French writer Voltaire wrote this statement in the late 1700s. The quote lives on today in a number of variations. I believe it speaks to us in the 21st century, because we all see degrees of paralysis in our forward movement out of concern that the very next step will not immediately materialize our vision of perfection. We see this paralysis in our personal lives, and we see it in the world at large.
Are there areas in your life where you are not moving in the direction of your highest possibilities? I suspect most of us would say yes. Are there areas in the collective life of humanity on planet Earth where we are not moving in the direction of our highest possibilities? Again, I believe most of us would say yes to this question as well. What causes our paralysis, and how can we move forward?
What Causes Our Paralysis?
Collectively, we could probably come up with a long list for the reasons we sometimes fail to act. I simply want to offer three for us to consider today.
First, there are our own personal fears and doubts over our abilities and our worthiness. We judge ourselves in relation to some standard and feel that we up short. We peer out there in the external world and see things that we aspire to do or be and then ask ourselves “who do I think I am that I could do that?” We place other people and their performances on a pedestal. When we think that our next step will not immediately jump us onto the top of the pedestal, we hold ourselves back from even taking the next step. We fear that if we actually do move in the direction of our dreams by taking the very next step that others will judge us or we will judge ourselves because that next step did not leap us immediately to our vision of perfection. Hence, fear holds us in place.
Second, I believe we get seduced by too many choices in modern life. Scientific studies have shown that when people are given a limited number of choices, they are generally able to select one choice as “best” and move forward. These studies also show that when the number of choices rise above a certain point, we get decision paralysis. We are unable to decide out of the vast variety put before us which one is “best”. We get stuck in the analysis, and never actually make a choice. It is easy for us to see that here in the 21st century the amount of information, which flows to us is growing exponentially. Technology, the Internet, and our access to so much information is a true blessing to us, but it can, if we don’t watch out, overwhelm us.
Third, I believe that even when we can decide individually what the best next step is that would move us towards our view of perfection, we bump up against other people who believe the next best step is different because their view of perfection is different. As I have written about before, people grow through a series of worldviews, before settling into one which becomes predominant in their life. They see their worldview as the only way to look at life. The problem of course is that they talk with other people who have a different worldview and who think theirs is the only way to look at life. If these different worldviews lead to different views of what’s perfect, then the next course of action is more often than not going to differ. The ensuing argument over the course of action to take at the moment then stops us dead in our tracks from taking any action.
My Story: Medicare Part D
Voltaire’s statement was used frequently among those of us who were heavily involved in the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It was an exciting time to be involved in the leadership of Medicare. The time frames for implementation were short, the details to work out were many, and there were high expectations and high visibility on the outcome. Many moving parts had to come together and fit. Many people who had never worked together before had to come together and agree.
I can still remember sitting in on many meetings discussing how we were going to handle some specific aspect of the program. Sometimes it seemed there were as many ideas on what to do as there were people in the room. There were many meetings where it seemed the only agreement we made was when our next meeting would be.
Yet I still recall one person who would move us forward by proclaiming that perfection was the enemy of the good. She would challenge us to let go of our individual view of perfection and agree on a view of where to go that we all agreed was “good”. In moments, when it appeared that our product was not yet “perfect” enough to move forward, she would remind us of our looming deadlines and the need for us to move forward on the product in question. With agreement that it was “good enough” we would move on.
Ultimately, Medicare Part D was implemented successfully and has gone on to be an integral part of the program. Yes, there were bumps along the road which I well remember. People may disagree as to whether the program Congress crafted was correct or not, but most people will agree that its implementation was successful. A daunting challenge with tight time frames was mastered in part by a call not to get mired in paralysis by seeking perfection.
Moving the World Forward
The world is facing many challenges today. Climate change, wars and violence, political unrest, terrorism, economic crises, lack of access to healthcare, water shortages, overpopulation — just to name a few. This is not a time to be stuck in paralysis, yet it seems sometimes we are.
Again, the overwhelming issues facing us lead us into not deciding anything. The best course of action on dealing with global warming or healthcare concerns appears in many eyes to be in conflict to the best course of action in dealing with our economic issues. It seems like no matter which issue we try to move forward on our action can appear to be detrimental to another of our concerns. Hence, we often do nothing.
And as stated, the variety of worldviews, playing out on the planet paint a variety of paths to different pictures of perfection. The traditional worldview, frequently sees perfection solely in the strength of one’s individual country even if at the expense of other countries, or seeks expansion of their religion even if at the expense of other religions. Our way is the right way, end of story. The modern worldview, says perfection is a world where you can strive and achieve personal material success even if others suffer in the process. The success of Wall Street and corporations is paramount. If wars and political unrest, create corporate profits, then they are justified. Perfection is a continued growth in our outputs and products even at the cost of human lives and the planet. The postmodern worldview, seeks equality for all but gets stuck in how to achieve it. It’s hard to meet the needs of everyone when what everyone needs appears to be so different.
So how can we move forward? The first step is to become aware where we have become stuck as a people and why. Then, it begins in our consciousness, individually. It begins with our intention to move the world forward in our small corner of the planet, doing whatever we can in our sphere of influence. We release our fear that we’re not good enough or can’t make a difference. We recognize that even if we can’t leap to the top of the pedestal of world perfection with our next step, we can at least move in that direction. We release our attachments to our personal view of what future perfection looks like. We rise up above our own worldview and seek to understand the views and needs of others. We seek common ground and focus our attention and energy on where we are like rather than where we differ. We seek collective decisions that move us in a forward direction as a people even if the decision and action is not “perfect”. All of us seeking perfection collectively, as Voltaire cautioned us, is an enemy of our collective good.
Moving Your Life Forward
Are you moving forward? Are you moving into the highest possibilities of you can be? Generally when I ask people that, most tell me they are moving forward in some areas of their lives but are stuck in others. The question then becomes — how can I move forward in the area of my life in which I’m stuck?
Once again, the first step is to become aware of where we are bogged down and why. Again, it begins in our own consciousness. It begins with our intention to move forward and to follow that intention with action.
So I ask you to consider where this paralysis is showing up in your life. Is there something you are called to do or be but don’t see how you can make the leap directly to perfection on your next step? Are you afraid that if you take the next step in the direction of your dreams that others will judge you or you will judge yourself as less than the perfect ideal?
How many of us say I just need one more experience before I am ready to move forward? There is always one more book to read, one more class to take, one more experience I need under my belt before I am ready to step forward into my calling. I’m here to tell you that now is the time to move forward. You know as well as I do that that next book or class will be followed by another book or class and then another and then another. The overwhelming amount of information flowing to us, informs us but freezes us. It’s time to say “enough”, thaw out, and move on.
Your life is calling you to move forward. Your moving forward, serves yourself and serves the planet. Your moving forward moves all of us forward. Let go of the illusion of the necessity that your next step leap you into your picture of perfection. That illusion is the enemy of you claiming your good. You are already good enough. You are already perfect.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!