A majority of the posts I write are retrospectives on personal growth. People often ask me what personal growth area I am working on at the moment. Even setting aside how personal that question is I often find it hard to answer. If I were able to write effectively about what I was working on, I’d probably be done working on it. When I’m in the middle of personal growth it feels chaotic. I’m trying to tease apart cause and effect, symptoms from disease, and perhaps even still questioning whether the problem is real or imagined. Still, after getting asked for years I decided to really try to tease out an active area of personal growth to share.

To illustrate what I’m working on I wanted to share the Three Laws of Robotics, as invented by science fiction author Isaac Asimov in his 1942 short story, “Runaround.”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

As you have all had almost 80 years and at least one Hollywood blockbuster to familiarize yourself with the story I hope you will forgive me for sharing the spoiler that the laws don’t always work. They are logically correct, carefully crafted, and in the end have the unintended consequences of having the robots imprison all humans in their homes so that no harm can come to them.

I have realized recently I have my own system of beliefs which are logically correct, carefully crafted, and disastrous in practice. The central belief is this one: I am happy when the people I love are happy. That seems reasonable on the surface but that means people around me being unhappy – a perfectly normal state of being for any human – becomes an obstacle to my own happiness. That causes me to react very negatively to their unhappiness as if it is a burden to me. Worse, I act as if it is a criticism of me. Effectively I experience a form of identity threat. My identity is keeping the people around me happy. So when they aren’t I take it as a personal failure. That is an untenable position in which to place myself or to place someone else.

In reflective moments looking back at my own reactions I find that I am a stranger to my self. Instead of being supportive I am resentful. Instead of being helpful I am hurt. The strength of my reaction can be shocking.

Instead I need to adopt a partner mindset. I can not control whether someone else is happy or not. But I can be there for them. I can provide stability when times are turbulent. I can respond reasonably no matter the circumstances. They must be responsible for their own happiness but I can be a helping hand.

That’s what I’m working on now.