For the next few weeks, I’m wanting to explore something that may be a little uncomfortable - if not relieving at the same time.
I want to talk about how our system is set up in a way that drains most of us - drains us of our energy, our time, our joy and our humanity - and that in this, we often are told that it is a failing in *US* that is the problem. We’re told that the reason we’re struggling is some fatal flaw in our being - and that the solution is to fix ourselves.
We’re also given a very specific and narrow view of what ‘success’ is. We’re handed a set of ‘rules’ we’re told to follow - and even when we DO follow them, even when we get the supposed rewards of following them - there’s still pain involved. There’s still so much sacrifice.
Then, on top of all of that, sometimes even when we follow the rules and do everything we should - we still end up living lives where we don’t have enough, where we constantly FEEL like we don’t have enough, where we don’t feel safe, and where the system actively antagonizes us to the point of not being able to create a sustainable life for ourselves.
We often complain about the people who are running our system - believing that if we could just find the ‘right people’ to be in charge, that we could avoid all the pain that’s coming down the pike due to how things are set up. We feel like there must be a way to fix all the ways in which we’re let down by the structures we live in by finding better leaders, better wealthy people, better philanthropists - never considering if this system is something we actually CAN find a better within.
In this series, I want to question everything above.
I want to question the system to its core - question its values, its structure and the people who run it. I want to question what we’re being told ‘success’ is, how we’re being told to achieve it, why we may ACTUALLY be suffering/struggling, and I want to propose a whole new way of looking at society that may actually lead to a better future.
I want to make it very clear that YOU are not failing if you’re struggling to ‘keep up’ in our system, if you’re suffering in our system or if you feel let down by the way things are working.
The structure in and of itself is what needs to be reformed - not the people within it.
So let’s dive in and see how we go, shall we?
You Are Not Broken If You Can’t ‘Keep Up’ With The System
Not being able to keep up in our systems of consumption and production isn’t a pathology.
Not being able to consume/produce at the rates that are ‘normal’ in our society isn’t a sign of weakness.
Having anxiety and depression due to our current systems and the inability to ‘keep up’ isn’t a pathology.
Being overwhelmed and not being able to find the ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ in all of this, isn’t a spiritual flaw or something we need to ‘hack’ out of ourselves.
In fact, I’m not aware of anyone who CAN keep up with the demands that our culture places on us without making significant sacrifices to other areas of their life, and without requiring sacrifice from the world around them.
The reality is, those in our world who we consider to be the most successful, are oftentimes the MOST destructive when we look at overall impact.
The reality is that so much of what we consider to be ‘success’, so much of what we consider to be ‘good’ ways of being, so much of what we’re trained and indoctrinated to believe are moral/higher ways of conducting ourselves are actually pretty toxic, harmful, disrespectful, and just plain rude ways to be.
We currently live in a society - in a world at large - that values very harsh ways of being.
That values expansion, exploitation, manipulation, domination, aggression and ‘winning’ at the expense of others.
But let’s back up for a second.
Wait, Isn’t This A Post About Burnout?
It’s so common in our social world today to hear people talking about being burned out. To hear people talking about being drained, about not being able to keep up with all the demands of living in our modern society and how they’re struggling to keep things together.
There’s an acknowledgement that the way we’re doing things is hard on people - but the rhetoric behind this is pretty much ALWAYS centered around how we can fix/change/mend ourselves in some way so that we WILL be able to keep up/manage. The solution is always based on changing ourselves so that we can ‘get on with’ being productive and well by the standards of society.
On the flip side, we have a WHOLE lot of people who are seemingly ‘succeeding’ in our system - via the metric of having a lot of money/power/influence - telling us that this specific brand of success is possible for anyone who’s willing to work hard, to become ‘valuable’ to the system, to anyone who's willing to make whatever sacrifices have to be made for what’s ultimately important - winning in our system.
On top of that, we have a lot of spiritual/self help/personal growth teachers who are out there telling us that they have the ‘secrets’ for hacking into maximum productivity, maximum inspiration, for manifesting ‘abundance’ and finding your ‘gifts’ so that you can set yourself apart in the market place - thus becoming super successful by capitalistic standards.
A few people are talking about the fact that our culture places unreasonable demands on us. A few people are starting to discuss the possibility that it’s the system that needs to change and we are starting to see a rise in people questioning what we’ve been sold as ‘normal.’ But I feel that this conversation is really difficult to have because in a lot of ways the system is the water we’re swimming in, so questioning it and finding what would be better is a really challenging thing to do.
It’s my opinion that a lot of the solutions we are seeking in terms of creating a society that’s ACTUALLY sustainable/supportive for *most* people, we’re going to have to really challenge our concepts of what’s truly ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
I believe we’re going to have to deeply look at what we’ve been conditioned to believe is ‘success’ or even just ‘the way things are’ - because it’s the very systems we’re trying to find success within that are causing most of the problems we’re currently running into.
