Einstein didn’t wear socks. When he was young, he discovered that the big toe always ended up making a hole in his socks so he stopped wearing them. Einstein was keenly aware that we are easily conditioned and he refused to let it happen. I believe it’s one of the reasons he was able to reach his full potential and bring illumination to the world.
We are all unique but the goal of society is to get us to become like everyone else. We are conditioned from birth by our parents, teachers, religions, society and the media. Even our educational system has conditioning as its main goal. It was designed using a factory production model where we put kids on different conveyor belts (grades) and we expect them to come out looking and sounding the same. We are subjected to a constant barrage of conditioning throughout our lives so we lose sight of our true selves and we become fragmented instead of whole, unhealthy instead of robust, and unbalanced instead of psychologically healthy.
In North America, we are conditioned to think about acquiring things – bigger houses, faster cars, the next promotion, a bigger paycheck – and we forget about helping others. We are conditioned to focus on power, control, status, and materialistic gain, and to pay lesser attention to emotions like empathy, compassion, and altruism. We are conditioned to compete instead of cooperate, amass instead of share, and fight instead of love.
Our conditioning causes serious harm on a collective basis. In a study of high-earning professionals, Columbia University professors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce concluded that the 60-hour work week, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part-time in the corporate world. Jeff Muzzerall, director of the MBA Corporate Connections Centre at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Ontario, says that a devotion to endless workdays has become culturally ingrained. We are so collectively conditioned for “extreme work” that the U.S. has become known as the “No Vacation Nation.” In May 2011, CNN reported that the typical American worker gets two or three weeks off per year. We aren’t much better off in Canada. By comparison, a typical German gets six weeks of paid vacation a year, plus national holidays. Only 57% of U.S. workers use their earned vacation days, compared to 89% of workers in France.
Robert Frank, in his book Luxury Fever, writes that we would be happier and healthier if we took more time off and spent it with family and friends, reduced our commuting time, even if it meant living in smaller houses, and if we bought basic, functional items such as appliances and automobiles (instead of frivolous luxury goods), investing the savings for future purchases. But in North America, we spend almost everything we have (and often more) on items for present consumption. We often pay inflated prices for designer names and extra features, and trends indicate we are moving toward larger houses, longer commutes, and fewer vacations.
We must break away from our old conditioned habits in order to free ourselves from our harmful and unhealthy way of living. If you own a big house, ask yourself if you’d be better off buying a smaller house. If you drive an expensive car, ask yourself why you do. The next time you think about buying a designer product, ask yourself if you’d be better off with a functional item. When you put on a pair of socks, ask yourself why you are wearing them.
There is nothing wrong with big houses, expensive cars, designer products and wearing socks. Unless we are responding to conditioning. If we are responding to conditioning, these items might actually diminish our health and our happiness.
It’s definitely something worth thinking about.
Debbie L. Kasman
Author Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul