When Conformity And Stewardship Collide

Do you ever feel that inner conflicts can’t be resolved?

Does your desire to belong and be accepted conflict with other desires?

Does your higher self ever feel left out?

Conflicts About Conformity

Conformity and stewardship: sometimes they work in harmony and other times they collide.

All societies create structures and norms that define daily life and the predominant mission of the society. Generally the predominant mission which is another way of saying values, is driven by some type of necessity.

Our earliest ancestors were hunter gatherers. When humans discovered how to grow crops, our ancestors shifted to a more agricultural way of life. It was certainly less life threatening than wrestling with dangerous animals to get food. However, food needed to be stored and then protected from other humans who preferred to steal rather than farm.

So a new way of life came into being that supported that agricultural economic system. This is goodness. Who wants to be wrestling with dinosaurs or other predators every day? However there is a down side.

How Structure Helps And Hurts Us

We create structures to support us, which is an example of stewardship, and then create the mindset and practices that support the structure, which is conformity.

Spiral Dynamics, the book by Chris Cowan and Don Beck, calls the situation that gives rise to a particular economic and social system as “life conditions.” This is the reality or real problems that drive the creation of a societal structure.

Once a particular structure with all of its institutions, rituals, mores and values is in place it become the “reality” for the people of that society. After some generations have passed, no one will remember the prior social structure. Daily life, purpose and problem solving all take place within the framework of the existing cultural dynamics, which will seem like life itself.

Cultures Have Life Cycles

There is a problem, though. Many people do not realize that like each one of us, a societal structure has a lifecycle. It comes into being to solve a problem, succeeds and then creates the conditions for a need for change which ushers in a new system with new values and purpose.

A perfect example is the current systemic change going on in the world. The existing system came into being to create a better life for human being though innovation and human initiative. It was created when people were few and resources were plentiful and has succeeded admirably in its mission. Now its success has sown the seeds of change because of our dwindling natural resources.

When To Conform And When Not To

Most individuals, when a society is in a advanced state like ours, try to solve the problems they are facing by using the tools of the existing system. So if the existing system used growth to solve problems, growth is the assumed solution, when in fact a new solution, new structure and new values are required. This is where conformity and stewardship collide.

When a system is in its prime, the society functions well, and conformity to the system makes sense and feels coherent. When it has passed its prime that is no longer the case. Stewardship at different stages of the system lifecycle has different requirements; sometimes conformity is good stewardship and sometimes not.

Conformity And HSPs

HSPs are very sensitive to the conflicts around them at any stage of the life cycle of a society. They will pick up a sense of where the society is in its development, and notice when the practices of a particular cultural structure have become more destructive than constructive.

Highly sensitive people can be the canaries in the coal mine. They are in touch with the present, but usually ahead of the prevailing mindset. It can make them appear to be ahead of their time when they are really very in touch with the present.

HSPs can be very useful to a society that wants to be smart about managing its change. We humans have not managed change well in the past. Valuing our sensitive geniuses could make it much easier to know when to conform or not, when to change, and when we are being good stewards. HSP’s are worth embracing for this reason.

For More Information: Dr. Clare Graves Site

What Happened To The Sacred?

The word “sacred” is one that we hardly ever use outside of religious settings or events. For a number of reasons it has become a word that we shun. It is, however, and important idea about an important subject that transcends cultural definitions about it meaning.

Because it has been so misused, it deserves a look to see if we can reclaim it in a productive way.

What Does Sacred Mean?

According to Wikipedia,

The word “sacred” descends from the Latin sacrum, which referred to the gods or anything in their power, and to sacerdos and sanctum, set apart. It was generally conceived spatially, as referring to the area around a temple.[citation needed]

The English word “holy” dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning “whole” and used to mean “uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete”.

The religious meaning of sacred is the commonly used reference for the word. It is interesting that the English word derives from an adjective that means healthy and whole.

The Ancient Sacred

Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest if not the oldest living culture in the world. The aborigines migrated south from somewhere in Asia to Australia over c. 60000 years ago. They created one of the richest sacred traditions in the world known as “Dreamtime” . In their culture sacred referred to the land and the ancestors, both of which were considered the basis of well being of the people of the culture.

