We are driven by habits of mind, compelled by social forces and bewitched by other-worldly conundrums that are often out-of-step with the better of our instincts.
We are expected to struggle successfully with these always complex and sometimes fantasy-ridden forces. But typically what motivates and corrects us are the carrot and the stick. Instead of being introduced to the powerful civilized sensibilities and pragmatic distinctions that would make sense of our condition and give us true means of independence, we are, in the main, trained with rewards and punishments.
Yes, dependent on the supervision of others, even absent sufficient self-motivation, likely we will get by in life. But for some of us, getting by is not enough. Not having thought through our autonomy feels like an impoverished fate. Yet, we don't know how to challenge what appears to be our destiny. On the one hand, we are tethered to ethereal dreams. On the other hand, we are unschooled in the distinctions needed to be totally responsible for the mood, tenor and efficacy of the whole of our existence.
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities is the title of a short story published in 1937 by the poet Delmore Schwartz, born in 1913*. The piece is about a marriage informed by the traditional fantasy-ridden bubble of pictures, expectations and conventions and ignorant of the educated sentiments and self-command on which the success of such an endeavor—or any committed endeavor—depends. The outcome: a bitter, resentment-filled life for the couple who did not know that the fulfillment of their dreams had to be built on an architecture of responsibility.
In my most recent post dated 06.01.15 and titled Challenge your fate, I said “The cultivated ability to appreciate and respond creatively to complex emotional, aesthetic and competitive conditions is a great privilege and, of course, an asset, as well.”
We humans have the brainpower to acquire the sensibilities and distinctions required to develop the responsibility essential to the fulfillment of our dreams. However, when they are not addressed, we, like the unfortunate couple described, are locked into the presentation we make of ourselves.
Bound and determined, we find ourselves cut off from our ability to fulfill our dreams. Moreover, without the independent means to manage our emotional stamina and anxiety, we don't know where to look for the resources to sustain our morale when, for instance, we’ve been stymied by competition, bad luck or when our lives have not turned out as expected.
The way out of the dilemma? Well, responsibility doesn't come to us naturally. In the absence of an inborn sufficient autonomy, we can't turn "inward" for answers. Instead, we focus our thinking on the creative discipline required to build a perspective that helps us to acquire the responsibility necessary to fulfill our dreams. Indeed, when we look for a common denominator to all legitimate and successful enterprise, we find men and women who have invested in this responsibility.
* When Delmore Schwartz, at 24, was first published, he was remarkably and immediately crowned a literary celebrity, an original whose work both transgressed the prevailing conceptual reality and respected the literary tradition into which he was born.
According to keepers of the lore, his work paved the way for the literature of Saul Bellow (born in 1915). Bellow's characters are known for the intensity with which they burst onto the scene to grapple with the sensibilities and distinctions needed to dispel the illusions that transparently inflate the truth of the conventional legacy.
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.