Chapter 4

If you don’t force yourself, you will be forced

In the jungle of influences

We are all living in a web of human influ­ences. Parents, partners, colleagues, bosses, neighbors, friends. Indirectly, they also include politi­cians, officials and journa­lists. Some influ­ences we can escape, for instance, by breaking off all contact. However, no one can escape from all influ­ences for his or her entire life.

We live in depen­dencies that everyone attempts to shape to their benefit. Even as infants, we express our displeasure and pleasure. As adults, we come to terms with our fellow human beings, striking a balance in their relati­onship with us. In most cases, this has to do with pecking order. The power structure is clarified. We talk about winners and losers, followers and those who call the shots.

Which group do you belong to?

Whose influence are you subject to?

If you want to lead a self-deter­­mined life, you need a high level of indepen­dence. You not only need to be independent of your fellow human beings, but also of the influ­ences that are constantly rising up from within yourself. My wife and I went skiing with a friend. Ever since, the two of us have had a special phrase: “I have to have that.” Our friend had to have all kinds of things, for instance, a cup of strong coffee and a soft-boiled egg every morning. “Otherwise, I just can’t get going.” Her mood depended on a number of things she just had to have. She was a slave to herself.

Is your life deter­mined by external influ­ences or by you yourself? Are you the master of yourself? Everyone is “both.” But which of the two has the upper hand? Your goal should be to primarily be self-deter­­mined as the master of yourself. If you are your own master, you can be hard on yourself if you run the risk of giving in to the wimp inside yourself.

The best way to clarify the extent to which you are deter­mined by external circum­s­tances is to make a list of indivi­duals: What people influence me? Label people you have written down according to the degree of their influence: strong, medium, moderate. Then add a short description. What does the influence consist of? Finally, do I perceive this influence as pater­na­listic, or is it something that helps me in life and that I accept?

Here are three more questions to add to the way you charac­terize the individual:

  • What indivi­duals do I feel superior to?
  • What indivi­duals do I see myself as being at the same level?
  • What people do I subor­dinate myself to?

Living in freedom and joy

Your list of indivi­duals will clearly show you the sphere of influ­ences in which you live. Conclu­sions: Which people am I respon­sible for? Who do I act as a role model for? Who is my work useful for?

The question “What do I enjoy doing” is not wrong in this context, but it is dangerous, because it can cause us to look only for work that is easy and complacent. It is better to ask yourself, How do I change myself and my sphere of influence such that a fulfilled life can develop for everyone?

This SINNphOLL book is the attempt to provide impetus and demons­trate possi­bi­lities for coming closer to achieving the goal of a fulfilled life. We can only appro­ximate it, since while we can free ourselves of many depen­dencies through self-impro­­vement, depen­dencies that we need will remain. They can even make us happy if they are lived in benevo­lence or even love.

And we are also allowed to love ourselves. Love, anchored in inner calm, embodied by self-confident actions and found in our belief in perfection, i.e., God, gives the oppor­tunity of a life in freedom and joy. There are models, such as the Franciscan friar Maximilian Kolbe, who emit or emitted this kind of love.

Poten­tates live in depen­dencies too

The past centuries of human history are largely charac­te­rized by social struc­tures in which there is a clear top and bottom. In the hierar­chies, the power positions were prescribed. People lived under the reign of those who had power. But even those who had power were in no way “sovereign”.

From Steinfall (Rock Slide), poetry/satire, Shaker Media, 2012:

For and against

 

Being powerful. Forcing others into one’s will.

Having slaves. To perpe­tuate oneself. To be worshipped.

Survive death as a mummy. Or frozen.

Live out every freedom. Decide about life and death.

To be worshipped as a god.

 

Intrigue. Depending on slaves.

Being betrayed. Not safe from traitors.

Threa­tened by death. Surrounded by lickspittles.

Snakes in the bed. Lied to and deceived.

Blood­su­ckers. Scoundrels. Riffraff.

 

Hone your people smarts!

