Opportunism compromises our authenticity. This brand of thinking and the practices commonly identified under its rubric not only tear at the fabric of civilization but, importantly, downgrade our experience and our contribution to something small and shallow.
Opportunism is not just practiced by Machiavellis as they conduct affairs of state and assert that duplicity is not personal, just business. Opportunism is commonly employed by the oversized American ego, and it is naively, covertly, flagrantly or viciously at rivalrous play in the day-to-day management of our lives.
In a number of ways, however, self-interest together with our habit of learning via mimicry and conformity, hide from us our opportunistic practices. In fact, we conventionally and blindly tend to conflate opportunity and opportunism. The cause is simple: seeing is thinking and what we don’t think about, we don’t see.
When we fail to think about our practices, we put at risk the ideal world of autonomy and life. Ideally, a normative social conscience works as a check against exploitive temptation. Ideally, we don’t take advantage of others in any of our tacit or formalized contracts concerning business or relationship. Ideally, pressured by the naked desire to win, we don’t default to shallow impulses that make sense of lies, false promises, insincerity, cheating and the like. Ideally, we refuse to go along with coercive conversations that describe as saps anyone who won’t take advantage of another in the name of opportunity.
Changing these shallow practices would amount to changing our lives but change, as you well know, is not an easy matter. Why? Because our cognitive mechanism is subject to the probabilities of its determination. We’re at the effect of our instincts, memories, stored responsiveness (all in all the mindset of our minds).
We’re at the effect, too, of the limits of our so-far-acquired knowledge and experience. In other words, the reach of our cognitive authority is a variable of our ability to disrupt the determinism of our thinking; if blind to our opportunism, we may act inauthentically without being aware of what we’re doing. The consequence? We become a shell of a human being, unaware that shallow choices are the cause of dissatisfaction and an easily disturbed mindset.
Let me be clear. Advocating that the rule of authenticity be intrinsic to autonomy and life is not puritanism. We study autonomy and life not to be scolds or puritans but to see clearly, especially in the presence of the street-smart gamesmanship that tacitly or explicitly endorses taking advantage of individuals or groups of people less savvy.
For some of us, we recognize that such study is a lifetime endeavor because the operative need to see clearly and the material and experience we need to help us think freely are inexhaustible.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.