For the great thinkers of the world whose job it is to make sense out of life – from Plato to Will Durant… from Epictetus to the Dalai Lama… from Montaigne to Eric Hoffer – the foundational rules never change. The universal principles of human nature are constants. And in a world of chaos and madness, that’s nice to know.
All of this came to mind yet again when I recently read a book written nearly a hundred years ago. The book, The Human Machine by Arnold Bennett, admittedly is not written in a reader-friendly style. But Bennett’s approach to understanding why people tend to look outside themselves – to others or to “uncontrollable” circumstances – for the source of their problems is quite clever.
By the “Human Machine,” Bennett was referring to the part of a person that consists of brain and muscle.
Researchers of late have been frantically trying to show that abstracts such as the ego and the soul are nothing more than physical aspects of the brain. Their objective is to move the ego and soul out from under the umbrella of metaphysics and fit them neatly into the Human Machine.
The brain intellectualizes, conceptualizes, and gives orders to the muscles. It has the power to override instincts. But the brain and the ego are not the same thing. Bennett believed that “your brain is the servant of the ego” – i.e., that you have the power to control your thoughts.
It was of great interest to me that a hundred years ago Arnold Bennett was addressing many of the same issues I have been writing about over the past three decades – for example, reality versus the perception of reality.
Bennett cautioned readers not to base their actions “on the workings of an ideal universe,” and instead to “base them on this universe.” In my book Looking Out for #1, I discussed this point at length under the moniker of the “Is’s versus Ought-to’s Theory,” which states: The degree of complications in a person’s life corresponds to the degree to which he dwells on the way he thinks the world ought to be rather than the way it really is.
In other words, reality is what it is, and it’s up to us to discover it. Our perception of reality may or may not have any connection to reality itself.While all this may sound obvious, each and every one of us is guilty, at one time or another, of confusing reality with the perception of reality.
We often go to great lengths to convince ourselves of our innocence. But the truth of the matter is that, in the vast majority of cases, our bad outcomes can be traced to our own actions – or lack of action.
Those who don’t get this become unconscious participants in the Blame Game, in which they blame events, conditions, or other individuals for their bad results. It’s a dangerous game to play, because it can become an excuse for failure.
What I’m talking about here is a psychological delusion known as transference. When you insist that something is not your fault, what you are unwittingly saying is that you cannot change your situation because you have no control over it.
The most common targets of transference are the droves of dreadful people who continually cross our paths – the liars, the self-righteous, the rude, the petty, and, worst of all, the hypocrites. After all, aren’t they at fault for any friction that interferes with the way our Human Machines perform?
The answer is no! We would like those people to be at fault, but they are not. They merely provide us with an excuse for the bad results of our own faulty judgment.
Even when you suffer as a result of someone else’s bad behavior, you do yourself no favor by blaming your pain on that person. There is a difference between engaging in transference (blame) and trying to analyze the reason you incurred the problem.
There is always a reason for a bad consequence, but a reason is far different from an excuse. An excuse is nothing but a clever way to escape accountability. The fact that someone was dishonest with you could be a legitimate reason why you were harmed, but it is not a valid excuse for abusing your own Machine.
What I mean by this is that if you allow someone else’s malfunctioning Machine to “bug” you, if you focus on retribution against the owner of that malfunctioning Machine, you – not he – create an enormous amount of friction in your Machine. Why? Because you are the master of your thoughts, and it is your thoughts that either abuse your Machine or keep it operating smoothly.
The reason you are the master of your thoughts is because they are formulated in your mind, and no one can enter your mind and wreak havoc without your permission. Which means that no human being can force you to be upset… to complain… to be angry. Anger is a debilitating mindset, because it separates a person from his common sense and dignity. When anger is out of control, anarchy reigns in your head.
But even when we’re not angry with someone else, we often cause friction in our own Machines by making the mistake of trying to control others. Bennett gave excellent advice regarding this mistake when he pointed out that we are not in charge of the universe; we are in charge of ourselves.
Remember this the next time you think about meddling in someone else’s Machine. Learn to leave things alone that are none of your business. As Bennett put it, the art of peaceful living lies in “keeping the peace, the whole peace, and nothing but the peace with those in your life.”
A good motto to live by is that when there is friction in your Human Machine, the fault always lies within. When all is said and done, the only thing you can really control is your own mind. Which is no small task. Work at becoming adept at it, and you will be amazed by how smoothly your Machine functions.[Ed. Note: To learn how to survive and prosper during the turbulent years ahead, check out Robert Ringer’s powerful audio series Succeeding in a World of Chaos.
And be sure to sign up for a FREE subscription to Robert Ringer’s one-of-a-kind e-letter A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World.]