Path to a fulfilled life: Figure out what you want, and go for it. Path to peace: Figure out what you want, and negotiate your way to common ground. So simple. Not so easy.
Let’s set aside for now the second part – the one where you go for it, or negotiate your way to common ground. It’s obvious for most that there will likely be difficulties involved. For many people, it is the first part that constitutes a seemingly insurmountable stumbling block: What on earth do I want?
Ideally, a quick look at your inner compass would tell you where to go, and you’d be on your way. In reality, however, your inner compass may leave you hopelessly confused about which way to turn.
Perhaps your present situation is so intolerable that you don’t particularly care where you end up, as long as it’s different from the status quo. Perhaps you’re not used to figuring out what you want, because you usually wait for your shadow to make the first move. Perhaps you feel powerless or hopeless and don’t see any options. Or perhaps you’ve been given carte blanche and you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities.
Whatever the scenario, when we’re asked to figure out what we want, and our inner compass seems to point us nowhere, most of us turn to a tried-and-true source of reassurance: External standards. What do other people usually do under these circumstances? What do other people usually ask for in this situation? What do other people usually get? Phew. The inner compass may be malfunctioning, but thank goodness someone else has a map.
In the absence of a standalone desire emerging from within, we turn to the familiar world of standard operating procedures, societal norms, family traditions, corporate policies, and customary terms and conditions. We may not have a clue what it is we want, but we certainly don’t want to be worse off than the next person. We don’t want to fall outside the usual range (unless of course this works in our favor, which is a topic for another time). So, rather than giving our internal compass a tune-up, we rely on other people’s maps.
As a peacemaker, I rarely see an inner compass in good working order. More often than not, I have to guide lost combatants into the comfort zone of standard arrangements, because this is the only path leading to common ground that their emotion-impaired brains will allow them to take. Many times, it is the only place that appears sane and where they can find peace. Therefore, I am grateful for the existence of this safe haven, as are the people who come to me for help.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder: Are we taking the easy way out?
Do we not wait until our inner compass finds true North, because we are too impatient? Do we not see where our inner compass is trying to lead us, because we are too busy consulting other people’s roadmaps? Do we not explore what we truly want, because we are too afraid to be disappointed when we can’t have it? Do we not venture into potentially more promising lands, because we are too eager to take refuge in the community shelter?
These are important questions to ponder when you’re tempted to rush to the comfort zone of external standards. The next time your inner compass appears useless, give it some time to calibrate. Trust it, even when it points to unfamiliar territory. Honor it with the courage it deserves. And remember that nothing groundbreaking has ever been achieved by staying in the comfort zone.