One thing that is crucial for a self-deter­­mined life is inner freedom; it is independent of power. Anyone can get it. But not on a whim; solely by dealing with yourself and your fellow humans lovingly – and there are times when this also means in an autho­ri­tarian manner.

Deal with people lovingly! Dealing with people lovingly takes people smarts. This is because there are dangerous people out there. If you don’t recognize them and are unable to assert yourself toward them, then you have to avoid them. They are the masters of manipu­lative behavior. You can find them among your fellow human beings in the form of colleagues, family members, neighbors and friends who have an uncanny knack of aligning the people in their surroun­dings toward them.

They can be the epitome of kindness. But only toward those who are affec­tionate toward them or are even at their service. Those who refuse or are critical are punished by contempt. Friendly looks, nice words and favors for one person, stony silence, ostracism and a scornful glance for the others. And it’s even worse when these kinds of people are in a position to combine their manipu­lative behavior with positions of power.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated!

People who are good at manipu­lating others make it absolutely clear to those around them how they would like things to be, when they feel hurt and for what they expect an apology. They have an excellent sense of how to make other people feel guilty. They are never to blame. There is never any doubt as to how they see things and what is pleasing to them. With their facial expres­sions and gestures, their choice of words and their voice, they express what they like and what they don’t like.

They have everything they need for infor­mation control at their command. They know how to use omission, reinter­pre­tation, exagge­ration and under­statement to disse­minate their view as indis­pu­table at all times. And they manage to do this at the right moment.

In partnerships, these kinds of people are especially dangerous. If you engage with them, learn to appre­ciate their kindness, enjoy their attention, and possibly succumb to their charm as a man or a woman, you will be sucked dry until you have nothing left to offer. Some of these people aren’t even aware of what they do to others.

They think it is legitimate to invest all their skills to make themselves feel well and they also think that they are giving a great deal for their part. They want to be recognized as good people. If they are mirrored as anything else, they disagree, insulted.

Don’t fall for the seducers!

If you are a match for this kind of person and see through them in time, you are “self-confident”. In my life, I have run into these kinds of people. I didn’t see through them. Thank God I didn’t become dependent on them. My dislike of “external control” prevented me from being put under their spell. I wasn’t able to prevent friends from being sucked in by them, though.

But people are not just manipu­lative when they deal with each other directly, but rather – today more than ever – by the use of modern means of commu­ni­ca­tions. Social networks control our attention. They supply us with selected and prepro­cessed infor­mation and convey opinions to us as we are meant to under­stand something. Thumbs up. Thumbs down.

How to take away the suggestive power of images

We are deluged with images. This dulls us. We no longer take a good look but rather allow ourselves to be deceived by the first impression. The producers and conveyors of the flood of images select and design subjects for the images that are ever more penetrating. They want to use them to assert themselves in the compe­tition for the viewers’ attention.

We are expected to be gripped by the power of their images. We are also expected to become upset about injustice, feel sympathy, be made afraid, and feel powerless, desire, joy, envy, pride, harmony and other emotions. That boosts the ratings and sells books.

Admit­tedly, there have never been as many fantastic images in movies, TV shows, coffee table books or calendars as there are today. They trigger feelings of happiness as well as wistfulness. If you deal with the power of images, you have to ask questions such as “What is it that fasci­nates me about this?” “Why would I like to be like the person in the image?” “Why would I like to get a first-hand look at this place just once or experience a similar situation?”

You should always look very carefully. After all, some pictures don’t show the reality they claim to show, but rather a virtual world that serves our hopes and desires. There are not as many beautiful people out there, for example, as we encounter in the images we see every day.

Back when I was a film critic, I developed a habit of watching scenes in videos, TV shows and adver­tising material, etc., several times and in slow motion if emotions were awakened in me without me being able to immediately recognize the why and wherefore for this. I want to know what tools were used, and not just the script: what picture detail, perspective, lighting, colors, facial expres­sions, gestures, montage, sounds, music. Images are not only used to convey feelings, but also thoughts are evoked by images. Our memory is primarily geared toward images. We dream in images. Our thinking is under­pinned by images. but also thoughts are evoked by images. Our memory is primarily geared toward images. We dream in images. Our thinking is under­pinned by images.

Become aware of the images of your  thoughts and feelings!

Images are always allegories: a landscape for creation, a bridge for connec­tedness, a laboratory for scien­tific curiosity, markets for sharing, mountain tops for ambitious goals, and all kinds of other things. Reporters use their cameras to supply loads of these kinds of photos and scenarios. What kinds of insights do they strike in us? What do they make us think about and challenge us to do? Here too you have to look – and listen carefully.

After all, manipu­lation occurs here too, through the choice of words used for the commentary, through the associa­tions that are raised and, especially, through omission. This manipu­lation can only be countered by means of our own knowledge and experience.

If you pay attention to the images of your thoughts and feelings and follow up on them, if you constantly call up images in yourself that make the joy of enriching insights and experi­ences present, after some time you will notice that you will stop being controlled by the image-laden ideas influ­encing you from outside, whether these ideas confirm or deny them. We recognize the alleged manipu­lation of television, movies and magazines. This prevents them from having a direct impact without denying that they are an expression of our time.

In this way, you will become the master of your own world of images. Moreover, you will acquire the ability to deal with your ideas creatively: the capacity to come up with ideas, acquire new insights and coordinate your own ideas with those of others.

From time to time, I ask friends and acquain­tances to share their thoughts about the subject of a photo­graph. The amazement at the wide range of associa­tions is often great. It reflects the fact that we carry very different ideas inside us. As long as we describe what we have seen, the utter­ances tend to be quite similar, even if the choice of words may differ. Yet as soon as we describe the feelings evoked by the subject, the ideas can be diametri­cally opposed. This shows how our indivi­duality compared to the ideas of other people can be recognized. Some people find it difficult to under­stand other people’s associa­tions. But that is exactly what we should try to do.

How the resis­tance to self-develo­pment comes about

Our children and young people have become subjects of the state by attending day care centers and schools due to the changes in the social structure along with the fact that all adults do paid work. The conse­quence is that in the compe­tition for the best slots in the knowledge-oriented educa­tional system, we are unable and unwilling to continue to develop ourselves independently. Add to this the stress of everyday life, brought about by the constantly incre­asing complexity of our life circum­s­tances. This stress makes us seek relaxation, recup­eration and fun only when we are not running the rat race of our jobs.

These are not good condi­tions for taking on what should by no means be additional stress, namely the effort of self-develo­pment. If it were in fact stress – rather than the greatest oppor­tunity to escape from all the stress of being controlled by external forces!

The lack of gripping personal goals is the most common reason for people seeing a life lived with depen­dencies as safer than the indepen­dence of a way of life that we are respon­sible for ourselves.

Instill your life with meaning and goals!

Of course, there is no such thing as absolute indepen­dence. Still, all of us can at least acquire an inner attitude to not be dependent on others come hell or high water. Achieving this attitude requires a clear answer to the question What do I want to use my life for? If you don’t have your own goals, other people will use you to reach their goals. 

On the other hand, if you know what you want and are aware of your possi­bi­lities to take control of your life, you can signi­fi­cantly reduce your suscep­ti­bility to guardi­anship, however attractive it may be. And he can resist the tendency to subor­dinate himself to autho­ri­tarian struc­tures that serve to escape from his own responsibility.

In the end, self-reali­z­ation is a lifelong process, not unlike a never­ending mountain hike. What’s important is the beginning and sticking through the first sections. At some point, the moment will come at which you will find your pace.  The joy you experience at the top of the different summits is unfor­gettable. How fantastic that you didn’t throw in the towel!

These days, doctors’ efforts to bring people who are clini­cally dead back to life are sometimes successful. From the reports from people who have had near-death experi­ences during the state during which their heart stops beating, we know that they look back on their lives and reassess them. When we are on the threshold of death, it seems, we finally clearly realize what we – not others – have done with our lives.

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