Tag Archives: responsibility

Atlas Shrugged and Idiocracy

I watched Atlas Shrugged this weekend – a movie based on Ayn Rand’s book. I also watched the movie Idiocracy. As per usual and without conscious planning, there was a theme for me related to these movies – how much does any one being need to give society, or to the “greater good”?

Atlas Shrugged appeared to have a key message: Altruism and charity are OK, as long as these are neither guilted out of nor forced upon an individual. Here, the individual’s rights are primary and no person need feel obligated to society. Those who create or discover, including inventors, artists, philosophers, and scientists, need not feel pressured to offer up their creativity to the “greater good” unless they are fairly compensated in some way. What do you think about that?

Atlas represents the practical creators who prop up the world. If the world forces or manipulates Atlas to continue to support it, Atlas can simply shrug in response. Otherwise, the needy just get needier and the competent would just have to pick up more slack for everyone else. People do get lazy and complacent when they feel that someone else will take care of things. As a high-school teacher, I see this fact clearly with my students.

Idiocracy was about what would happen to the world if all intelligent, creative people were bred out of existence. It’s actually a known fact that cultures placing a high value on education also reproduce less! According to the movie, the world would literally degrade to garbage in this case. In the end, “average Joe” does not save humanity, but does give it a solid kick in the right direction – the “average Joe” is not so helpless after all!

I’ve often pondered how much I can give to others. My tendency was to give everything I had and expect nothing in return. If I had something that others wanted or needed, I would give it away with no consideration for myself.

Eventually, I realized that I would die if I kept that up – I was constantly tired, became ill, and generally started to fade from life. It was a wakeup call for me to realize that if I did die, the very people to whom I gave would not care much or at all. That didn’t feel right – was I really expendable?

In everyday-life terms, I always had a job and was able to solely support my family on my income for nearly a decade. Many assumed that I was built to do, accomplish, and ensure everyone was taken care of. In addition, I had this deepseated wish to help others in need and provided emotional strength and support to anyone who crossed my path.

It was my difficult lesson to begin to accept that, just because I could do something didn’t mean that I always need to do it. It even began to feel wrong to want to take away people’s suffering because, on a deeper level, I was taking away something they needed to grow.

I willingly took responsibility for anything and everything I could, incorrectly thinking that this was the right way to live my life. But, I was wrong. I chose too quickly to sacrifice myself until it became impossible for me to continue. I had to learn when to help and when to step aside and let others take responsibility.

The wisdom required to discern when it is correct to help is much more profound, as it turns out, than Ayn Rand’s thesis. After all, almost all of us have unresolved karma and obligations from this and other lives. At times, we are rightfully in the position to give more than we receive. However, when balance is achieved, it is utterly wrong to continue giving.

Similarly, wisdom is necessary to discern when to receive from someone. When someone may appear to be giving, they can actually be giving mostly resentment and guilt – which does not serve anyone. In fact, such giving is actually a form of further taking.

The intention behind giving is more important than the superficial act. I’ve had people in my life go through the motions of giving, but in reality just unloading their resentment onto me for whatever reasons their perception concocted. I had to learn when it was necessary to refuse such “gifts.”

There can be an entire teaching around the art and science of giving and receiving! This is the dynamic at the core of human relationships.

Unfortunately, it took me becoming completely drained and exhausted before I learned my lesson. Interestingly, I also became more attuned to situations where it was undoubtedly still OK to give to others and I would not be drained.

In my case, I often had to reach a point of great discomfort before I realized I needed to make a change. I guess I am a bit dense. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way and I enjoy my much-needed solitude. It is my time to recouperate and to undo some of the damage from overserving. My body is very tired and barely functions – I did that to myself and I take full responsibility for allowing this to happen. Fortunately, I may have caught this in time and now just wait for old karmic connections to be severed.

The Mahabharata talks about one’s duty – the kind we develop over lifetimes and for which we must take responsibility. If we do this, life is clean, free from imbalance, self-loving, and appropriately giving to others. It took waking up to the value of my own life to recognize the reality of the need for balance.

In practice, it is not necessarily good to serve everyone we meet. Also, the “greater good” is much more subtle than people having all their needs met. The bigger picture is much more nuanced, where telling someone off may very well be serving the greater good.

I had to learn this using my own life and body as sounding boards. It never ceases to amaze me how our bodies are such sophisticated devices for intuiting the correct response or actions. The more we listen to our intuition, the easier it becomes to hear.

I am OK shrugging now when there are cries for help. My life has as much value as I see in the lives of others, which is significant. It’s important to know, without any illusions, when we don’t owe someone a single thing.

Choices and Responsibilities

Most of life is devoted to understanding our responsibilities and our choices. A responsibility is something we have promised to do – either explicitly or complicitly – within our sphere of influence. A choice is something that we make for ourselves. Each choice sets off ripple effects, ever-crossing the endless flow of what was previously set in motion.

Each choice is our opportunity to honor ourselves as part of One Life. Sometimes choosing the road less traveled is necessary, and – at other times – it’s good to go with the commercial tour.

Too many choices are made based on imagined dangers, false alarms, and fears of the unknown. Like an ill-timed machine, events will fire off and trigger jerks to broadcast chaos. As vortices emerge, their power and seeming stability makes some feel in control. But even the storms on Jupiter won’t last forever.

Life is explosive at a time when too few know how to be caretakers. We are clumsy in our movements, paint with strokes too broad for the canvas, and are constantly climbing out of the rockfalls we set in motion. We are not evolving biology, but evolving awareness expressing through matter and light.

We may be free to choose to participate or to avoid, but there is nothing absolute or permanent. It is clear that some situations and circumstances are unavoidable and must be ultimately engaged, while others will not budge no matter what you do until the seeds come to fruition. Although it is possible to do nothing at all, it quickly becomes apparent that inaction is just another form of action.

When an imbalance is set up, situations build until they break. Something eventually will give way in the face of mud and water racing down a mountain. Structures are bound to be destroyed and others made possible. At our core, we can feel that all this play cannot annihilate. There are only delays, but never ultimate destruction.

Wisdom is knowing what to allow and what to resist, when to speak and when to be silent, and when to participate as an individual or a member of a community. Growing plants and nurturing children gives much insight into when to prune and when to encourage. As with all life processes, we can hear more when we attune to the deeper things – the undertow. It takes skill to hear what is really being said, beyond the words and in the realm of energy. It takes patience to discern the shadows cast on a cave wall. It takes loving kindness to see that death and life breathe the same air.

Somewhere between peace and battle lies a steady stream of engaged living. We hone our blueprints to correspond with the buildings. We do not run and hide, nor do we attack and crush. Surfing this slipstream, we learn how to move so that we honor both ourselves and others until we understand the subtle difference.

We are caretakers in the making, emerging from the wild. More and more will learn how to move without disturbing the delicate. We will focus force where needed, and be gentle with the soft and the ephemeral. When less and less life slips through the cracks unnoticed, we’ll transform – again and again.

No one can see what will be because It creates in each moment. Right now may be a time to rest and listen. Then, when it is time to act, the vanishing boundary between choice and responsibility will be more clear.

Sand grains rushing through inverted clocks…. Timing – not time – is everything.