So for them, sacred was a life giving and life supporting idea. It was directly related to daily life. They help nature to be sacred since it supported their lives very directly.

The Sacred And Modern Life

Later cultures institutionalized the sacred under religious institutions and so the Roman (latin) definition of sacred as directly related to the gods located power in a religious/mythical figure and assigned those figures power. Nature was no longer the location of power.

With the institutionalization of the sacred, the sacred was removed from the individual and located in the hands of those with hierarchical authority. Once that happened, hierarchy and the sacredness of elites became a cultural phenomenon.

It does not really matter how the sacred is removed from nature to cultural institutions. Once it happens, nature becomes degraded as does the “average” meaning non-elite individual. We humans have been fighting about this ever since.

Hyperindividualism And The Sacred

Removing the sacred from our daily lives by cultural structures has impacted the relationship of individuals to one another especially since the natural world is often concentrated in the hands of elites. It has changed what we considered vital for our survival and elevated money as a need for our survival. As a result many people do not make the connection between the natural world and their survival and well-being.

Since nature is no longer communally owned we do not have a natural access to our survival and as a result have become disempowered. Few people have the ability and skills to survive in nature any more. All the money on the world does not protect us from that disempowerment.

HSPs And The Sacred

Highly sensitive people have a natural access to the sacred of life and to nature. It is our natural home. Our intuitive, energy sensitive natures cannot deny the sacred power of the natural world. It is unlikely for HSPs to transfer that awareness to cultural institutions no matter how respect-worthy they might be.

One of the special gifts of the highly sensitive person is our access to the natural sacred and it is one of the gifts we have to offer the world. There is a movement in the world to reclaim our rightful place in the world and that involves siting ourselves as a part of nature not over it. It also means rediscovering nature’s awe and mystery.

What’s lovely about it is that we HSPs have a wonderful opportunity to offer our eyes and experience of nature’s gifts to those who need to reconnect. It is a wonderful gift that we have to offer others.


The New Skill: Ecological Thinking


We humans have been running on left-brained, linear thinking for a long time. It has accomplished a lot but its limitations are evident also.

What Is Linear Thinking?

Linear thinking is thinking that is based on the idea of sequential events and therefore a line. Sequential events lead to a story, reasoning and narratives.

Linear thinking is very cause and effect. It’s objective is to create a kind of solidity. Because it connects everything in a line, it is very surface in what it treats as valid. Linear thinking pervades our culture:

  • are you in line
  • are you out of line
  • are you above the live
  • are you on the line
  • line up

Linear thinking is a way of measuring ourselves and each other. Linear thinking is at home with our inner critics.

Why Linear Thinking Fails

Linear thinking omits a lot of information from what it considers relevant. Natural cycles are ignored, denigrated and denied in the linear world. The linear world believes that through our efforts we can control the ups and down of life. Many years and untold effort have been dedicated to the goal of permanent positivity. Natural cycles do not recognize our yearning for a life with no pain or downside.

Linear thinking creates structures and systems that require the use of force to maintain. The structures themselves become what people depend on. It is a lot like putting a roller coaster ride in the middle of the ocean and expecting it to be safe.

Natural cycles operate in a natural process of give and take which creates a circular process of renewal. Linear thinking does not consider renewal as necessary. The need for renewal “takes away” from the goals of the linear system.

Cyclical Thinking

Where linear thinking is more structural, cyclical thinking is process oriented and aligned with natural cycles of life. Cyclical thinking takes into account physical limits, the need for physical and other forms of renewal, stages of the life cycle and the interdependency of living creatures and systems.

Cyclical thinking promotes a way of life aligned with nature. It supports a thoughtful adaptation of human to the reality of life processes. Cyclical thinking places humans in the web of life, not outside it and not over it.

What Is Ecological Thinking?

Ecological thinking is post linear thinking  It is flexible thinking which rejects fixed cultural structures that are not tied to the natural cycles of life.

