When I think about what derails my life, what causes me unnecessary pain, and what generally makes a mess of things, it comes down to one simple mindset. One question that boils just under my skin. It drives my behavior and informs my perspective.
The question is this: how much can I get away with? And it might seem banal. It might seem relatively innocent, even helpful at times. But I have discovered it is rooted in a lot of dangerous assumptions and leads to a lot of problematic thoughts and actions.
Why It Is A Problem
From the time we are children, we want to press the boundaries. We want to see what we can get away with. At various times throughout our upbringing, we rebel against our parents in both little and small ways. The reason we do this is we want to make a name for ourselves. We want to distinguish ourselves from our parents (and anyone else around us).
In these formative years, we are learning what the consequences are for our actions. We are learning cause and effect. We are learning independence and interdependence. Unfortunately, our parents are also mired in this most dangerous of questions and teach us to let it be our guiding force.
So, here is how it works. On any given day, I am thinking about how much I can do without having others reject me. How far can I go to be famous but avoid controversy? How much money can I make without losing my moral compass? How much? How much?
How much pornography can someone watch before it is really a problem? How much alcohol or weed is ok? How much cursing or gambling or anger is acceptable? How much? How much?
There are two major things that happen as the result of this How Much question being the driving force of my actions.
First, I start to distort reality. We often say perception is the truth. Well, it isn’t. Only the truth is the truth. But we have accepted a reality in which perception of others matters just as much (often more) than empirical truth. We live in a world of “my truth”. A false reality where our emotions and our desired outcomes matter more than anything else. We will take up whatever narrative helps allow us to go further.
We cast ourselves as victims. We actually, secretly, relish the role. It allows us to blame others, to vilify circumstances, and avoid responsibility when limits are presented to us.
The second major result of this question is that it promotes fear within us. We are afraid of rejection. We think boundaries and consequences are threats to how much we can get away with (we conveniently call it “freedom”, although that is not really what it is). We are building a house of cards, scared of every stiff wind or heavy sigh. We wear masks and keep people away. Life becomes an exercise in getting what we don’t have, chasing an idol of success, and constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
A Better Way
Life is not about getting away with as much as possible. It is about chasing a vision, a dream. Life is about a purpose bigger than ourselves. We will make mistakes, experience pain, learn, and grow. We will join alongside others in pursuing truth.
And that is the better way: truth. Committing ourselves to what is true. What do we really want? What are our values and what do we really care about? The How Much question keeps us on the superficial surface of life. There are deeper things longing to be explored and expressed. In order to get there, we have to die to our obsession with More.