The importance of insignificance

In 1976, Eric Berne published “The Games People Play” and the game of “Ain’t It Awful” that he described is a game played from the stance of a victim of circumstances. The game reinforces our self-righteousness and distracts our attention from feelings of inadequacy by focusing shame and blame on people we judge to be the perpetrators of intolerable conditions. The game results in a gross deficiency of authentic human relationship and an abundance of suppressed feelings of separation.

Ultimately, “Ain’t It Awful” becomes a life-and-death story of struggle between self-contained individuals or family systems engaged in transactions of power-building or power-destruction. There is no larger context than one person’s life in this story, and the focus of daily life is either a felt gain or loss of personal agency. Reports on the divisions between those who dominate, those who are the victims of domination and those who would bind the wounds of the victims becomes the trauma-drama, the “ain’t it awful” fuel of the news cycle that continually repeats the inevitability of our separation and reasons to fear our loss of power to a surprise attack.

This story of a fortress mentality grasping for control is built around a core identity of oneself as inadequate to, and a victim of, entropy, destruction and the loss of meaning. The fortress is likewise a prison of fear that precludes the risks of growth, transformation and freedom, all of which would introduce a threatening multitude of unknown variables.

This is a kind of slavery to our self-image, our self-grandiosity as a victim. The great paradox of freedom is that we run around looking for it externally when we already have it internally, and when we realize we have it, we only wish to give it away.

“Sometimes it happens, we live our lives in chains, and don’t even know we have the key.”   ~ The Eagles, “Already Gone”

The key to freedom from slavery to our victim identity is to submit opinions, evaluations and judgements of what is dangerous or problematic to critical evaluation and questioning. How do I know for sure that I am being threatened? Is there evidence that I have not included?

Through this filter of self-examination it has become increasingly obvious to me that any attempt to decide the meaning of events is colored by my previous experiences of psychological wounding. I carry a strong bias — call it PTSD — based on my history of trauma. I could be wrong, and yet I believe most of us humans are walking wounded, with perception filters biased toward accepting false evidence of our inadequacy. We tend to believe ourselves doomed by external circumstances and we are also very prone to deny, rationalize or minimize that thought.

My bias could be summarized simply as distrust. Once I am able to question my own distrust, I can begin to accept the possibility of trust. I must also be realistic about the challenge of making that choice.

Choosing to trust will bring us into a complex, painful, and transformative personal process of letting go of long-held beliefs. It requires us to become someone we probably never intended to be, nor imagined we might become. When we choose to trust, we surrender our sense of control over “surprise attacks” or what may appear to be random events.

Trust steps outside the fortress mentality to reframe those unpredictable events as secure opportunities for valuable learning and growth. Risk-taking becomes an asset. We can experiment with relaxation of our emotional armor into a feeling of self-confidence and security.

What I know, who I think I am, what I think is possible, where I think I am going, becomes suddenly trivial in relation to the importance of participating in the process of a vast, unknown system of cause and effect beyond any possibility of my knowing its full extent. In order to trust I am required to accept that what I know is extremely insignificant. My thoughts are no longer “the truth,” they are a biased side-effect of my life process, my experience.

When my life’s process becomes more important than my thoughts, I become more interested in participating within and not resisting that “vast, unknown system of cause and effect.” Taken one step further, my redefinition of myself as a participant instead of a victim alters my felt sense of power. My behavior becomes an essential node in an endless network of feedback loops of cause and effect. My impact may be extremely indirect, yet without my presence the entire system would behave differently. My trust in my life process changes the process itself.

For me, freedom from the fear of the unknown comes from accepting that what I know is but a tiny speck of what is possible. When I back away from my distrust, I begin to see that my self-perception is much too limited. It becomes possible that I am far more adequate to face any challenge than I can imagine.

In this time of disillusionment, despair and panic, the paradox of what Gandhi said, “Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it!” has far-reaching implications for healing the appearance of a catastrophe with the power of trust.

Our actions can become so distanced from our prior experience of wounds and the frustration, anger and grief associated with them that we feel fully alive, participating in what is immediately in front of us. It is a source of great joy, serenity and satisfaction to no longer have the right answer, the best knowledge, the highest respect, but to have the genuine integrity of one more day on the journey of exploration and learning that is life itself, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”


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