So 200,000 years ago, give or take 5k years, the first traits associated with “modern” man appeared. The first homo sapiens were fragile creatures in a hostile world. Well, any creature save the crocodile probably counts as fragile. We’re made of pretty soft stuff. To survive, we had to band together. Out of that necessity, those of us who were most in tune and compliant with the norms social group were the ones best able to survive. Basically, 190,000 years of society and evolution have wired us to seek approval and consensus. Social exclusion still feels tragic because it once was tragic. We’re wired for the need to be accepted because that’s how our ancestors survived long enough to birth the next generation.
Which is all well and good, except that society has evolved dramatically over the past 5,000 years or so. While we are as fragile and fleshy as we always were – crying over paper-cuts and the like – we’ve overcome our physical limitations in unprecedented ways. Computers and guns and oil wells and houses and steel and Wikipedia and music that fits in our pocket and goes everywhere with us. The life-or-death consequences of someone else’s disapproval simply don’t exist.
Still, we feel like they are real. Or at least the reasonably well-adjusted among us still tend to want approval. Someone to say “yes, that’s the right thing to do.”
But who can say anymore? When the choices we make aren’t over which berry to eat or which woolly mammoth to chase after, how do you know? How does anyone know? This job or that, one course of action over another… there are no right answers. So few measures that can be relied upon, and the only available direction to any of us is forward. Forward, blind to the results that branch off from each choice on the decision tree, and desperately wanting some external confirmation that the choice you made was the right one. There are only the choices and the consequences and every choice has a consequence. You can’t get away from the uncertainty.
It is uncertainty that isn’t going to kill you. Unlike the uncertainty our ancestors lived with. So what do you do with that? If you’re me, you struggle with the sense that someone, somewhere knows what’s going on and what will happen next and how to make choices that have consequences that are 98% sweetness and light. I want to find that person and sit down and ask questions. The trouble is I’m unlikely to believe it if it doesn’t feel right to me. I can’t talk myself into being a sheep headed in whatever direction I’m pointed at. Yet the wolf’s life feels awfully scary. My evolutionary wiring craves approval. The time and place of my birth has given me permission to find my own answers in my own way. The only thing I don’t have freedom to do is to escape the consequences. None of us get to escape the consequences.
I’m always rattling on about acceptance. What you accept no longer has the ability to run your life. Surrender to the inescapable. Your rate of survival goes way up if you relax and float instead of fighting. The next thing I’ve got to submit to is the reality that, as much as I crave an external direction with a guaranteed outcome, I’m never going to take it. The answer isn’t finding the right person or source of knowledge. What’s right for me is going to come from me, from a place of knowing that sits somewhere indecorous and dark, nestled up next to my appendix. If I’m feeling foofy, I’ll call it a point of connection to the divine everything, the holy always, the thing that is indivisible from me and me from it. The path that comes from that looks like foolishness and folly. Save one or two, everyone I love thinks I’m crazy. I can’t help that. There are consequences, but there are always consequences. You’re going to have to live with them anyway, shouldn’t they be your own?
Now to convince the evolutionary adaptation that made my ancestors good enough at maintaining their place in society to survive that all of this is okay.