We have just tagged the amygdala (a-mig’dala) as the Rottweiler of our brain. It was designed and employed as a guardian and helper. As a watchdog, it beautifully fulfills all expectations to seek out even the most obscure danger and warn us with a rousing raucous. Its duty is to point out problems and ignite our fear mechanism.
But, like every watchdog, it needs discipline and training. Left to its own nature, the watchdog that was engaged to patrol and protect our person and property can become a vicious and dangerous controller of the whole estate. Undisciplined, the watchdog has the potential of focusing all of its attention, and the attention of everyone in the household, on problems, problems, problems.
When that happens, the owner’s response is to give more attention and weight to the negative information and experiences rather than to any positive input. The atmosphere is more pessimistic than optimistic as the fear-driven assignment morphs into a full-time search for trouble. The naughty doggie has just taken over control of the whole estate, because he will find more trouble.
If some screwtape- type individual should want to negatively control the watchdog, and subsequently the whole estate, all that is required is to keep the watchdog’s attention fully focused on the distracting fears and threats. The watchdog will cause commotion enough to keep the whole household in a state of fear, and will paralyze the behavior of the owner so that he is prevented from accomplishing anything positive or productive. An even more subtle problem is that all the commotion and fear caused by the distractions will actually blind the owner from even seeing the present situation as it really is. He will develop a false perception of reality.
Does that sound even a little bit familiar as to what happens to us as we try to live out our individual lives? We become entangled in our fears about our shortages and perceived dangers. Our worries burn holes right through our inner eyes of hope, imagination, and achievement. We are left blinded to the good things that are happening today and the possibilities of future triumphs. Every time the watchdog barks, even if it is at his own shadow, we tend to become paralyzed by fear. It is time to stop the goofy game. It is time to say No, no, naughty doggie, I am the owner and this is my estate . . . No, no!
So, what are some of the things to which our inner eyes have been blinded from our incessant preoccupation with our fears of shortage, lack, and insufficiency? This is, of course, not a problem exclusively identified with Americans. It is universal. It was the problem and process of Eastern Europe. It was at the heart of the messes in Bosnia and Rwanda, as well as Vietnam, Serbia, Cambodia, and now again in the Ukraine. It is a prime example of cultural economics, because all transformational change takes place at the intersection of culture and economics.
Let me share some observations I have made as I have traveled and studied cultures in over 150 countries of the world. These are the subtle issues of which discontentments and even wars are made:
- We lose proper perspective of the good things we already possess. We begin to hoard and become stingy toward others.
- We abandon our attitude of gratitude and become acutely aware of what other people have in comparison to what we have.
- We adopt the idea that we are entitled to more than what we have and fear that we might end up with even less.
- We spend our time worrying about not having enough, even though we have never tried to figure out just how much is enough.
- We are tempted to believe that the reason some others have more is because they somehow took our share away from us.
- We begin to subconsciously think about ways to redistribute things that others have in order that those things can justifiably be ours.
- We start becoming attracted to those we consider strong enough to take things away from those who have and distribute them to us.
- The fear and preoccupation surrounding the perceived inequity of scarcity and shortage shuts down our creative processes of problem solving and drives us to a deeper dependency on government, insurgency groups, mafia, or another voice that will offer to do the worrying for us and ultimately take care of us.
Here’s the good news, however: the disposition of the naughty watchdog can be altered. It is possible that we can shed the old logic of the limited and embrace theability of abundance. The old paradigm does not have to remain, it can be replaced. Our ability to hear the good news again can be restored.
A quick look again at history can validate the fact that things are not as bad as we have been made to believe. Real progress is being experienced right now where we live. It is fair to state that never in history has there been a time when living standards have improved so dramatically as in the past century. Who would have thought a hundred years ago that even the poorest folks in America would be enjoying such luxuries as indoor flushing toilets, personal cars, telephones, and multiple televisions? It is time we take a candid look at just how much available abundance our culture presently enjoys and how rapidly things are continuing to change for the better.
Next Week: A Look at Progress
(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson's new writing project on Cultural Economics)
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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