Ecological thinking is the manifestation of wholeness in ourselves and the natural world, a result of embracing the interconnectedness of all life forms.

It’s a way of interacting with all of life that respects the limits and gifts of each life form. It respects the need for nourishment and renewal of all life. It embraces the complexity of the natural world which includes us as well as the natural intelligence and benevolence of the universe.

Ecological thinking sees life as a large web of beings which support each other and an endless process of living and renewal. It recognizes death as part of the process. Ecological thinking does not elevate one species over the others. Each species contributes to the whole so to protect one over another disturbs the web of life.

Ecological thinking recognizes the balancing mechanism that nature is and respects and supports it. By continually aligning with the need for rebalancing, humans can live in harmony with nature.

Ecological Thinking And HSPs

Ecological thinking is a natural way for highly sensitive people to live and think. It allows our pain to be part of the natural rebalancing process in our lives and lets our sensitivity serve the interdependent whole web of nature and life. It makes our sensitivity valuable to ourselves and others.

Ecological thinking and living restores HSPs to their rightful, respected place in human society.

Additional Reading:

Linear Thinking vs. Cyclical Thinking permacultureandsanity.com

Walls Do Not Make Us Safe

The walls are up in our society.

All sorts of walls: brick, stone, identity, geographical, ideological, and economic. There there are social barriers of race, sex and physical abilities. Roles and social affiliations are other forms of demarcation. So are rules.

We can’t live with them and we cannot live without them.

Why We Have Walls

Walls are not intrinsically a problem. However, after thousands of years of creating barriers to protect ourselves, we are now drowning in them.

Rules, roles, customs, conventions, expressed expectations, unexpressed expectations. There are a lot of ways to create protections. We humans have been very creative about it. And of course, we all have our personal walls including our habits and personalities.

Many of our barriers came into being when we needed them when our species was younger and more defenseless. They became a part of our reality out of necessity. Now with 7 billion people on the planet, they are being questioned in a more serious way than ever before.

Walls are meant to protect us when we need protecting. They are not meant to just keep others out. There is a distinction. Walls are a closed and fixed structure; boundaries are more open and flexible.

The Limitations Of Walls

Sometimes barriers are contrived and sometimes they are not. Sometimes they help and sometimes they do not.

There is a reason why, however, at this particular point in time we are in need of a rethink about all kinds of barriers more so than others:

  1. 7 billion people all with their own walls is unwieldy.
  2. we have always needed to cooperate. However, the complexity of our current human systems and the demands on them require a more skillful interdependency.
  3. our problems are bigger. There are too many of us for the resources on the planet. Our walls are making it harder to solve our big problems and we cannot shut ourselves off from the needs of others.
Walls are what we have when boundaries fail when we cannot find a way to negotiate our differing needs and claims on mutually shared resources. They are what we create when we do not trust.

What to do?

Changing the closed structures of the human race is a big task. The barriers cannot be simply brought down. Instead, we need to ask ourselves a new question.

What does a human society look like with cultural institutions built on the basis of and for the purpose of creating trust? Trust is something we create just like anything else.

Perhaps at one-time survival was more important than trust. Well, we survived! Now we have to repair the damage and figure out how to create a different kind of human society built on trust and sustainability.

Structures create results. Now we need new results so we need new structures. It is time for an overhaul. Let’s bring the walls down by creating the world where people see that they do not need them.

The Wound Of Materialism

Materialism destroys our environment as this picture shows. It also destroys so much more.

It destroys our humanity.

Every society defines its purposes and priorities. There was a time when the material side of life was extremely lacking and improving the human standard of living was a necessary and important goal. So the Western world, starting in Europe, created an economic system to rectify an existing problem. So far all is well.

Unfortunately, at some point, the goals of society went beyond rectifying serious material deficits and needs. Culture became about materialism: wealth accumulation and fame. This change may have been one of the biggest mistakes we ever made.

All social systems have a stewardship responsibility in society. Stewardship involves considering the past, present, and future. Stewardship honors the broad need for quality of life and sustainability. Stewardship promotes the health of all living creatures and their institutions. It is transpersonal.

