Surviving Conflicting Life Demands
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2015 (edited 2018)
We don't exist in a world of right and wrong choices. Most choices include both costs and benefits. We must carefully and continually monitor and adjust to flourish.
We live in a complex world with complex issues. The confusion and lack of solid answers embodied in complexity shakes confidence. We soothe our troubled minds by limiting focus and ignoring larger realities. Because clarity calms anxiety, we are susceptibility to readily accept the simple, ignoring more complex intertwining of meanings, and ignorantly sludging through life half-awake. We believe nonsense because it tickles our soul, invoking security amidst the chaos. We fail to skeptically examine beliefs, allowing several contradicting ideas to simultaneously live in our minds. We cheer for large movements but fight against the personal implications of those movements.
A notable conflict is our desire for both autonomy and social acceptance. But these desires conflict—to fulfill one, we must neglect the other. We cite magical antidotal messages to soothe the conflict: Do what you want; never settle; you deserve the very best. But when this logic is not scrutinized against social commitment, we may severely damage relationships by sacrificing social contracts in selfish service of ourselves. Conversely, we also champion compassion, encouraging self-sacrifice to benefit the whole.
The two desires both have positive and negative consequences, depending on how each is integrated into the complex course of living. We can give, rudely neglecting the self, or we can stingily be self-focused rudely ignoring others. Our lives easily become compartmentalized without examining the whole.
"Being dragged in two different directions, simultaneously, should only create tension and stress. And yet some exciting and highly counter-intuitive research suggests that these conflicts can often work in our favour."
Loizos Heracleous and David Robson
The beauty of living, with all its colors, requires many threads. When we acknowledge complexity, we discover the immensity of experience. The shy, the gregarious, the compassionate, the stoic, and the intellect all bring different gifts to the party—each with strengths and weaknesses. Any three-step guide (or five; or ten; or twelve) to happiness falls woefully short of the vast and differing needs of sufferers. Some should be kinder reaching out to others, while others might do better to focus more on themselves. Some should show less emotional, while others would do well to show more. Finding balance challenges everyone.
As we try to figure out life, we will contend with trials and errors. While balancing autonomy with connection, we will—at times—make choices that are destructive to relationships; Other times, we may cause self-harm through self neglect in service to a partner. There’s no exactness—no perfect instructions for balancing all our opposing needs. We gain benefits and lose benefits with each action.
We must have a vague sense of reality to proficiently navigate opposing demands, perceiving self-neglect and social distancing. With distorted views, we easily wander, confused by the relentless requests for time, effort and money. We may feel uncomfortable with a request but not able to explain what we are feeling. Watching the successful, the healthy-minded lovers of life, we can establish rudiments of a practical and useful structure. Ideally, we learn this in childhood.
I encounter opposing demands with my writing. I find great joy through research on and writing about well-being. But my research only serves my personal well-being when carefully balanced with integration of discovered principles—too much time reading and writing, and the neglected parts of my life suffer. A healthy mind and body don’t spontaneously happen with knowledge; health requires properly directed effort, time and money. If I wait until all is done to care about my health, the other aspects of my life intrude, betraying something I proclaim to value.
"A healthy mind and body don’t spontaneously happen with knowledge; health requires properly directed effort, time and money."
Opposing Demands and Relationships
We must constantly balance the opposing demands—work and family; company and solitude; sacrifice and abundance; action and rest.
These concepts especially apply to our intimate relationships. Close relationships have developmental needs—when needs are neglected, the relationship suffers. If we value the relationship, we must structure time. This requires managing resources. We must balance enjoyments with other necessities of living, structuring time for careers, hobbies, children, grandchildren, exercise, and certainly our lovely companions.
By structuring resources, we address opposing needs effectively; not overindulging one through complete sacrifice of another. When requests for time and money intrude, our structured time gives us a reason to decline, or purposely adjust our schedule, working in another time to meet the need being sacrificed.
Our drive for acceptance may challenge commitments to autonomy—or vice versa. Many others will not have commitment or concern for our balance; blinded by their own pressing needs (wants), they disrespect our autonomous demands. An ex, a boss, or a grown child may constantly push to knock our lives out of balance. Doing the right thing isn’t simple.
We live among many great and selfish people, with different and conflicting needs. We must struggle through the distractions, gathering supportive friends, and finding healthy balances. We give; but we also must receive. We follow passion; but also, must structure time to fulfill the mundane necessities. We run; we walk; we rest. Each demand in their own time and own place.
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