It’s my opinion that the solution doesn’t lie in changing how we relate to the system, but rather it lies in actually shifting the system itself.
It’s my opinion that we need to really question our values and what we’re DOING everything FOR - and this can be really challenging to do when the values we’ve been handed are so deeply tied into our personal sense of worthiness, safety and ability to connect.
Changing our systems is a complex process, because it requires that we question our FOUNDATIONS of belief and perception.
So let’s start that exploration now, shall we?
How Did We Wind Up With This System In The First Place?
From pretty much day one of being a human, we’re bombarded with what could be considered the ‘norms’ of our culture. These norms are what we’re raised to believe are the ‘right’ way to be - both because they are what everyone around us is doing AND because we are directly TOLD that how culture does things is inherently the BEST and RIGHT way.
We’re indoctrinated into the ‘cult’ of our culture, and in this it can be REALLY difficult to discern what’s actually of value, what’s actually helpful in terms of actually supporting human life, and what’s truly toxic/harmful/destructive.
Culture is everything from the government systems of the country we’re raised in, the social customs of the ‘class’ group we belong to, the education systems we’re a part of, the religious and spiritual traditions that are a part of our lives, our familial patterns and everything else that shapes our view of ‘this is what the world is and this is how people ‘should’ be in order to be ‘good.’
The fact that we are RAISED to see the world in a particular way, to have particular values and to have particular judgements in life means that none of us are walking around with a clear perception. None of us are unbiased. We’re all working with foundations that were handed to us - and those foundations don’t always align with true reality, nor do they always align with what’s actually best for us as individuals. But this is incredibly challenging to see, when it was how we were taught to BUILD our view of the world and ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that *everything* we’re taught is wrong or harmful, and we have to remember that it wouldn’t actually be POSSIBLE to be humans living in a society without having customs, laws, practices, norms and a certain amount of indoctrination. We’re not trying to look for a perfectly clear lens here nor are we trying to demonize all forms of culture - we just want to be AWARE that culture exists, that it’s not ‘truth’ with a capital T, and that there’s always room for questioning what we were handed.
Society is set up in a way where we’re perpetually being fed the narrative that how our culture operates is MORALLY superior to the rest of the world, how fitting into culture is the ‘right’ way to be, and how failing to live up to the dictates of culture means that there’s something WRONG with YOU.
We’re taught not only what to do/how to behave, we’re also taught that to be the way our culture tells us to be is to be GOOD. Is to be WORTHY. Is to be superior to others. We’re taught to fear, pity, reject and try to separate ourselves from people who don’t align with the cultural values we’re raised in, as we’re trained to see these people as less than, threatening, wrong or flawed in some fundamental way.
From here, we have to understand that fitting into culture is also deeply tied to our sense of safety, our sense of being able to survive, and our sense of identity.
It’s not just that we’re being handed a rulebook for how to live that we can take or leave. We’re being handed a rulebook for life that is reinforced by the fact that we are social animals, animals that depend on connection to one another to get our needs met, to be happy and to be generally taken care of. None of us are ‘lone wolves’ in this life, and so the feeling that we’re not going to fit into culture comes with it a deep seated fear of suffering, pain and even death.
On top of that, we also get our sense of IDENTITY from culture.
We are trained in how to see OURSELVES via the lens of what is and isn’t accepted by those around us as we grow up. We’re being shown how to perceive ourselves as we grow and figure out where we are ‘worthy’ by cultural standards and where we are seemingly ‘unworthy’ - based on what gets us approved of and what gets us rejected.
We learn how to perceive ourselves, we learn what parts of self to hate and what parts of self to exaggerate, what behaviors are ‘ok’ and which aren’t and we learn that when we can’t measure up, that we are failures, less than, weak and not good enough - rather than being given the tools to figure out how to best support ourselves as we are.
Culture is huge, and understanding how deep our cultural conditioning goes is VITAL if we’re going to adequately assess if our current ways of being are actually GOOD or not, and what we can start to do instead if we determine that what we have ISN’T the best we can hope for.
For now, let’s just take all of this in.
Culture is everywhere, and it’s the water we’re swimming in, so to speak. So much of the time we don’t see it, don’t notice it and don’t even realize we can question it, because it’s just ‘the way things are/have always been/what we’ve been trained to value.’
It’s really hard to question the FOUNDATIONS of our value systems, rather than just judging ourselves and others THROUGH our value systems. Because this means questioning our own foundations and our own identities.
What do you think/feel when you read the above?
Let’s sit with that, and come back next week for the next part!
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