The Power of Life Sentences And How to Break Free

In this post, I continue sharing more insights and distinctions from Lynne Twist in her book The Soul of Money. Having shared the three toxic myths, Lynne goes on to say:

“Life Sentences” Limit Our Possibilities

In any culture, myths communicate moral lessons, and scarcity myths have produced a legacy of beliefs –  “life sentences” – that we embrace as folk wisdom or personal truth”

Let’s explore the distinction “life sentence”

Are you wondering what Lynne is pointing at here? Consider the human species. Consider, that one can carve up the human species into “male” and “female”.  That is simple what is so: some members of the human species are male and others are female. Now ask yourself what it is to be “masculine” and/or “feminine”.

Consider, that what constitutes being (showing up as) “masculine” and “feminine” differs from one culture to another, and from one epoch to another.  What our culture gives as “masculine” and “feminine” rules some ways of being in and others out. To be masculine in the USA is to be a specific way. To be feminine in the USA is to be a specific way. That is the sentence imposed by the American culture on all those who are born and/or live into-within that culture.

Consider, that this life sentences shapes how young children – male and female – are brought up and shaped: by their parents, by their family, by their teachers, by their friends, by the media and eventually by themselves. Which explains the acute discomfort and vulnerability experienced by those who do not live up to this life sentence. Consider, for example, what it takes to openly show up as homosexual in the American workplace.

Perhaps the best pithy example of a life sentence is illustrated by Lynne Twist:

When I was a child my grandmother used to say ….. “Marry the money and love will come later.” We used to laugh ……… to tell the truth, she believed it……. When she married around 1990, she married the wealthiest man she could find and then found a way to love him.

Let’s get present to the power of life sentences

Think about the taken for granted cultural practice of foot binding in China. The impact of this life sentence was not limited to just severely deformed feet. This is what I found on the internet:

The binding of feet was said to be an indicator of Chinese class and a symbol of beauty, but through time, ended up becoming a tradition, lasting over a thousand years and affecting all women in every society leading to one billion women having their feet bound. It was a custom that controlled every woman’s lifestyle. Trying to find a husband for those whose feet were left unbound was virtually impossible.

I’d like to get back to Lynne Twist and The Soul of Money:

I have struggled to understand the tragedy of hunger. Hunger isn’t some mysterious disease…… We know what to do when a child is hungry. We know what a starving person needs. They need food…..

The world is awash in food. We currently have more food on earth than we need to feed everyone several times over. Waste abounds. In several countries……farmers are paid not to grow food….

I saw that the cause of chronic hunger wasn’t just the absence of food. What causes hunger and starvation is something more fundamental than that …..

When I considered the underlying beliefs held in common by almost everyone everywhere …… I saw that there were fundamental assumptions that disabled almost every effort to solve the problem….

When we believe that there is not enough, that resources are scarce, then we accept some will have what they need and some will not. We rationalise that someone is destined to end up with the short end of the stick.

When we believe that more is better, and equate having more with being more – more smart or more able – then people on the short end of the resource stick are assumed to be less smart, less able, even less valuable as human beings. We feel we have permission to discount them.

When we believe that’s just the way things are then we assume the posture of helplessness..…….. We accept that in our human family neither the resource rich members nor the resource poor members have enough money, enough food, or enough intelligence or resourcefulness to generate lasting solutions….

In every situation ….. uncovering the lie and the myths of scarcity has been the first and most powerful step in the transformation from helplessness and resignation to possibility and self reliance. 

How to Break Free From The Life Sentences That Limit Our Possibilities

It occurs to me that the first step is to be aware that our way of being, showing up in the world, is shaped by life sentences. The second step is to question: question the taken for granted beliefs, customs-practices, and assumptions. Third, choose to conform or not with your eyes wide open.

Here is something to consider especially if you live in a so called individualistic country. Are you ready? Whilst you are convinced that your are an individual and that you live in an individualistic society, consider that your culture has already determined what it is to be an individual. That is to say to be a true individual one needs to break free of the life sentence pronounced by your culture.  Stated bluntly, rare is the person who is truly an individual. Most individuals simply fit into the given mould of individual by their culture.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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