February 12th 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. I was aware of it but hadn’t given it any particular attention until I was inspired to do some reflecting by an interesting exchange on Twitter.

Ken from NYC aka @holymully posted a quote which I read and immediately recognized as something that intrigued me. I retweeted this quote and added a comment about how being true to myself is part of an ongoing challenge that has it’s ups and downs. You can read how the conversation continued below.

RT @holymully: “Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.” – Richard Bach (my quest indeed – why is it a challenge?)

holymully @sandymcmullen The challenged to being yourself is explained in Darwinian terms as “survival” games. 2 be real self threatens survival

@holymully I would ask “How so” but I want to think about it first- Least I can do on Darwin’s BDay – always enjoy your wisdom – thx

holymully @sandymcmullen Good answer. Thx for your recognition and appreciation. I accept it with humble gratitude. Let me know what answer you find.

I don’t know that I have reached any conclusions even though I have been mulling this over for a few days nevertheless here is what I have “found” so far.

I suppose we can get closer to being our real selves when we are relaxed and have no demands impinging on us from the external environment. These occasions may happen at times such as vacation. When there are no demands from the external world being ourselves may be more closely aligned with our “real” or natural state.

Darwin observed the Natural world in order to identify and record the characteristics that allowed species to survive in different environmental conditions. As environmental conditions change the species with the characteristics that increase their chances for survival remain while other species fail to survive.

In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment

The natural world as we know it in our daily lives has many dimensions – environmental, economic, social and emotional. There are certain personality types that are naturally hardy and can adapt to upheavals in circumstances in a timely manner. They are resilient and bounce back from whatever shifting circumstances happen to dish up. This naturally hardy type may be more the exception than the norm.

In this current economic downturn: for example, many people are feeling at risk. They feel pressure to adapt their behaviour, their beliefs indeed their very sense of themselves. If they don’t adapt they may not survive and questions like “who am I really” become secondary to questions like “how am I going to feed my family?”.

The one thing that we can count on is that things do not remain static. Change is inevitable whether it is positive or negative.

I would like to suggest that we do not need to give up who we are in order to survive. Yes we may need to make changes in the way we do things but we have resources and capabilities to design an approach that is ecological to the larger system and to our own integrity. Before we know where we need to adapt we need to have a realistic picture of “what is” – the reality of the moment. We also need to know who we are (our strengths and our limitations) in order to know where we need help.

Darwin observed and observed in order to know the true nature of the natural world. In order to know our true nature, we can focus on becoming better and better at being observers of the flow of our moment to moment reality. Not everyone is committed to the rigor of this way of knowing ourselves. Employing a selection of personality assessment tools ssuch as the MBTI , the Enneagram or the Reiss desire Profile can help provide a lens to support our journey toward self knowledge.

The clearer I am about what I can do and cannot do the clearer I can be about what next steps I need to take. In the world of flora and fauna “natural selection” may prevail. We have the opportunity to use whatever wisdom we have in order to be intentional about how we interact while still respecting that we are part of a living system. Indeed, the paradox of knowing and accepting our limitations and reaching out to others to get help may be just the thing that makes room for adaptation (transformation) to occur.

Category: Change
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One Response to “Survival Games by Design: Know Yourself and Stay Alive”

John Barclay March 12, 2009

Hey Sandy:

Sorry it’s taken so long to respond but its been one of those months of deep introspection for me – inspired, in part, by your post. (Thanks for the rest of your gifts that provoked reflection this year too, btw)

As a Virgo with a Thinking preference, being analytical and ‘knowing oneself’ is very important. I subscribe completely to the notion that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

Knowing oneself is one thing, however being ‘true’ to oneself, as you so rightly point out, is a challenge. Environmental conditions (economic, social and emotional) often pressure us to change in order to survive. How can we do that with integrity? How can we adapt with awareness and knowledge and yet stay “true to ourselves”?

I think the crux lies in understanding ourselves as ever evolving, ever adapting organisms. In Darwinian terms, we’re not far out of the trees physically but socially we’ve made considerable “progress”. As emotional beings, on the other hand, we still have some considerable way to go, imho.

Our emotional life often leaves us with a bunch of past experiences through which we filter current events – we accumulate insecurities and fears and needs etc. that inform our perception of “reality”. Often we recognize that the feelings we experience aren’t rational but sometimes they’re so intense, they’re hard to deal with. The temptation is to throw our hands up and say, ‘That’s who I am’ – as if capitulating to our fears and insecurities is somehow a display of integrity. It’s nothing less than an abdication of responsibility to do the hard work. In that sense, I think we need to give up “who we are” in order to survive (not physically but mentally, emotionally, spiritually)

For me, the key is to acknowledge that between stimulus and response; we have a choice. It is within our power to change our emotional response to a situation. It’s not easy; it takes effort but as you point out “we have the opportunity to use whatever wisdom we have in order to be intentional about how we interact while still respecting that we are part of a living system”

Finally, thanks Sandy for your gentle guidance and mindful mentorship.