We're Not Helpless
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2016
We are molded by experience, but not hapless victims to uncontrollable forces. We have power to contribute to our futures.
Life is complicated. When scientists conduct experiments, they painstakingly eliminate influencing factors to isolate a single point of investigation. Even with great efforts, using double blind studies, and pristine environments, the results are rarely definitive; instead the findings are carefully presented, revealing tendencies and probabilities, while acknowledging that exceptions exist—deviations that defy the norm. Reality is complex. In life, numerous factors, mostly unknown, blur the predictableness of outcomes. We may do everything right, as far as we know, and still fail. Sometimes, someone appears to haphazardly stumble through life and still succeeds. Chaos does not rule the day. Actions matter. While what we do is not completely independent to surrounding factors, our choices do have a notable impact on the futures we regret or enjoy.
Wisdom helps us sort through experience and draw valuable lessons. The lessons are not immediately evident because of the multitude of unknown contributing factors. On first glance, we easily misinterpret facts, giving too much attention to the most prominent elements—causes outside our realm of control. We assign blame, complaining of unfairness. Unproductive blame, largely an unconscious process, blinds us from more productive investigation of the factors we do influence.
We dismiss responsibility for struggling relationships, stagnating careers and a disappointing life by conveniently focusing attention on outside factors—blaming the world for our unhappiness. By dodging responsibility, we hinder power to change. Life complexity requires a wider view; a view that includes acceptance of the constant presence of unpredictable obstacles. Success demands we effectively respond to distasteful surprises instead of justifying failures because of them. We still have control to create the futures we seek; just not absolute control. We will have to adjust our path to accommodate for the wonderous assortment of unplanned encounters.
I have heard it said, “Whether we believe we have a choice or believe we have no choice, we are correct.” When we believe we have no choice, we helplessly surrender to circumstances, fearing the unknowns, we give up.
"We dismiss responsibility for struggling relationships, stagnating careers and a disappointing life by conveniently focusing attention on outside factors—blaming the world for our unhappiness."
Through learned helplessness studies, Martin Seligman demonstrated that animals conditioned to be helpless would later endure shocks they were capable of escaping. When we are conditioned to fail, we will needlessly endure the shocks of life, failing to identify obvious opportunities of escape.
When we have self-confidence in our abilities, when life throws the unplanned punches, instead of cowering in the corner, we gather our courage and resourcefulness and creatively respond. When nasty obstacles interrupt or delay goal attainment, instead of blaming, successful people respond with effective counter actions. Confidence in our ability to attack the unplanned is the personal power necessary to achieve beautiful change, giving resilience to overcome the setbacks. When personal responsibility is accepted, we become the captain of the ship. We may not control the wind, but we can effectively adjust the sails, capturing the driving force of life, and using disruptions to push us towards our destination.