When wealth accumulation became the agenda, stewardship went out the window. It pitted one person against another because it was no longer OK to seek to have your real needs met, if you were not part of a wealth accumulation system, you essentially did not exist. Those who could advance the wealth agenda had their needs met over those who were less able to do so (or less interested).

So if it mattered to you that we do not harm the environment unnecessarily then you were not only unimportant but also considered dangerous to the wealth accumulation agenda. If you think getting a good night’s sleep matters then you are not available to work ridiculous hours to further the wealth accumulation agenda. If you think that compassion matters then you may be interfering with profits.

I have heard very intelligent people express a fear of being irrelevant, lost and unable to support themselves. This is not living. In many cases, it is not even surviving. This is, in fact, slavery. And we all know that slavery is very damaging to the essence of a human being or any living creature for that matter.

We are not here just to be used.  We are here to live and to be cherished, and our existing social and economic systems are failing us miserably.

The human race has been demoted to serve a wealth agenda. It is definitely time for change,

And it cannot come soon enough.

Embrace Stewardship Thinking!

What is stewardship?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, stewardship is

the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

There is a big difference between caring for something and caring for something entrusted to one’s care. Stewardship acknowledges that in care there is a community aspect, that we will impact someone else’s life with our care or lack thereof.

Stewardship is the antithesis of self-involvement. It requires involved engagement, willingness to meet all of nature and life on its own terms. As a result, stewardship is a way to make choices that serve everyone without being controlling, because you are making choices with a different objective. With stewardship, you seek the choice that serves everyone and all life forms. So you are making a choice not a demand which is what most forms of management are.

What Is Stewardship Thinking?

Stewardship thinking lets us bring the spirit of friendship and goodwill to the way we handle what is in front of us. It is a way of thinking that recognizes that choices have impact beyond immediate considerations. Its primary value is quality of life both in the short-term and long-term. It does not devalue the long-term to serve short-term considerations.

One of the wonderful things about stewardship thinking is that it respects our history and the contributions of our ancestors whose work has created the infrastructure that supports us. So stewardship thinking respects what it has taken for us to get this far and therefore does not unnecessarily sacrifice the future for present short-sightedness. Stewardship and stewardship thinking are the antithesis of exploitation.

The Relationship Between Stewardship And Values

By placing the values of friendship and goodwill above results, people who operate on a stewardship basis have a better chance of achieving positive outcomes:

  • because there is no adversity in stewardship, only the next step
  • because all life and life forms matter and support each other so decisions and choices need to do the same
  • because in creating a healthy present a healthy future becomes possible
  • because outcomes are the result of processes that are created to support values. Values are the first priority, everything stems from them.

Stewardship thinking sees the interdependence of all things, and so is not in a rush to do harm in any way, since to do so affects the quality of the interdependent web of life. It does not place humans at the center of the universe, it places us as one of many species on our planet. It does not make one life more important than another; it seeks to value all living creatures and looks for ways to positively affect the living of all creatures.

The Benefit Of Stewardship Thinking

There is no in and no out. Everything and all are in – as a result there are no games. There is no one to reject and no fear of rejection. Stewardship in seeking quality of life sets a high standard for decision-making.

Stewardship thinking is holistic so it has space for anyone to contribute to quality of life. Since we all benefit from anyone’s contribution to our well-being, all contributions can be welcome. Since all contributions are welcome and all living creatures matter the spirit of cooperation reigns and there is little need for one upmanship, and power plays.

Stewardship thinking gets rid of the fear that plagues most lives and replaces it with a natural feeling regard that makes everything simpler. If love, as many wise people say, is our natural state, stewardship thinking is our natural way of operating.

What Accountability Can Miss

I think that accountability misses a lot. For so long it has been touted as important.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for responsibility. My question is: why, if we are so into accountability, do we live in a world that is such a mess? Even the most developed countries have a problem.

It suggests that we need to take a look. Perhaps our ideas about accountability are too limited.

What Is Accountability?

According to Wikipedia, accountability is:

  • answerability
  • blameworthiness
  • liability
  • the expectation of account-giving.

