Social Contracts

So we’re going through some upheaval now.

I’ve seen lots of polarized opinions about what’s been happening with respect to the protests and riots, but most of what I’ve seen doesn’t resonate with me. I find it difficult to subscribe to other people’s meanings in this area.

However, I found what Trevor Noah shared about this to be insightful. Normally he shares in a comedic style, but this video includes some deep and reflective commentary.

I especially liked what he shared about social contracts.

A social contract includes many aspects, such as rules and laws, behavioral standards, expectations, values, and consequences.

I violated the social contract with the State of California quite a lot when I was younger, which led to being arrested multiple times. For a while I was okay with those consequences… until eventually I wasn’t.

I also violated the social contract with the religion that I grew up with, which led to abandoning that religion. It was a bad contract to begin with, so I was glad to terminate it.

Other times I violated aspects of social contracts more consciously, including those that expected me to get a job and to be monogamous. No regrets there.

But there is one social contract that I hold sacred, which is the contract I have with reality itself. A key aspect of this contract is that I always give reality the benefit of the doubt and don’t turn against it. Whatever reality dishes out, I do my best to accept it and roll with it.

This is a difficult one to uphold, but I find it essential for having a sane and functional life. It challenges me to keep seeking the personal meaning within any situation. It makes me ask repeatedly: How is what’s arising an invitation to grow?

I can’t answer that for other people. I can’t tell others what to think and feel and what the “correct” way to interpret current events are. The interpretation is personal. It’s your job to figure that out for yourself. If you look to others to answer this for you, you’ll be disappointed. Only your own answers can satisfy you.

I can share how I interpret the events in ways that enable me to honor my social contract with reality. Just don’t expect my meaning to be meaningful for you.

I see anger, violence, and upheaval, sparked in part by a violation of people’s values and expectations. I see the President hiding in his bunker and Tweeting his usual idiocy instead of leadership. I see Mark Zuckerberg’s own team members turning against him for his weak response. I don’t see the pathways emerging to create real solutions from the current situation, just escalating cycles of what we’ve already been through.

This makes me wonder what those pathways might be. I sense the pathways to growth and improvement will be in the direction of caring, empathy, and compassion. There is some of that in the current picture, but it seems more in the background and not in the foreground. So the personal meaning I see here is that caring needs to be moved into the foreground. The voice of caring is asking for fuller expression.

Caring is a big part of my work, but work itself can sometimes push the caring aspect out of the foreground of my life. So I’ve opted to give this voice of caring more space in my life this month.

Starting today, I’m doing a 30-day challenge to stop working by 4pm each weekday (other than 2 days when I have conflicting commitments that I’ll honor) and then devote 2 hours to exploring something that calls to my heart and feelings – something not directly work-related and with no expectation of being turned into a work product. Just let the heart lead, and follow it where it wants to go. Tune into what I care about, and engage with those parts of life more fully.

This time may include meditating to listen deeply to my emotions, practicing music, having meaningful conversations, acts of kindness, or anything else that feels like an exploration of what I care about. It’s not a head-based exploration, so I won’t map it out in advance. I’ll simply carve out the time and ask my heart what it wants to explore and experience each day for a couple of hours, and I’ll flow into action with whatever comes up.

I sense that if I want to express more caring outwardly, I need to get more in touch with it inwardly. So I want to build up my caring muscles and give them some extra exercise this month. Bring this part of life to the foreground, so it has more of a voice.

This feels aligned to me right now. While it may not look as edgy as yelling at people on social media or setting stuff on fire, it does feel edgy to me, and it feels like a good way to honor my social contract with reality. I know from experience that exploring the voice of caring isn’t a safe and predictable path. It’s a harder voice to listen to than many people realize.

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Read Social Contracts by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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