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The Subtraction Game

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It is a natural human characteristic to desire a certain quality of life. As such, it is fair to ask, What is quality of life? Most, when thoughtful, consider quality of life to include at least the following three characteristics: 1) absence of fear, 2) loving relationships (support), and 3) fulfillment of necessities (food, water, shelter, and health care). Contrast these desired characteristics with the typical self-image, and a couple of issues immediately emerge. First among them is the fear generated within ourselves over the risk of exposure or rejection. Next, the distance generated between people when genuine and total honesty is not forthcoming in a relationship. Third is concern over the most basic needs in life due to an absence of self-confidence -- confidence in the ability to provide, especially into retirement. The common denominator in all of this is obvious -- fear.

What is fear but an emotional assumption that we lack the ability to negotiate a desired quality of life? When cast in the light of the typical four self-representations: actual self, ideal self, ought-to-be self, and desired self, where in the mental rehearsals of self does this fear arise? Does it root itself in any of these selves, or is it rooted in the differential between them?

The answer, in my opinion, is all of the above. Typically, our mental rehearsals do not include reconciliation of the selves, so to speak. That is, the original childhood rehearsals are perpetuated in some form or another into adulthood. We rehearse what we might have said, or how we should have responded, and these rehearsals are just as glamorous in a "Hollywood" sense of the word as they were when we were children. This glamorous perspective seeks to make heroes or heroines out of us. It is a game the famous philosopher Krishnamurti called "One-Upmanship. " All too often, it is a "get even or get evener" response that seeks to claim some victory, at least in our minds, that is rehearsed. Like a child, some seem tethered to the notion that their worth is fragile and best redeemed at the expense of others. In other words, if I make someone else feel inferior, then I have established my own superiority. It is a strange world we live in when the criteria for establishing one's self-worth are based on the subtraction game. Subtract from John and Sally and Luke, and we somehow gain? Contrast our worth by comparisons to others, particularly their perceived weaknesses, and wahlah: we some how gain? Attack the people or ideas that we disagree, paint them with vitriolic pejoratives, and somehow this lends credibility to our own positions? All of this is simply fallacious thinking no matter how ubiquitous it seems in our society.

The mature adult quickly recognizes the fallacy inherent in this kind of thinking. The circular nature of getting even or "getting evener" creates a world of insecurities and distortions, both in the physical and the mental. R. D. Laing has stated that the condition of the normal man is one of self-alienation. Laing continues with strong words that are altogether too true, insisting that man pretends to be what he is not until he loses what he is. The truth is that whenever we denigrate another, we subtract from ourselves. To the precise degree that we make less of another, we make less of ourselves. Further, this precedent subtracts from all of humanity's potential. Humankind's unkind tolerance for unkind deeds perpetuates only unkindness. Thus, fear itself is fed both by the acts of unkindness and by the inherit circularity of getting even.

It turns out that in order to minimize or eliminate our fear, we must first stop the subtraction game. We live at a time when our culture can be quite divided over a variety of issues. The division and differences are strengthened by the subtraction game. Meanwhile, serious solutions are simply avoided. My challenge to you is straightforward. The next time you're contemplating the method I have termed the 'subtraction game,' pause and remember-- solutions are never found this way. Let's all of us be the change that we desire for the world will change only as one person at a time changes.

Thanks for the read,

Eldon

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