That sounds about right. We are answerable for meeting our assumed obligations to ourselves and others. Obligations are an implied contract and based on assumptions about our expectations.

This is where accountability can be problematic. What do we do when expectations are incorrect? even wildly off-base?

When Expectations Are Off-Base

Expectations are a very big deal. In fact if I were to survey the human landscape of problems, expectations would be at the top of my list of causes of human problems. Look at our environmental problems right now. Many people still think that they can expect our natural resources to provide for us without fail into perpetuity. That is a mistake of expectations that is having tragic consequences.

However, people who are working for companies who base their livelihoods on such assumptions are still “accountable” for whatever production quotas or other measurements that keep them employed. So here is a situation where accountability is a problem, in fact there are multiple accountabilities at play.

This means that accountability is not simple and should not be treated as a simple way to assign responsibility or blame.

Accountability Is Often Tactical

Accountability is often intended to protect what exists. It is designed to take care of existing relationships, existing organizational structures, existing wants and needs of a particular cultural system. It is what we expect from subordinates following assigned tasks. It is what is expected of us as subordinates. Some creativity may be necessary to achieve an objective but the objective itself is usually created elsewhere by someone else with more power and authority. This kind of accountability does not engage our full humanness and ability.

It is tactical execution.

Accountability is enlarged when we include strategic thinking since we now also consider the unknown and changing conditions as factors in our decision making and planning. So when actions take these factors into account, those actions are more honestly responsible than others.

We can do our best to be accountable, but in reality much is beyond our control and knowledge. Therefore we cannot expect perfect accountability from ourselves or others.

Accountability and Healing

I think that one of the best places for accountability is in our need to heal from emotional wounds. Such healing is everyone’s job. We are each of us responsible for our behavior. We have an obligation to own our early circumstances and the impact they have had on our lives and ability to function.

This is where we can have a wonderful impact on our own lives and others because the healing work we do is under our control. We can set our own goals, write in our journals, notice our pain and the pain of others. We can listen to the social energy around us and evaluate our contribution to it. We can listen to others talk about their challenges and see ourselves in their struggles. We can notice when something does not work and try to understand it. We can see when a connection is missed, an interaction denied, a kindness withheld.

We can observe the hope and despair around us. We can acknowledge the fragility in ourselves and others. We can respect our needs and notice how many are unmet.

Creating Real Accountability

Our inner healing is the best place for us to develop true responsibility. All the laws in the world cannot touch our capacity to notice, act, lift up and soothe ourselves and each other. All the speeches and lecture given by leaders and teachers are no match for our intention. Nothing inspires us more than experience and nothing destroys inspiration more than experience.

Our healing journey is a journey to creating a new and different experience. When we make the journey we are in fact also making a journey toward greater accountability, the accountability that comes from being present. That is where accountability starts: in being present.

When we heal ourselves, that is the gift we give to the world. It is a wonderful gift to give.

The Emerging Value Of Health

Health is emerging as the transcendent value that can solve the problems of our troubled world. The value of health is different from health itself. The value of health is a guiding light that illuminates our choices and helps make choices easier.

Health can be subtle.  A healthy society does maintenance.  It maintains everything, relationships, institutions, infrastructure, people, animals, plants, rivers. In short everything.  I was in a dentist office not too long go and the dentist was complaining that many young people do not want to brush their teeth because that takes their time from other things.  Unfortunately, the value of health and maintenance is a non-starter for many people in our highly competitive and consuming world.

The Benefit Of The Value Of Health

The value of health gives us some exceptional benefits:

  • It creates resilience.  Resilience is more than being able to withstand some adversity.  Resilience is also about laying and maintaining personal and community foundations that are sustaining and sustainable.
  • Health is not reckless.  It is the antithesis of recklessness. The value of health recognizes the interdependency of all life and recognizes that when we harm the web of life we harm ourselves.  So maintaining health in all things helps everyone.
  • Health is not adversarial.  It sees the value in all things and allows everything to contribute in its own way and minimizes the misuse of any aspect of our world.
  • Health creates a foundation that enables each person to evolve into their best self.  It minimizes interpersonal, societal and environmental damage that creates ill will and damage to the hopes and well-being of people, animals and nature.
  • The value of health is holistic and sees limits as productive, not as an enemy. It respects yesterday and the learning and progress it has brought, acknowledges the damage, and proceeds to build a world where what we have accomplished is put to use to create a sustainable world.  It does not see any one idea or thing as “the be and end all”, not religion, not science, not anything. The  value of health is open to the answers wherever they are found.
  • Health asks different questions because it sets different priorities.  It’s not about blame and fault.  It’s not really about failure.  It’s about what we are creating, and why and how to do it better.
  • Health is not ideological.  It transcends parties, religions, and cultural demographics.  It does not have an axe to grind.

The value of health allows us to create a constructive place where we can build on the best of the past in an inclusive way . We can benefit from all of the resources that have been built up, the skills we have created, and create a health-oriented, long-sighted world. In short, a world we want to live in.

One of the best aspects about the value of health is that there is nothing or no one to conquer.  It puts us all on the same page not in terms of identity or culture but in terms of how we operate in the world and in terms of what we are creating in the world. Because of that, it offers us the chance for some serious peace.

Reclaiming The Serious

Do you tend to be more serious than other people? Does it ever make you feel like you are out on a limb all by yourself?

I know that I am much more serious than most other people around me and that I tend to feel alone with it.

Are HSPs More Serious Than Other People?

In some ways, it seems to me that HSPs are more serious than non-HSPs.

Our sensitivity causes us to notice nuances and disconnection. We notice when pain is created in us and the people around us. We notice the little failures of attention that can add up to big-time failures and alienation.

Our nervous systems cause us to be aware whether we want to be or not. Our awareness can make us uncomfortable and others as well. Awareness is not always welcome.

HSP Awareness And The Culture Of Positivity

HSP awareness and our need to honor our authentic perception can make social relationships difficult. It is particularly difficult in a cultural structure of positivity – the thinking style of progress and forward movement.

Positivity only accepts the “yes” answer. It only wants to hear how something can be done. It doesn’t tolerate slowness and obstacles. Positivity is narrowly focused on a specific result.

HSPs who notice flaws in an objective or how it is being pursued are unwelcome in “positive” environments.

There is nothing wrong with thinking positively. The problem with positivity is that it is often divorced from reality. As a cultural model, positivity totally disregards the “collateral damage” caused by its philosophy: human health issues, environmental degradation, social issues, and costs.

HSPs do not ignore the consequences of positivity. We cannot. We can feel it; there is no escape.

The Origins Of The Positivity Idea

Positivism is a philosophy that applies math and science to all spheres of life. It has been an important way of thinking used to help us meet our material needs. The amazing accomplishments in creating new textiles and inventions such as prosthetics are a result of the positivity drive. However, it is mostly a left-brained view of the world and life which is why it often feels “off” to highly sensitive people whose energetic sensibilities see other perspectives.

Positivism has had far reaching consequences because it uses science and mathematics as the primary sources of information. Therefore, any information that comes from another source lacks standing in a culture of positivism. All the “soft” sources of knowledge like intuition, deep processing, energy awareness, holistic thinking have been devalued in our current positivity culture.

The Fatal Flaw Of Positivism

Everything has limits. All sources of information included.

Scientific reductionism means that everything can be known by reducing something to its component parts. Science assumes that it can know everything by dissecting it and studying it. Unfortunately, this belief is a partial truth. Science can certainly provide us with a lot of information. However, it misses something critically important. The world and people are not just static objects. People, the world, and life are dynamic and organic. They are ever changing and evolving. How do you reduce the dynamic nature of life to a flow chart or a measurement?

All sources of information have limits. It is a little like the old story of blindfolded people touching an elephant and each identified what they were feeling as something different.

How The Serious Came To Be Abdicated

Positivism defines what matters in very narrow terms. It is a materialistic philosophy. However even material is not static. Everything grows and declines, is born and dies, changes and transforms. Science does not understand the energetic nature of all life.

