We often feel that we’re exercising choice when it would be more accurate to say we’re on automatic.
So much that we do is invisibly shaped, far beyond our awareness,
by the culture in which we grew up (what ‘one does’ in this or that situation),
by the long trajectory of habit,
by the many untested assumptions that the world is this way or that way,
by our fear,
by our longing to be seen,
by the expectations of those close to us,
by the tension and shape of our bodies,
and by the stories we tell.
Our automatic reactions are how we mostly navigate the world. It has to be this way. How impossible would life be if we needed to exercise conscious deliberation for each of the many things with which we have to cope in an ordinary day?
But our automaticity is not, really, conscious choice.
Alongside our necessary capacity for automatic reaction, which we share with all other animals, human beings have a unique capacity for self-observation and reflection. We can get on to ourselves, and bring about change in the narratives from which we’re living, and in the actions and practices that keep them going. But choice comes only if we’re willing to pay attention, to slow down for a while, to stop and really look over time, to find out what we’re actually doing that might be quite distinct from the weary explanations upon which we so readily settle.
The more frantic we are, the more intent on throwing ourselves into endless action, the less we’re prepared to do all of this – to wake up from our reactivity, and take responsibility for our lives.
“I’m too busy to pay attention” we say, “I have too much to do.”
This is, at least, the plea made by even very senior people in many of the organisations in which I work.
Being busy this way keeps us feeling safe, comfortable… at least we appear to have a place in the world this way, at least we can feel needed.
But is a life lived on automatic, or an organisation run in this way, really an expression of responsibility? And is it really the life and work you’re intending?