It's you against the world.
Yeah, OK, Drama Queen.
But what if the world really is against you? What if there are forces conspiring to keep you complacent, to keep you from being your true self, the very best version of yourself?
It quite simply is the easiest explanation, and the easiest explanation oftentimes is the right one.
Nonetheless, for every force there is an equal and opposite force, one which gives us the power to choose if we will fold to the forces against us, or if we will wield the power to change our communities, our world, and ourselves.
Exhibit A - Bystander Behavior
Consider the evidence, starting with bystander behavior, which courtroom drama-style we will present as "Exhibit A". If you are not familiar with this phenomenon, it is the idea that social forces prevent us from acting, from intervening, and from making a difference for others at an important moment.
Maybe it is because I have heard, read, and written about the "bystander effect" so frequently that the phenomenon on the surface isn't surprising. But what is oftentimes unmentioned or understated is that the bystander effect is a learned behavior.
Don't believe me? Compare how adults fall victim to the phenomenon with how kindergarten or first-graders react to situations. Researchers actually have discovered that kindergarteners and first-graders are more likely to respond to situations when they are in groups.
Exhibit B - Proliferation
At the AFLV Central Fraternal Leadership and National Black Greek Leadership Conference, a who's who of amazing speakers and programs challenged participants to be an Every|Day Hero, be Socially Excellent, Make Greek Great, Make Greek Life Matter, Motivate the Middle, (Go) From Ritual to Reality, and Live the Dreams of our Founders, and on the last day reminded participants that Greeks Stay Strong.
How is it possible that so many talented people and professionals, many of whom I consider friends and mentors, could spend four days challenging, coaching, and otherwise motivating 3,000 college students from Florida to Washington, and yet book gigs the following week?
How is it possible that the Rick Barnes', Lori Hart Ebert's, Matt Mattson's, Kim Novak's, and T.J. Sullivan's of the world have not completely obliterated apathy and negative behavior from membership organizations? If I were assembling a dream team to address those issues, the five of them would be my Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson. (Look it up.)
One conference one week in St. Louis really is just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the Anderson Cooper's, Dr. Phil's, Ellen Degeneres', Oprah's, and others who have pleaded countless times with their audiences to stand up and speak out.
The reason? It's us against the world.
Exhibit C - Social Forces
I'm not talking about bystander behavior and it's action-freezing five, although they certainly are significant factors:
- Diffusion of responsibility,
- Fear of embarrassment,
- Fear of retaliation,
- Pluralistic ignorance, and
- Social influence.
I'm referring to our internalized socialization, as well as the ubiquitous messages from the Internet, television, and other media.
Remember the research that kindergarteners and first-graders were more likely to respond to situations when they are in groups? Well, guess what happens shortly thereafter-they begin to learn bystander behavior, force-fed the phenomenon through admonishment and reinforcement. The "good" students, after all, are those who do what we-as adults and as authorities-expect from them.
What if bystander behavior is-to some degree-a manifestation of adult expectations?
As a parent, it can be a daunting task to raise a child. My four-year-old son is a kinesthetic learner. Time and time again, I have been frustrated as he seemingly pays no attention to a story we are reading at night, but can remember every detail the following morning. In preschool, this type of behavior appears to be a "disruption" or "distraction," even though his assessments have been as high as any child in the class.
Many parents and teachers, given this situation, may try to coerce or force a child to conform to a behavioral standard, and I admit it is an alluring trap for those of us who are "trying to get things done."
Then, as those children become adolescents and young adults, parents and teachers as cultural reference points begin to give way to peer groups and social circles, with the system of adherence by punishment and rewards of the past being replaced by social approval in the present.
On top of all of that is a culture and society that encourages us to be as predictable as possible, from the products we buy (advertising) to the ways we connect with others (marketing). If we choose to focus on what we can buy, what we can get, or what we can have, we are choosing not to focus on what we accomplish and what we can become. The more we chase the things that others have, the less we seek within ourselves.
The world may be against us, but that doesn't mean we're over-matched.
The Good News
Hey, I did say there was good news, right?
As I mentioned in the very beginning, for every force there is an equal and opposite force. You can see this in the building heroes dream team, as well as the Dr. Scott Allison's, Mike Dilbeck's, Drew Jacob's, Matt Langdon's, Patrick Takaya Solomon's, Tiger Todd's, Dr. Philip Zimbardo's, etc. who are leading the way. They are not there because they are critical of the way things are, but because they are hopeful of the way things can be.
But our potential and our power don't stop there.
Bystander effect? If it is a learned behavior, it can be un-learned, too.
Go to almost any movie, and a careful observation will reveal the stories of people who confronted the darkness in the world or the doubts and fears within themselves.
Hollywood and the media create these narratives only because they put butts in the seats, you say?
Yes! That is absolutely, positively, 100% true.
But we put our posteriors in those plush reclining seats because those stories speak to our heroic selves, to our souls; they speak directly to the part of us that yearns to be our true selves, to be the very best versions of ourselves.
It doesn't matter how much muck the world piles on top of us, this basic drive to be heroic can be ignited by one book, one event, one movie, one setback, one song, one video, or one conversation with a friend or mentor. Imagine how much heroic power you would have if you fed and nurtured that yearning.
“Nurture your mind with great thoughts; to believe in the heroic makes heroes.” -Benjamin Disraeli
The Potential Inside
Hundreds of years ago, there was a statue of the Buddha constructed entirely from gold. Word came to the community where it stood that they soon would be invaded. In order to protect the statue, the people of the community covered it in plaster. The enemies invaded and occupied the community, but did not plunder the seemingly worthless statue.
More than 200 years passed by, and the people of the community forgot the true nature of the statue. In fact, the statue spent more than 20 years under a simple tin roof. Eventually, a piece of the plaster broke off, revealing the true nature of the statue, and the people of the community restored the statue to its brilliant self.
We all are born with our own brilliant potential, but we are besieged by outside forces, convincing us to hide our true nature from those that could hurt, judge, or otherwise wound us. After some time, we forget the potency that each and every one of us has within us; we look at ourselves in the mirror, seeing only what others see on the outside. We're too fat, too thin, too dumb, too smart, too outspoken, too shy, too mild, or too wild, and the list goes on and on.
Then, something happens, and we catch a glimpse of the person we already are, beneath the muck, and instinctively we begin chipping, clawing, ripping, and tearing away the facade that has obscured our true selves. Once we discover and reveal our own brilliant potential, we wield the power to change our communities, our world, and ourselves.
This is the essence of the hero's journey, and why I-like many others-am committed to building heroes.