The Engaged Life

June 16th, 2010

There is only so much you and I can do to positively contribute to the lives of others. All people are multifaceted; the most advanced computer cannot rival the complexity of a human being. This means that a particular input from us will not necessarily produce a particular outcome. It may not even produce a desirable outcome. We may expect, for example, that having a pleasant conversation with another might make for less conflict and more cooperation between us. This is a reasonable expectation and may in some cases be accurate, especially if such times together are a pattern and not isolated incidences. But there are no guaranteed outcomes. Much of what informs others and their decisions lies beyond our control.

Confronted with this reality we may be inclined to despair and opt out of the relationship. Or we may remain physically present, but emotionally disengaged. We may wonder why we should bother making an effort if we can’t know if any good will result. So we don’t bother. If we do bother, we may resort to the use of techniques that promise a guaranteed outcome. Think “Perfect Abs in One Week” and other tabloid ads. These promise certain outcomes if we follow the prescribed technique. They give us the illusion of control and the hope of a desirable outcome. If I do X, Y will happen.

All relationships are no-guarantee relationships. The most humane response to this truth is to muster the courage to engage; to neither opt out nor heed the seduction of techniques. We must risk—and when we do we will experience both rewards and grief. These are guarantees. The joys and sorrows we experience from such courage are evidence that we are alive. I prefer this to a life of emotional and spiritual atrophy. Commit to living with this courage and you will model The Engaged Life. This may, after all, be the most potent means by which we contribute to others’ lives.

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