Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Conspiring against your own interest can become a way of life. Resolution after resolution can go down the drain because of a single tendency. You resolve to do better and then attempt to do it on your own. The idea of self-reliance becomes perverted into isolationism. “I’m going to do this on my own; I don’t need anybody else’s help,” becomes your mantra.

The bankruptcy of thinking this way becomes apparent when you think about all the things that you owe those who have gone before. The place you live, the food you eat, the things you learn, the things you believe, the fashions that you choose and so much more are the results of efforts by others. You exist, not in a vacuum, but within a world created by social beings.

So, why is it that personal improvement is the last bastion of senseless self-limitation? Why is it, even when we realize that our entire existence is the result of the efforts of others, that we insist on “going it alone” when it comes to our resolve to do better – to be all that we can be?

Decent into the digital world!

Nowhere on the globe are these questions more relevant than in the United States. More than any other culture, we embrace technologies which isolate us from our fellow human beings. It’s almost as if our tendency to “go it alone” is colonizing other parts of our lives. It’s almost as if, out of a deep shame and strongly felt sense of self-inadequacy, we hide behind that small screen in a digital world. Anonymous, unknown, unfriended and completely virtual.

I have been mentoring for a couple of decades now. And I have noticed that it seems to have become more difficult for individuals to break out of this self-destructive tendency towards isolationism. But I have also noticed that the accumulating destruction of this isolationism has made the need for mentoring even greater.

More frequently, I get approached by someone who is lost in the digital wilderness. Recently, one of these nomads said to me, “You have asked me to put together a life Board of Directors. I was to call on friends that I knew very well and trusted. You told me to approach them and ask for their help. I thought a lot about that. And the only result is a realization that I have a lot of associates and very few friends.”

The idea of friendship should be second nature to a social being. In a society where social relationship, and particularly close social relationships, support the very possibility of existence, the tendency towards establishing close friendships should be reflexive. But in this brave new world of self-isolation, it clearly is not.

And here is the lesson worth taking away. When I begin working with someone, it is a matter of them learning what they already know. They already know the importance of close friendship and how to become a friend. It is embedded in their very DNA. They just have to stop sabotaging their own self-interest. They have to stop purposefully making their life more difficult and lonelier. The good news is that all of this is not that difficult. The bad news, for someone intent on self-isolation, is that you can’t do it alone.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD