion still on his back, he asked the scorpion why he would doom them both to their deaths.

“Because I am a scorpion,” the scorpion replied. “To sting is in my nature.”

Since that time, I’ve come to see that while the human potential is essentially infinite, most people (including me) live in a relatively limited range of that potential. Despite twenty plus years at the cutting edge of the worlds of self-help, positive psychology, and personal development, I can still be mean-spirited, petty, and small-minded. And despite my best efforts (and the best efforts of some of the most successful and highest-paid people in the field) I still get overcome from time to time by a level of fear and insecurity that would be comically irrational if it wasn’t me who had to wade through it.

This is not to say that my life isn’t significantly better than it was twenty five years ago – I’ve gone from being a depressed teenager with suicidal ideation to an incredibly happy, loved, and successful “grown up”. But I still get visited by some of the same insecure thoughts and hang-ups that made my life such a misery when I was younger. The only real difference is that by and large, I’ve made my peace with the fact that no matter how “spiritually enlightened” I might get, I’m always going to have to deal with my very human psychology.

And this points to one of the biggest differences I’ve seen between the inside-out understanding and traditional psychology. Tell a typical therapist or self-help guru that you’re upset about your childhood, argumentative with your partner or children, and struggling with financial insecurity, and they’ll quickly reframe your problems in a positive light, affirm your greatness, and offer up seven simple steps to a happier childhood, better marriage, and financial abundance.

Say the same thing to someone who’s insightfully seen that we live in the feeling of our thinking, not the feeling of the world, and they’ll most likely say “Me too – welcome to the human condition.” They’ll then point you inside towards a fresh experience of your deeper nature – not the nature of a “scorpion”, but the innate well-being, peace of mind, and inner wisdom that allows us to navigate our lives with ease and grace in spite of the insecure thinking and bizarrely counter-productive behavior we all engage in from time to time.

So while I would love to be less vain, more humble, and less scared of my own shadow, I also love that I can live a wonderful life even in the occasional company of my vanity, arrogance, and fear.

And while I think it would be great if everyone around me would behave in the ways I think best, I also recognize that we’re all fighting the good fight, doing the best we know how to experience less suffering and greater peace.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may the light within you illuminate the world around you, even as you bump into the edges of that world from time to time in your own mind…

With all my love,

Michael

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