The Core Reason Why Most of Us Don’t Feel Comfortable About the Future

The Core Reason Why Most of Us Don’t Feel Comfortable About the Future

Published in The Attention Architect, a newsletter on LinkedIn, May 31, 20 22

According to my "social media plan," I should be posting another article this week about how to attract customers, influence their behavior, and make your business more successful. But after the recent spate of tragic shootings in America, it's hard to carry on with "business as usual" or act as if everything is normal because all is not right with the world.

Like many, I am still heartbroken and disturbed about the lives lost, the families destroyed, and the communities left in turmoil. But what can any of us do?  We're all super busy working hard to maintain our own lives, and few of us have time to figure out how to fix the world's problems, much less manage our own. Besides, isn't that the job of politicians?

Surprising as it may sound, I believe the health and stability of our world are dependent on the health and stability of small to medium-sized businesses to make the world better.

From working with thousands of local and regional businesses for the last 35+ years, I know that these leaders genuinely care about serving their customers' lives, maintaining the health and fabric of their communities, and providing a safe and comfortable environment to do business. 

But as harsh as it sounds, we have a general "dis-ease" and uncomfortableness in our culture, and many can't help but wonder if things are beyond our control or if there is anything we can do about it.

Something doesn't feel right with society today, and if we're honest with ourselves, it hasn't felt right for a while. 

At critical times like this, we need answers, explanations, hope, and, more than anything, a strategy for addressing our current crisis. Many brilliant thinkers and impressive media outlets have already provided well-thought-out analyses and remedies for curing society. These articles have offered great insights into what ails our country and suggestions for improving things. We need to increase our policing efforts, enact more stringent laws, and monitor unusual online behaviors.

 However, I still fear we're not getting down to the deeper core of the problem we face in modern life: our society's lack of meaning. 

Although we overlook it, humans are a meaning-seeking species. We need meaning in our lives to help explain suffering, sadness, and sickness. We need meaning to help us cope with the devastating effects of natural disasters, injustices, loss of loved ones, and unimaginable tragedies. But without meaning, we become lost and rudderless individualists and fearfully self-motivated. 

Unsophisticated and politically incorrect as they may have seemed, our ancestors used meaning—shared through mythologies—to explain the purpose of life, the meaning of suffering, and the importance of the community over self. These mythologies dealt with the various aspects of the human condition, such as good and evil, pain and pleasure, the questions of life and death, and whether there is an afterlife that can impart wisdom on how we should live while on earth. 

But modern life has done a good job of dispelling those myths and eradicating these "made up" stories from our lives and our kid's daily diet. Many expert minds have proven—so to speak—that there is no God, no higher being, or even a higher purpose worth serving. And they've left us with this empty, lonely feeling that we must take care of ourselves first and foremost and strive to make ourselves a god of capitalism, materialism, narcissism, and social media-ism. 

Like many of you, I grew up between a childhood filled with a thick belief system of mythologies and an adult life filled with rational, scientific thinking and training. I am grateful to have had both spiritual meaning and rational intelligence in my life. However, I used to wear myself out debating whether meaning was intrinsic to humans or merely invented and applied as a system of hope or control, depending on how you view it. 

As much as I wanted to escape the thick stories of my culture, they guided me on a good path, and as I have matured, I've come to appreciate the capacity these meanings and mythologies had in helping me understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors in society. And I'm willing to accept these mythologies, not because of their factualness but because of their effectiveness in giving life purpose, meaning, and direction towards the greater good of society. 

I was blessed to have been given an ample dose of meaning in my life at an early age, but we're throwing far too many of our meaning-seeking youth into a world devoid of meaning. Young people today struggle to find positive role models on TikTok or reality TV and are left to their own fearful devices to figure out life without the aid of stories and mythologies. 

Young teen males in particular—most of whom are soaking in a 55-gallon drum of testosterone that makes them prone to violence, aggressiveness, and unable to manage their confusing emotions—live in a crisis of meaning state and are desperate to find anything and anyone to follow for advice, guidance, and road mapping the future. And when they hear those battle cries for membership from the violent voices of video games, angry musicians, online trolls, and sadly even politicians encouraging insurrections, violence, and government overthrow, they enlist themselves into the calling because there is nothing else to believe in, and they want to prove themselves to some metric or standard.

More than any group, young males need positive role models of manhood, not violent fantasies. 

To help these fallen angels from a life of corruption, we offer them a steady diet of scientific thinking and concrete proof of the infinite universe in school, which I agree helps them understand the rational world, but it gives them nothing of substance or nutrition for navigating the personal world of meaning.

We continue at a rapid pace to replace the liberal arts, literature, poetry, and humanities—which have explained the human condition for thousands of years—with rational, linear programming, science, technology, and engineering. While I genuinely have no beef with the usefulness of these fields, as I am a big science geek myself, they don't give us enough depth exploration into the meaning of life, the purpose of suffering, and the collective experience of going through life as a community champion, not as a lone outsider. 

Our great ancestors lived in terribly harsh, violent, and unpredictable times, but they found meaning, guidance, and hope in religion, philosophy, and the divine. We make fun of those entities today and instead look for meaning in two directions: rational science or induced celebrity. We equate success and intelligence with the number of followers, daily downloads, net worth, or the ability to prove things beyond a shadow of doubt. We have no room, patience or tolerance for the mystery of the unknown.

But how well is any of that working for us today? Are we truly better off now that we've gotten rid of those mythologies?

While rational science and technological tools may help us live easier and more convenient lives, they're not as effective at helping us cope with the inevitable pain and fear that comes with growing up, falling in and out of love, and feeling lonely and scared. 

We don't need more facts, data, or spreadsheets on life; we need more stories, even if they're myths, that give us new insight into the human condition and the deeper meaning of life that can serve as a counterbalance to all the overwhelming materialism, hedonism, narcissism, and nationalism we endure today. 

Our society's lament and search for a nostalgic past that maybe never was is not about quaintness or charm. Instead, the past offers us stories of overcoming fears and providing answers to life's great questions. This yearning for the past way of life is about the innocent belief systems that brought us together and gave our communities a collective purpose and support system. Not all of us will become multi-billionaires that can go from hackers to silicone valley gods or lone scientific geniuses/nonconformists that can shoot rockets into the sky while buying Twitter, yet that is the metric that preoccupies our culture. And it's all about the individual!

Most of us are just trying to live our everyday lives with some kind of meaning, hope, and purpose we can hold onto.

If we wish to safeguard our society and bring in a level of morality, science, technology, and celebrity will not get us there. It hasn't yet! We need the community rituals, traditions, and mythologies to guide us to a place we can realistically arrive at and social roles we can reasonably assume and fulfill. One way to help fix the world is to bring back meaning, stories, and mythologies that address life's big questions and fears. And as business leaders, we can help bring meaning and mythologies back into our customers' lives and community rituals and traditions. It's not only good business; but good for society.


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