Capable Capable
Capable Capable

When opportunity knocks

Few of us have plum jobs drop at our feet or win big bucks in the lottery. But you and I know that each of us has the opportunity to be a timely and legitimate determinant in the enterprise of our principled behavior and a rock in the lives of others.

What typically thwarts the opportunity inherent in our behavioral enterprise is a certain narrow-mindedness. Such egoistic rigidity and perhaps fear make it difficult for us to manage ourselves responsibly in the light of the behavioral principles appropriate to our situation.

If we think of our situation, namely our conditions and circumstances, as a call for authenticity in the form of our principled behavior, we may be able to see where we are settling for too many failures or missed opportunities.

Yes, we can certainly point to people less principled than we are. Less rational and responsible, less open-minded and inquisitive, less able to manage their psychology, less committed to freedom, justice and equality. But a complacent acceptance of our own level of achievement with respect to climbing the ladder of performance seriously undermines the authority on which the enterprise of autonomy and life depends.

What happens when we misunderstand or are ambivalent toward the principled requirements put to us and respond to them inappropriately? You know the answer as well as I do. Stress and more stress. Serious stress that threatens to break down the state of our well-being, the clarity of our minds and the executive grip we have on our conditions and circumstances.

When we fail to overcome the frictions of reality, failure and opposition, to push through resistance and to fight inertia—in other words, when we try to do less than what it takes to meet the challenge—we arrest the momentum of our principled enterprise and quite possibly begin our decline.

In fact, we know from our own experience that doing less than what we’re capable of is not the means to a life of our own design. The opportunity of autonomy and life is to climb to performative levels above rationalizations that limit our principled behavior, above the fear and worry that live in our innate determinism and above the egoistic tyrannies with which we are inevitably saddled. We want to learn, to create and to contribute at the highest level at which we can function.

Accordingly, this philosophy of life and cultural discipline specific to America helps us to overcome our narrow-mindedness by expanding our horizons with respect to twin goals: To put our lives into the perspective of the American experiment and to improve our causal efficacy vis-à-vis managing the behavioral enterprise of our autonomy and life.

And as a result of our increasing ability to regulate our behavior with greater levels of significance—with the aims and ideals found or practiced in the elite range of human autonomy—the pleasures of fulfillment, satisfaction and equanimity are ours to enjoy.


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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.