There are people in the world who must deal every day with real threats to their survival.
I promise you that mothers living in Baghdad, Kabul or Mogadishu are not worrying about muffin-tops or the color of their throw pillows.
They are literally trying to keep themselves and their children alive and fed.
Fundamentally, we have the same survival mechanisms as they do.
100,000 years ago we had to worry about carnivorous birds swooping down and stealing our young. Our brains were always on high alert for our survival.
And if you are alive today, you evolved from those people that were good at surviving.
Think about it … the ones with less skill got eaten, and so they didn’t pass their genes on to you.
The fundamental design feature of our brains is to identify threats and avoid them.
But because most of us don’t deal with real threats, we make things up to survive against.
Absent any real threat, my brain will send the same fear signals Anne Boleyn experienced as she walked toward the guillotine as when I see skid marks on the marble floor of my building, knowing exactly which 7 and 9 year old put them there.
Absent any real threat, your brain pumps you up with enough adrenaline to outrun or tackle a crocodile, just because somebody flipped you off at a stoplight.
Absent any real threat, my cousin’s brain tells her that because her house isn’t clean, the police are going to come and take her away for being an unfit mother.
If you are reading this on your computer or smartphone, I’m going to humbly suggest that you probably aren’t experiencing many real threats to your survival.
If you didn’t worry about someone bombing your house last night …
… if you slept in a bed …
… if you ate more than one meal today (and aren’t on some nonsensical French woman’s diet) …
… consider that you have this survival thing handled.
Since that’s the case, I’d like to humbly suggest that you just get over yourself.
Those of us in the well-to-do countries are so focused on surviving threats that don’t really exist.
In fact, it is our innate survival mechanism that has had us become so self-absorbed, self-centered, protective and separate from one another.
Our brains tell us that we must make sure we get what is “ours”, before anyone else does.
Our brain is on constant vigil for those who might take something from us, like our pride or our respect.
We teach our kids to share in preschool but then spend the rest of our lives competing for who has the best toys and calculate our worth by our possessions.
We watch reality TV and read gossip magazines because we love it when we see when a celebrity goes to jail, or gets divorced or gets caught with a prostitute.
Our warped rationalization leads us to believe that because that bad thing happen to others, we are somehow more okay.
We put so much significance on what the guy on Fox news is saying, the way your boss just looked at you, if Brangelina is going to adopt another kid, that senator so-in-so who slept with his aid, or why your 9 year old decided to carve a smiley face on the table.
We put so much significance on those last 5 pounds, that we shouldn’t have eaten that cupcake, what should I wear to a charity event for children starving in Africa, or if Susie is mad at me because she hasn’t responded to my text in the last 5 minutes.
We put so much significance on these things that don’t matter because that is what our brains are hard-wired to do.
We aren’t bad or ungrateful because we do this. Maybe a little unconscious, but we aren’t terrible people.
We are simply missing the point.
If we condense the life span of the earth down to 24 hours, human life would occupy less than 1 percent of the last second of Earth’s existence.
Recycling makes me feel good, too, but I have no delusions that if we keep messing with Mother Nature, she will simply extinguish us and figure out some way to absorb those plastic bags.
Intellectually we know that given the vastness bit of the universe we have been able to measure with today’s technology, we are more minuscule and more inconsequential than the smallest grain of sand.
Knowing that however, makes no real difference.
As a culture, we spend gazillions of dollars on therapy and personal development courses to find out what is wrong with us and how to fix it.
Some people become addicted to what they call “peeling away layers of the onion.”
Newsflash: You’re a human being, not an onion!
Through years of participating in and leading personal development programs, I have had many insights.
I have deduced that my fear of commitment comes from something my brother said when we were kids.
I have learned that my compulsion to be the best comes from not being able to pronounce the word “machine” in my first-grade advanced reader class.
I have discovered that I am friendly and funny because when I was 3 I decided that was the best strategy for getting people to like me.
All of those insights are interesting and fascinating, but they don’t really give me access to anything …
Okay, so I wound up a commitment phobic, overly-competitive, social chameleon. So what?
I could spend the rest of my life trying to change all that, or pretending those things never happened. But that would be so boring.
What I really want to do with my life is bring humanity closer to joy and peace and happiness.
My particular flavor of expression happens to be as a writer, consultant and mother.
Your expression could be as an artist, an assistant, a teacher, a doctor, a CEO or a dog-walker. It doesn’t matter. You can choose any expression that makes you happy and feels right for you. Consider that simply being happy is a huge contribution to humanity.
Maybe our brains are scared that we’ll get assassinated if we do great things …
Many, if not most, of the greatest leaders in history were killed for standing for what they believe in: Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X.
These are people who really did give everything—including their lives—to create a better world for humanity.
You don’t have to be like them, but they are no different than you an me.
Heroes are only heroes because they started out as ordinary people … ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
What if we started by simply spending as much time thinking about how to solve the problem is real problems (like hunger, clean water, or alternative energy resources) as we do looking at Facebook?
Coincidentally, the thing that will I believe will cause genuine happiness, joy and fulfillment is the same thing that will could cause peace in the planet. That’s a BOGO.
As far as we know, you have but this one precious life to live.
So here’s my question:
If you could do ANYTHING with your life, what would you do?
(It could be anything, so why not make it something amazing?)
Please leave a brief note in the comments below and tell us what you would (or will) do with your one precious life!