Just as there are many for whom feelings are paramount, enabling them to experience an intense connection with the unique reality of their respective worlds, so too are there many for whom feelings are secondary to the creation of wealth, the pursuit of power or a concern for status. To take feelings seriously demands surrender to their authority, a willingness to tolerate uncertainty and a trusting nature. For those who fear connection for whatever reasons the result can be a gradual erosion of self-awareness, as they try to deal with their feelings either through control or neglect. Bluntly put, in the disregard of feeling, and the growth of attitudes that support that choice, lies a state of disconnection that characterises much of contemporary society. Once we turn away from being congruent with our intuitive self, we lose the lodestar of our conscience, with worrying repercussions for how we relate to others and for our ability to make ethical decisions.
Each time that we allow ourselves to be duped by the many distractions of society into believing that our feelings are unimportant in the greater scheme of things we lose more and more of our intuitive self-assurance.
In putting our feelings to one side, we may embark unwittingly on a perilous journey. In tandem with every decision that discounts our inner voice, habitual attitudes are soon established that have a profound bearing on our understanding of reality. For it is primarily through our feelings that the wonder and immediacy of reality becomes apparent. Each time that we allow ourselves to be duped by the many distractions of society into believing that our feelings are unimportant in the greater scheme of things we lose more and more of our intuitive self-assurance. The result of this gradual slide away from being in touch with our feelings and taking responsibility for them is that we are forced to rely instead on other yardsticks for a sense of identity. We compensate. Often this will take the form of seeking wealth, or position or power. Usually it is expressed in various forms of one-upmanship, in which we replace a genuine connection to reality with a crude and artificial one, based on whatever the marketplace can offer. In a society which prides itself on developing a competitive ethos throughout its educational system, it is hardly surprising that values of dubious merit have taken precedence over any deeper concerns.
The individual for whom exploitation becomes a way of life can truly be described as ‘a power merchant’. Although it would be tempting to focus on those extreme examples that have led whole societies astray in the recent past, the power merchant can be found wherever a marked disconnection from intuitive feeling is operating. Disconnection distorts the power merchant’s sense of reality. To say that the power merchant generally exists within his or her own bubble of reality is to describe both how it can often appear to others and how it can be at the root of serious delusions for the individual concerned. Since the true measure of our worth lies in our capacity for connection, i.e. the relationship to reality that springs from our integrity and surrender, the power merchant has to find other means by which to value him or herself. How often do we hear of an individual described in terms of their ‘net worth’, as if some monetary figure could convey anything of real importance about a person? It’s as if we could build self-esteem on the basis of a bank account. And the more fragile the bubble, the more important it will be for the power merchants to seek confirmation that their sense of reality is valid and accurate and that their opinions offer a rational response in their understanding of the world.
The problem for the power merchant is that once intuitive direction is lost there is never enough with which to compensate, like filling a bucket in which the water forever escapes through a hole. The drive to acquire ever more material possessions, status or a position with which dominate others is driven not by real needs but by a deeply held conviction that without these attributes he or she is a person of little worth. Fear of material poverty, fear of social rejection and fear of losing their dominance drive the power merchant to ever greater efforts, and with each attempt the bubble of unreality expands. The result can be a surfeit of material goods, an ever increasing network of acquaintances and the constant exercise of various ploys to remind the power merchants of their powers of persuasion.
Fantasy may rely on the seductive cornucopia created by an overheated materialist culture; but the cost of embracing it usually comes at a high price, one often disproportionate to its real value.
Understandably, fantasy plays a big part in the power merchant’s life, for in rejecting the unique perception that goes with emotional surrender he or she is left with a void that needs to be filled. Fantasy may rely on the seductive cornucopia created by an overheated materialist culture; but the cost of embracing it usually comes at a high price, one often disproportionate to its real value. As the bread and butter of the advertising industry, fantasy fuels much of our economy with dreams that are hollow, rarely matching the promise that is guaranteed. The danger for the power merchant lies in the collision between fantasy and reality, with the latter often sacrificed to the former, as the bedrock of common sense is quietly ignored.
In deciding that feelings are signs of weakness, the power merchant throws up a strong defensive perimeter. Within it, the creation of a comfort zone is a prime concern, a testimony to strength, endurance and stubbornness and buttressed by a fondness for historical fantasy. Outside the wall lies the extent of his or her exclusion zone and the measure of their loneliness. Amid the pomp and outer celebration of the power merchant’s life, there is one disturbing element which is rarely admitted to the feast, namely the loneliness of disconnection. This unwelcome visitor is adept at leaving reminders of its existence, so that the power merchant is ever vigilant for signs that the status quo might be threatened. In particular, because loneliness is a voice that issues from deep and unmet needs, fear of the irrational, unstable or unpredictable is often present. The life of a power merchant is dominated by the need to protect and defend that which has been won at great psychological cost; even if he or she fails to understand the powerful, instinctual reactions that loneliness will eventually unleash at a time of its choosing.
For the power merchant life is basically simple: to be a tough predator and a clever exploiter whose milieu is treated as a potential honey pot; one to savour before others get there first. People are considered as objects to impress or control, as opportunities for manipulation and self-indulgence, rather than a cause for sharing and celebration. With an outlook that refers back to an ego haunted by fear of loss and rejection, the tendency will be to see relationships in terms of possession and dominance, issues that focus on the locks and keys that bind rather than on the courage that gives wings to those who would be themselves. Within the family, whose importance for the power merchant lies in providing a secure environment where dysfunctional feelings may be safely expressed, the issue of transparency - of being true to one’s real feelings - is so threatening that the honest spontaneity of healthy relationships is often absent. Even the giving of presents is often seen as a means of consolidating relationships rather than celebrating them.
To the extent that feeling is neglected our accurate understanding of personal reality will be muted
It’s tempting to polarise the issue, and see power merchants as so disconnected from their feelings that their sense of reality is non-existent; a conclusion that is patently absurd, though in the lives of some dictators there is ample evidence of such madness. For most of us, attitudes are less extreme and behaviour more moderate. However to the extent that feeling is neglected, an accurate understanding of personal reality will be muted. The three states of emotional awareness, namely innocent perception, passionate perception and generous perception may then be insufficiently powerful to remedy the resulting loneliness. Indeed if the loneliness remains unchecked and the basic orientation stays unchanged, the potential for pathological symptoms may be expressed with a tendency towards depression, addiction and greed.
How are power merchants to reconnect with feeling, realign with their conscience and regain an intuitive perception of reality? I suggest that creativity is one of the keys to reconnection; for optimal results it should be far removed from the competitive striving that usually characterises their lives. Also, it should be noted that there appear to be three surge points in life – in the twenties, mid-life and in the sixties – times of potential celebration when there may be sufficient energy to review the past and introduce a better, more fulfilling balance. To extract maximum benefit around these times requires careful preparation and an understanding that creativity is best accomplished for its own sake with little regard for gain. Moving out of a carefully constructed comfort zone is always an act of bravery, particularly for the confirmed power merchant. If he or she can be encouraged to cast caution to the winds and to listen to the creative self, there is an opportunity for reconnection with a personal reality long ago abandoned.
© 2009 Nick Halpin