HSPs are very attuned to the energetic universe. Energy is information, it is reality, it is our source and our work.

Science has devalued the energetic systems of life:

  • if you grieve a serious loss more than two weeks, you now have a medicatable condition
  • if you are hurt by someone hostile actions or words, you have a problem, but it does not recognize energetic harm as a valid concern
  • sleep is something you do when you are dead. It does not really understand cycles of activity and rest.
  • nature is no longer our home, it is a source of raw materials for creating products. Nature exists to be conquered. (How’s that working?)

Reclaiming The Serious

Something interesting is happening in the world right now.

All of the serious issues that have been denied for so long are finding their voice again:

  • nature and the environment
  • spirituality
  • marginalized people
  • natural healing
  • local economies
  • animal rights
  • human rights

There is increasing joy as people start to reclaim what’s important over what is economic and expedient. We have been sacrificing our well being for convenience. Convenience is not a serious life concern. It is nice but hardly important as a value.

Important and serious values are showing their face. People are taking up the serious in their lives and life is starting to have meaning and value again.

How refreshing!


The End Of Economic Man

Who is economic man?

Economic man is a human creation, an identity we invented to serve a specific purpose.

Economic Man And The Age Of Enlightenment

Many people think that with the Enlightenment we invented freedom. That is a myth. What we really invented was what I call “economic man” or the identity suited to the Industrial Age.

According to Wikipedia, The Age Of Enlightenment

was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries, which began first in Europe and later in the American colonies. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition,[1] intolerance and some abuses of power by the church and the state.

Religions ruled the world until the emergence of science during the Age of Enlightenment .  Science became the antidote to superstition and religious abuses of power from those religious systems and the basis and justification for economic and political changes.

These changes were not just political changes. Our ways of learning and knowing were undergoing a revolution because we had new ways of discovering and evaluating information through scientific process. The scientific process created a way for us to formalize trial and error which led to new methods of making goods which in turn made improvements in our standard of living. The contribution to human life of this age has been substantial.

Why We Changed

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, human needs were largely unmet, living standards miserable and life spans short. So we developed manufacturing capabilities to meet out needs. Since the needs were high and life spans short, we use short-term strategies to create support for this new system so that it could meet the needs of so many more people.

What we created was

  • scientific methods to help us develop tools and materials
  • capitalism
  • consumption
  • money as an indicator of status
  • more participatory political systems

Enter Economic Man.

Who Is Economic Man?

Economic man is the human being empowered to

  • negotiate and manipulate
  • bend the living systems of the world
  • to use nature to support human life
  • be opportunistic
  • work for himself and his own desires.

Economic man is about the trade. Economic man is about performance. Economic man is entrepreneurial. Economic man is not humanitarian although many living standards have improved because of economic man’s emergence.

The High Cost Of Opportunism

Where life before the Enlightenment was regulated by religious systems, the Enlightenment developed human social structures to support opportunism. It was a value that could foster innovation, create many products and solve many material problems.

Opportunism has a strong energy and people feel empowered when they are opportunistic. There is a catch, however. Opportunism is not creativity. It is not necessarily a life affirming value. It is often adversarial, and too frequently rewards those who get the better of others, fostering inequity and unhappiness.

Opportunistic societies place little value on friendship so they only satisfy some of our needs, and not our deepest needs. Opportunism is relentless. When it become a lifestyle it is a bottomless pit, an addiction. When it becomes a society’s dominant value, it creates inner conflict because it pits external values against the deeper more humanitarian needs of the individual. This inner conflict can be destructive and take a lot of energy.

Although winning can be fun, sustained winning is an energy drain and consumer of resources. At some point everyone becomes exhausted. This is where we find ourselves today – drained by too much opportunism and too many claims on our fragile resources. The costs now outweigh the benefits.

You could say that the Enlightenment has been too successful. We now live longer, have more and there are more of us.

So perhaps we can give thanks that we are being given the opportunity to wake up and find more important treasures worthy of pursuing in life: friendship, nature, our creative and spiritual sides. For HSPs the change couldn’t be more welcome.