A Captive of Circumstance

We are each bounded by our own experience. In some ways, we are our experience. I am the cumulative sum of what I have perceived, felt, thought, etc. Obviously, that premise ignores some rather important biological realities, but I hope it helps to illustrate how impossible it is for the average human to put their own experience aside–to put their own experience in perspective rather than allow that experience to dictate perspective. In some ways it is stepping outside your “self”. Not in the trite and cliched be-kind-to-others sense (not to diminish the importance of being kind to others), but in a transitive and perhaps transcendental sense. Attempting to be something other than what you are, imagining the possibilities outside the present, imagining influences outside your own. We each do this in the relational sense,–imagining how another feels–but often fail to do so when it comes to evaluating our own performance and process.

For example, in business, many people have stumbled into success via various strategies–not to suggest that these individuals are exclusively flukists, but talk to any for more than a few minutes and you will quickly recognize that many near cluelessness. Each is convinced that his or her strategy was the cause of their success, perhaps failing to account for other factors such as chance, timing, external phenomenon, etc.

If you will permit me an illustrative example:
A man tosses a rock at a large tree in a wood and is surprised when the tree topples. The man quickly attributes the tree’s toppling to his own arm strength, ignoring the rather important root deterioration and ax bites that weakened the tree’s structure so that it would fall at the brush of a feather.

When we are successful we attribute that success to our own efforts and diminish other factors. Each individual, each company, each coach, each parent, teacher, government, etc. becomes convinced that what they did was the cause of the outcome–especially if that outcome was successful.

A study involving a rigged game of monopoly illustrates this point (along with others that are only tangentially related to this subject). Even when players knew the game was rigged, they, who won the rigged game, who were favored from the beginning, were much more likely to attribute their success to their own actions and abilities rather than the unfair circumstances. A parent who raises a successful child (whatever that means) is then convinced that their methodology is correct, ignoring the hardiness of the child who may have endured and succeeded in spite of their parental methodology rather than because of it.

We are all made captive by our own circumstance, convinced of our own importance in outcomes over which, in all likelihood, we only had a small influence. Perhaps our influence aided in the outcome, but lauding its importance or assigning it exclusive causality is an error. We believe that because we have found some form of success– even moderate success–our methodology must be correct: “I made money this way; therefore, money is best made this way.” In this sense, we are all made captive by our own accomplishments. We reaffirm our own centrality, and importance, through our missassignation of causality.

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