What are these enemies? How do they affect us? Where are they? Are they visible or do they lurk in the shadows?
Our Real Enemies
Who or what is the enemy of progress? Why are our goals always just out of reach? If these questions resonate, you are not alone. Find out what you can do about it.
Excellence and perfection would seem to result from progress. The issue becomes the standard that determines what is excellent or perfect. When you see how our culture spins them to manipulate and exploit, then you understand the downside. So, let’s look at these goals from the perspective of those who use them.
To begin with, our culture bombards us with stories about excellence and perfection. For that reason, more people should be very successful. But that is not reality. The culture says to us that excellence is something anyone can achieve. In fact, professional athletes and successful business leaders actively promote this as a reality. They tell us all it takes hard work. The message is excellence and perfection are the only real goals.
Doing your best just isn’t good enough unless it puts you on top. Anything short of becoming number one is a failure. The enemy of progress is that which misuses and harms people or the environment.
There seems to be a disconnect between the message of the goal and what really happens. The majority of people want to believe that they can or will be number one at something. However, the facts of statistics tell us that most people will be in the middle of the bell curve. Most people will be average. However, being average in a culture basing the standard on the exceptional 2% is unrealistic. Let’s look more closely at the different ways this message is being used to manipulate us.
What is Hindering Our Progress?
If you think our culture sends mixed messages, you would be right. Our real enemies are those parts of our society that take advantage of people and the planet for the profit of a few. These enemies hide behind the following masks:
- Personal Enemies
- Corporate Culture
- Popular Culture
Personal Enemies of Progress
One of the best ways to imprison people is to appeal to their innate desire for comfort. Make them feel comfortable. Then, either threaten to take it away or make them believe someone else wants to take it away. Pretending something else is the enemy enables you to capitalize on their fear.
Create scapegoats to blame, and then you can sell them the solution. Or better yet sell them the weapons to kill the scapegoat. Yes, our comfort zone is most often the unhealthy zone or twilight zone.
Comfort is the enemy of progress.
— P.T. Barnum (1)
We also have personal enemies closer to home. Our self-talk can be one of our biggest enemies. You can’t get away from it. You must learn to remove harmful programming. And then program in positive scripts. It’s not an easy thing to do. Our inner critic can be brutal.
Corporate Culture and Excellence
In most companies, a good performance rating is someone with average performance. This doesn’t warrant a promotion. It is a justification for paying less. So, the goal is an excellent rating. However, excellent performance is hard because people make mistakes. So, although it is possible, it’s not realistic. Hindering our progress is a strategy that pushes people to sacrifice their health.
More often than not, performance ratings have more to do with your level of physical attractiveness. We overlook the mistakes of people we find attractive. It’s an aspect of human nature. Studies in workplace psychology show that attractive people have a clear edge at work despite all the talk about fair metrics. Then, as the overall performance of the company raises, so does average performance. In other words, an excellent rating last year is only average this year because average performance has risen. How can this not be one of our real enemies?
To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness. ― Emile Durkheim (2)
Very few achieve excellence. Excellence and perfection are temporary states. However, companies use them as carrots to drive performance. It keeps people working hard to achieve the goal. This is good for the bottom line. After all, that’s how to maximize your human resources. However, it’s not so good for the long-term health and wellness of the employee. This strategy is good for corporate performance.
It’s important to realize that the policies in place are there to protect the company. For instance, policies like non-compete clauses and intellectual property rights are obvious safeguards. Even the policies for discrimination and sexual harassment are really to protect the interests of the company. They protect the company against lawsuits of its employees. But, that’s okay. People are expendable.
Perhaps one of the greatest enemies hindering our progress is greed. The goals of excellence and perfection have a short-term effect. People think the goal must be reachable. But, in the long-run unrealistic goals are not motivators. And, they are the source of stress which is a health concern.
Scientific Discovery and Perfection
Scientific discovery is the driving force of our modern world. And, the scientific process is at the heart of these achievements. Science is an agent of change. It moves the technology of the world forward, seeking, and finding solutions. Some claim that science and especially mathematics are the only true measures of perfection. This may be true but this isn’t what we are referring to. Science and math are processes. What we are talking about here is about human endeavor, a person’s efforts, and labor to attain a goal. Human excellence is about achieving a standard or goal, whereas science is about finding solutions.
Some people use Thomas Edison’s light bulb as an example of excellence. However, he did not invent the light bulb. It was the improvement in previous versions that made a more marketable version. Therefore, it is the product of continuous improvement. Edison was actually an enemy of progress by actively suppressing the competition.
However, it does demonstrate the application of the scientific process. It represents the process of continuous improvement, which is progress. Science is not one of our real enemies.
Religion and Perfection
Religion a major part of the world’s cultural narrative. The three religions dominate this narrative. These are the religions of the Abrahamic tree, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (3). Together they boast more than 3 billion members (4). They protect their customer base through cultural programming and force up to and including genocide. It destroys archeological and historical references that conflict with its mythology.
Western organized religion benefits by promoting its own brand of perfection. It uses the fear of the unknown as the key. In Western culture, it promotes the ultimate intangible product, the afterlife.
Here’s how it works. First, create a need and then provide the solution. The need created is fear of life after death. You see this afterlife concept has both good or bad outcomes. There are rewards in the afterlife if you become a follower. This is heaven. But, if you don’t follow their religion, then the result is eternal torment in Hell.
This concept isn’t new. It a combination of earlier religions from ancient Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Assyria. The rebranding of this idea is the bedrock recruitment and retention tool of the Abrahamic religions of Semitic origin. You find perfection by becoming a believer. However, you also need to pay your way. To remain in good standing requires some monetary indulgence to ensure your place in the afterlife. In this worldview, you achieve perfection by becoming a follower. Follow the correct God and obey your leaders.
The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.
— Mahatma Gandhi (5)
So, in reality, these cultural narratives are based on fear and greed. These never lead to progress and this is clear in the history of the dark ages. This when these belief systems ruled much of the modern world. Organized religion is by far the greatest enemy of progress. It has the power to overcome common sense and scientific evidence. Western organized religion is the originator of groupthink manipulation tactics.
Popular Culture and Perfectionism
The quest for excellence is a constant message in popular culture. The quest for excellence takes on many forms. You see it in organized sports at all levels. Baseball and football are where star athletes show off their talents paid for by advertising. Boxing and martial arts are socially acceptable forms of entertainment. These are just examples of how the quest for excellence pays monetary dividends in a cultural narrative driven by greed. It all goes back to Greek and Roman cultures. The Olympic Games and combatants in the Roman coliseums are attractions. And, attractions distract us from paying attention.
The coveted perfect life is a created standard which is purposely unattainable.― Bryant McGill (6)
Excellence is all that counts. Being first and winning is all that matters. Those who cannot excel are unworthy. These games exploit human fascination with human conflict. Thus, cementing the roots of the cultural narrative in our base instincts of domination. The popular culture benefits by raising a few who excel. These are examples of what you might become if you buy their products and ideas.
As we mentioned before, the goal moves higher as more people come closer to the goal. And, so the standard for excellence becomes more difficult to achieve. So, our popular culture is also an enemy of progress. The higher the standard or goal, the less it becomes attainable. As a result, an unrealistic goal becomes a barrier for most people. The culture driven by excellence is actually hindering our progress.
Personality and Perfection
All personality types are prone to the effects of the cultural narrative. For example, let’s look at Enneagram types one and three, the reformer and the achiever. By the name of these types, you can see why they find the goals of order and achievement irresistible. As a result, you’ll find large numbers of these types in leadership positions in both business and religion. And, you don’t become a leader by questioning the cultural narrative. So, you must learn how to promote their messages without questioning the underlying motives. Otherwise, this becomes an enemy of progress.
Also, the more you expose yourself to the programming, the more invested you become in the ideas it sells. This speaks to the power of propaganda. It also demonstrates how groupthink manipulation can exploit the thinking of anyone. It has nothing to do with intelligence.
Propaganda works by molding thinking and values. And, it triggers underlying obsessive-compulsive personality disorders (OCPD). This is where someone develops excessive concerns for excellence and perfectionism. It shows up as a relentless work ethic that dominates their lives. Of course, there are people at the top of their fields who do not fit the OCPD profile. Not surprisingly, this disorder is an asset in the workplace (7). Workaholics climb the corporate ladder using any tactics they can muster. Thus, it is an enemy of progress for the individual’s health and wellbeing.
So, it isn’t our personality that is the issue. It’s how it is the culture exploits it. Our personality is only an enemy of our progress if we don’t understand it. However, we can learn to understand these mechanisms. We can resolve this with proactive inner work through tools like the Enneagram Personality Profile. More about this tool later when we talk about solutions.
The Cost of Perfection and Excellence
It doesn’t matter which category of performance you choose. If you look at the superstars in almost any field, you’ll see achieving excellence is a life-consuming effort. It’s probably appropriate to classify it as an obsession. And, this doesn’t lead to satisfaction. The costs of being an overachiever are steep.
