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The World’s Greatest Lie

And the Path to Freedom

By Kendel J. Christensen

Part I of VIII

 

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat, Pray, Love.

 

They say that the best things in life “don’t come cheap.” That which we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly someone once told me. 

 

I think that applies to the quality of life we achieve in general, and the ideas and beliefs that make up a quality life.

 

We can be exposed to ideas. We can nod our head and say, “Oh yeah, I know that.” But that is cheap knowledge. I think real knowledge—knowledge that makes a difference in a person’s life, has something more to it. We have to actually do something with it. It has to become a part of who we are.

 

I think I have found one of the most important of such ideas—something that we all know, but perhaps don’t consider deeply. We don’t ask the hard questions that show if we are really living by it or not. It makes us uncomfortable. We’d prefer to keep looking for knowledge that is more fresh, fashionable, or tantalizing.

 

I think it is perhaps the most important life lesson that separates intensely satisfied, accomplished, and worthwhile individuals from the merely average, and often pitiable. As an advocate for the happiness of all mankind, I must speak my heart on this matter. I have been far too soft for far too long on a principle that negatively affects far too many people. The overall net loss of happiness to the world has been far too great. And I want to state that whatever future “success” I attain in this life, I will owe in large measure to my unassailable belief in this perspective.

 

It is a perspective embodied by an inspiring international hero. A hero that was a poor student, grew up fatherless from age 12, faced prolonged and unabashed discrimination, and was imprisoned for no less than 27 years of his life. If anyone could claim that life had played him a raw hand and could easily blame his circumstances as the reason his life was less than he’d like it to be, it would be him.

 

Yet, he chose a different perspective. While in prison, he memorized the poem “Invictus,” which contains the following stanza: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the masterof my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

 

The man was Nelson Mandela, and he changed the world. He changed the world because he refused to believe the most enticing, prolific, and damning lie in the history of mankind.

 

Let me explain.

 

The second-most influential book I have ever read is The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, a mysterious character appears at night to Santiago, a humble shepherd boy. The character is later revealed to be a wise king. This king, King Melchizedek, is sent to those who are about to decide whether they will follow a path that will ultimately lead them to realize their full potential and unique purpose for living (their “Personal Legend”), or follow a more “comfortable” path. He warns young Santiago not to succumb to the world’s Greatest Lie:

Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.

At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible.  They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives.  But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend… in the long run, what people think… becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.

What’s the world’s greatest lie?”…

It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happened to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.[1]

 

The world’s Greatest Lie is thinking that we are victims. And unless and until we consciously choose a different path, we can never obtain what will truly satisfy us. That path involves doing something, not just knowing something. I call it the “Path to Freedom” and it involves willfully taking responsibility for our lives.

 

It is so easy to play the victim. To say that one’s circumstances is to blame, not one’s self. Indeed, it is so embedded into our culture that we don’t even see it. It is normal, expected behavior. When in groups, one of the most common topics is complaining about things that no one is doing anything about. I know some people who seem to want to talk about nothing else.

 

Some of the common things people complain about, are:

-“I’m not in a satisfying relationship. I have tried to date, but it has ultimately not gotten me anywhere… besides, I ultimately can’t control who will go on dates with me (or who will ask me out).”

-“My job is hard or unfulfilling. My boss makes me do an unreasonable amount—and I have to, because in this economy—I’m lucky to have a job.”

-“There aren’t cool things to do in this town.”

-“I don’t get paid enough.”

-“There aren’t quality people here to be friends with.”

-Etc.

 

The list is endless. Such statements are readily relatable. They are innocuous. They receive ready validation from “friends” trying to be sympathetic. For those reasons, I don’t advocate an extreme approach where we eliminate any and all such statements from every context. Of course if you just met someone, it might not be the opportune time to bring up the philosophic perspective that they may, in fact, be completely responsible for what they are complaining about.

 

But do realize that the current that flows underneath such statements, no matter how small, is I am a victim of my circumstances. With its pernicious corollary, and there is nothing I can do about it. Such an attitude is the greatest barrier to realizing our full potential and accomplishing our unique purpose for living.[2] As King Melchizedek says later, about a discontented baker, who could have seen the world and accomplished all the things his heart yearned for—but chose instead to stay on the path he was “accustomed” to—, this attitude is the world’s Greatest Lie because it keeps us from realizing “that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”[3]

 

The “Path to Freedom” requires that you do three things:

 

1.                You personally live as if you are the master of your fate, the “captain of your soul.”

2.                You decide—really—what “being a true friend” means, and seek to both be and surround yourself with such people.

3.                You think outside the box and shun the narrow thinking of the world around you.

 

Without acting on all three, your happiness will be at the mercy of externalities. It will be impossible for you to reach your full potential. For, in the words of Abraham Maslow, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

 

…to be continued…


[1] Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, HarperCollins: New York. 1998. From pages 21, 23, & 18, in that order.

[2] It should be noted that not everyone really wants to achieve their full potential. It requires a lot, and the price often intimidates us. You can achieve whatever degree of fulfillment in life you set your mind to. If you decide to live with accepting less than your best, that is your choice. I wish you the best. You can still live a great life—though the baker was discontent, he wasn’t completely unhappy.

[3] Ibid, p. 23

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