The song, As Time Goes By*, from which the title of this post comes, suggests that the realization of all human ambition depends on the same old story, a win in the fight for love and glory. Certainly, we have the instinct for it. But let’s see how we might add some poignant significance to and a larger perspective on this familiar struggle.
Yes, humans and other animals are born with instincts that they obey without knowing why. We think and talk of instincts as natural, intuitive and authentic. And we often refer to them as our reason for doing something—“it feels right; my gut tells me”—though someone with more distance on the feeling might judge the action illogical and impractical. For example, competing for glory—for the winner-take-all prize, each participant may say, “I am going to win. I want this more than any other contestant. It was meant to be. I’ll do anything to get it. It’s my time.”
And yes, there’s no point in quarreling with instincts. However, without intervention, we are their servants and their expediency a force to which we defer. Unbridled, this expediency drives the lies we tell, the pretense to which we accede and the inveterate habits to which we’re addicted. Moreover, when asked to deny our wired desires, fears and anxieties, some of us feel choked, maimed, grief-stricken, as if a part of us had died. Indeed, it is humane to have compassion for those whose genetically programmed natures are considered aberrant, predatory or cowardly in the modern world.
In general, though, all of us are expected to command the deliberatively transformable nature of our intelligence and manage ourselves accordingly. To do so, we must regulate our instinct-driven expediency in the light of our also compelling systemic desire to live a life of our own design. Our potential for a command of intervention or inventive independence makes it possible.
So, what does a fight for love and glory look like at the substantive level? What happens if we learn to coax—with sustained and comprehensive attention—our intelligence into a new spontaneous, agile and bold referential authority? The result is a deliberative ability to create and impact our systemic desire to live a life of our own design.
Philosophically, existentially and pragmatically, it is up to us to acquire (develop over time) the inventive independence to stand on the variability of our authoritative structure. It is up to us to regulate our expediency with greater levels of significance—that is, with the aims and ideals found or practiced in what we understand to be the elite range of human autonomy.
To begin this post I said: As Time Goes By suggests that the fulfillment and satisfaction of human endeavor depend solely on succeeding with a fight for love and glory. Yet, human beings have a far wider range of application for the ambition of their hearts and minds. We are not limited to those reflexive choices that our ancient programming insisted upon nor the “hearts full of passion, jealously and hate” that the conventional quest for love and splendor seemingly requires.
In fact, in many ways, by virtue of deep and honest deliberation, we can choose our song. Our story. Our fights. Our glory. And the spirit and heart with which we will fulfill our ambition.
* Herman Hupfeld wrote As Time Goes By in 1931 for a Broadway musical. In the main, though, we know its lyric, "It's still the same old story/a fight for love and glory/a case of do or die" from the 1942 film Casablanca.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.