First, by working longer and harder your physical health and wellness will suffer. Overachievers often suffer from depression because perfection is hard to sustain. Stress is the modern world is the reason life expectancy is declining in the USA (8). Second, the families of overachievers always pay the price of absence. In the end, it’s the advertisers and corporations are the real benefactors. In the end, your achievements add to the bottom line and provide a justification to raise the performance bar for everyone.
Overcoming the Enemies of Progress
Can you relate to any of the categories above? Are unrealistic goals the real enemy of progress? Is it unrealistic goals that exist in the cultural narrative? Are our efforts to reach unattainable goals benefiting someone else? If so, what do we do about it?
Above all, it is essential to identify the sources of cultural programming. Make a list of the sources and the time spent. Putting it in writing will help you see the level of exposure.
Here’s an example of identifying these sources. Let’s say you work for a corporation. In most cases, companies have policies that govern specific guidelines of behavior. This means people need to monitor their behavior and conform to these standards. It’s like acting in a play all day. This is the essence of behavior modification. So, working 50 or 60 a week is a huge level of programming. The enemy of progress hides in this programming.
Then, if you watch TV for 3 hours a night, that’s around 80 hours of cultural programming. This isn’t uncommon. It becomes invisible because you are exposing yourself continually. As such, it becomes a habit. You don’t see the programming that is going on.
Here is a list of the main sources of cultural programming:
- Corporate and school environments
- Western Organized Religion and the God concept
- TV programming especially news and religious programming Religion requiring weekly meetings
- Cultural events especially those which promote organized violence
- Relationships which reinforce the cultural narrative
- Social Media
2) Remove and Minimize
Moreover, it’s important to cut out or minimize your exposure to cultural programming that you’ve identified. This can be difficult. It means making conscious choices and changing habitual patterns. Unhealthy habitual patterns is an enemy of progress. Changing patterns is hard work. Taking a two-week vacation once a year will not overcome the programming. Removing the source is best, but not always practical. So, minimize your exposure as much as you can. Minimizing your exposure is key. It provides time and space for you to do positive things.
One of the most difficult things to do eliminate or reduce are unhealthy relationships. Sometimes the people who are closest to you are reinforcing negative stereotypes and ideas. Also, sometimes these relationships directly affect key work contacts. There is no easy to do this.
Social media is a new source of groupthink manipulation programming. Beware of what you consume and how much. Social media is very addicting and time-consuming. It’s a good practice to reduce your social media use even if you think it is positive. You don’t want to miss your real life. Social media has some side effects. It is linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism, and decreased social skills. 60% of people using social media report it has a negative impact on self-esteem. 50% report associate negative effects on their relationships because of social media use.
Engage in active reprogramming of your thoughts and habits. This too is hard inner work. The cultural narrative in Western society is a thread of bias and prejudice that touches almost every aspect of life.
By all means please include the study logical reasoning. There is also a suite of companion tools we highly recommend, spotting logical fallacies and the logical axioms. Using these tools will help you determine fact from fiction. The Enneagram Personality Profile is a tool that gives us insight into personality, and instinct. Using this tool will help you understand how your basic thought patterns and desires are default settings. And, you have the ability to move beyond these limitations.
4) Plant Seeds
Do what you can in your sphere of influence. Be a change agent. In other words, expose negative biases and prejudices when possible. Speaking up always involves some personal risk. So, be mindful of your situation.
Be careful. People protect the enemy of progress with the use of violence. Speak up when and where people can accept your words. It is important to realize that extremists will protect their belief systems with violence. With this in mind, you must learn to guard your words and actions. Be vigilant, but not violent. Plant seeds of truth and be pro-facts not simply anti-religious. They may not accept them. And, you may not see them blossom. However, they often take root and sprout later on. More and more are questioning the cultural narrative. What you believe matters. Your beliefs have consequences.
The enemies of progress are experts at using our instincts against us. They exploit and manipulate for profit. As a result, we need to know about their tactics, what we need to do. Learn to spot and protect yourself from cultural programming as much as possible. The enemy of progress is everywhere. But we do not need to become victims of their propaganda.
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(1) P.T. Barnum, goodreads.com
(2) Emile Durkheim, britannica.com
(3) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(4) List of World’s Religions by Population, Wikipedia
(5) Mahatma Gandhi, goodreads.com
(6) Bryant McGill, bryantmcgill.com
(7) Studies in workplace psychology, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/games-primates-the-truth-about-why-beautiful-people-are-more-successful
(8) Life expectancy in the US, data.cdc.gov/NCHS/NCHS-Death-rates-and-life-expectancy-at-birth
(9) Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia