Monday, October 5, 2015

The power of illusion

In a couple of previous Ethical Musings' posts (Fear of failure and living abundantly and Further ruminations on the fear of failure), I reflected about some of my observations of military and government bureaucracy. In this post, I explore the effect that those security measures (armed patrols, sentry stations that permit public access, and different levels of force protection at different gates to a single military facility) have on outsiders.

For many casual observers, the measures improve the military installation's security. That is, the measures create the illusion of security. Dedicated, putative miscreants (imagine a hardcore terrorist, for example) can easily replicate my observations. Such individuals would presumably also observe the times and patterns (if any) of patrols, the type of weapons carried, potential fields of fire, whether any entering vehicles are ever searched, and so forth. At best, these security measures reduce the already very low probability of a non-dedicated putative miscreant harming someone (imagine an unhappy but mentally healthy teen). However, I know from multiple conversations over many years with many people that the visible security measures, no matter their potential effectiveness, give the majority of people an illusion of security.

Similarly, some knowledgeable counterterrorism officials believe that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is almost completely a waste of federal money. Air travel is safer because flight crews and passengers are committed to never again allowing a passenger plane to become a weapon of mass destruction. (To learn more, read my book, Just Counterterrorism.) Yet, the TSA gives many passengers the feeling that air travel is safe. We humans tend to prefer the illusion of security to the reality that life is inherently vulnerable and that all of us share a common fate; the only unknown is when we will die, not whether we will die.

Illusion – the belief that something is true – is powerful. Norman Vincent Peale (the power of positive thinking), Robert Schuller (the power of possibility thinking), and numerous others have capitalized on this power creating popular self-programs.

Conversely, an illusion may become self-limiting. A person begins to believe that he/she is incompetent at a particular task or at living in toto or a person hears from others and then in their own conscious mind that he/she is inferior, second-rate, or less of value than others.

Illusion detached from reality is indicative of mental illness (imagine the person who, believing he/she can fly, leaps off a tall building). Alternatively, the person so mired in an ugly reality that she/he has no vision of a better future is condemned to a miserable subsistence that can never become abundant living (imagine an incest survivor trapped in endlessly reliving memories of those horrific experiences).

Spiritual leadership consists in large measure of being a catalyst to help people imagine a better future for themselves, a future grounded in reality yet a future that pushes the individual to become more alive, move loving, and more fully realize his/her potential. A mentor, friend, parent, or stranger may provide this leadership through words, actions, or even a chance encounter. Similarly, what a person reads, hears, or sees may also be a source of spiritual leadership, transforming the person's life. Religious traditions value their scriptures because so many persons have found engaging those scripture to be a catalyst that opened a new perspective on life.

How does illusion function in your life? What are your illusions? Are your illusions grounded in reality? How do your illusions limit your growth or serve as a catalyst to help you become more fully human?

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