Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fear and Trembling in the New Economy

The following is taken from an article that appeared in Fast Company in March of 2000, "Do You Have the Will to Lead?". The "New Economy" reference, at the time to the web, is still applicable as we continue down the "techno-utopian" path and grapple with climate change.

I remember reading this article back then when I started to read about and think deeply about sustainability, the meaning of life, our role in a global society, and other light and airy subjects. The article is still among the papers stuffed into a manila folder holding various scrawlings, readings, and musings about all things career & life related.

The section that follows is taken from this article. It dives into Soren Kierkegaard's writings on anxiety and what it means as a driver of behavior. This has come to have deep significance for me in the past eight months or so as I decided to undertake my graduate education at BGI/Presidio Graduate School and explore who I am and what I am looking for...and feeling anxious the entire way.

You don't need a philosopher to tell you that anxiety is one by-product of what Peter Koestenbaum calls "the brutality and promise" of the new economy. But you do need a philosopher to explain how anxiety rules the human condition -- and how it can serve as a powerful, productive force in your life. The best thinker for the job, says Koestenbaum, is Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who did as much for the analysis of anxiety as Freud did for the analysis of the subconscious. Here's a short course from Koestenbaum on the value of anxiety.

Anxiety generates knowledge.
"As Kierkegaard explains it, anxiety is the natural condition. It's a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide but that we need for our greater health. In an essay called 'The Concept of Dread,' Kierkegaard draws a connection between anxiety and free will. We cannot prove that free will is true -- because we freely choose the meaning of truth in the first place. But our anxiety tips us off to the existence of our freedom: It reminds us of our huge responsibility to choose who we are and to define our world."

Anxiety leads to action.
"Kierkegaard wrote that the most common form of despair occurs when one does not choose or 'will' to be oneself -- when a person is 'another than himself.' The opposite of despair is 'to will to be that self which one truly is.' That's the experience of anxiety. It is choosing life in the face of death; it is the experience of thought becoming action, reflection becoming behavior, and theory becoming practice. Anxiety is pure energy."

Anxiety makes you a grown-up.
"Anxiety is the experience of growth itself. In any endeavor, how do you feel when you go from one stage to the next? The answer: You feel anxious. Anxiety that is denied makes us ill; anxiety that is fully confronted and fully lived through converts itself into joy, security, strength, centeredness, and character. The practical formula: Go where the pain is."
The last line is the one that provides the best learning for me...go where the pain is. Ignoring or medicating the pain does not remove it. It must be dealt with head on. Ouch. One of my early managers would be proud of me for thinking this way.

Updated 01/30/2020

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "modern" Hindu philosophy called Vedanta also has something to say about such 'anxiety'. Vedanta philosophy offers that it is our unique sources of inner conflict that serve as desires/challenges to be fulfilled/solved that block us from true inner peace. Witness the doctor who has quit her job to become a gardner or the marketer fulfilling a long-latent desire to go to dental school... these seemingly 'irrational' acts make deep and lasting sense to those who exercise them. As I understand it (which is cursory, at best), Vedanta philosophy teaches that each person has some unique path to enlightenment that they must discover. Far aside from a religious precept, it provides some interesting insights into life and behavior.

Perhaps too, we as a society have collective sustainability conflicts to resolve before achieving "outer" peace.