Transcending Domination: An Existential Meditation


The Will to Power: Seeking to Dominate and to Avoid Domination

Someone far wiser than me stated that one of the key factors explaining how we – human beings – show up is this one: the strong desire to dominate (others, circumstances) AND to avoid domination (by others, by circumstances).

This is just a different way of seeing/spelling out that which was central to the philosophy of living articulated by Nietzsche: The Will To Power exercised by all living organisms.

I say that this makes perfect sense given that we have been shaped – through the process of evolution – to survive and thrive under a broad range of contexts / circumstances.

Why Then Do We Allow Loved Ones – Playing Victim – To Dominate Us?

Given this Will to Power – seeking to dominate and avoid domination – how is it that we allow our loved ones to dominate us? Look, I get that when you and I were children we could not avoid being dominated by our parents, by our teachers, by anyone older/stronger than us. It is adults, us, that I do not understand.

I find it fascinating how easily we – adults -walk into the trap of being dominated by a loved one: friend, child, husband, mother/father… Further, I say there is no domination like being dominated by a loved one playing victim. Why? Because we do NOT see that we are being dominated by the one playing victim. AND, because we do NOT see that the other is playing victim. We are conditioned – mostly as a relic of Judeo-Christian religion – to treat weakness as virtue. And, crawl on our hands and knees serving those playing victim.

What is it that I am pointing at? Allow me to illustrate through a few examples.

Example 1: A friend who never turns up on the agreed upon time

A lifelong friend is one that always turned up late – no matter what was agreed, and how much forewarning he was given. So what did we do at university? We catered for him – all of us waiting for him to turn up so that we could go ahead with what we planned. He might be 5 minutes late. Equally he might be 50 minutes late. This behaviour continued past university, by when we all had responsible jobs that required us to be punctual.

One day I got it. By doing that which he was doing and getting us to buy into his game, he got to dominate us – play the game by his rules. It also happened to be the case that a group of us were leaving that Friday evening at 20:00 to go to Wales for a camping / walking weekend. So, I picked up the phone and said something like this, “We will leave exactly at 20:00. Exactly. Not one minute before, and not one minute later. So you are responsible for ensuring you turn up by 20:00 if you want a lift in the car. If you choose not to turn up on time then you are responsible for making your way to …” Then on the day itself, I sent him a reminder.

At 20:00 our friend had not turned up. One friend – Dave – did not want to do that which we all had agreed. He insisted on waiting till our friend turned up. As it was my car, I simply said, “I am a man of my word. So we are leaving now – right now. So you have a choice to come along. Or to wait for …. and then the both of you can make your way to …”. He came along. Our friend – the one who is always late – did make his way to our agreed destination. It took him pretty much the whole of the night to get there.

Here’s the lesson: since then he has never been late because he knows I mean what I say. And that I refuse to treat him as a child, or as some victim of life who is not capable of turning up on time.

Example 2: My Parents And Their Guilt Tripping

So my parents are from Azad Kashmir, a region administered by Pakistan. They, like all others from their culture / background, are masters of emotionally blackmailing their children.

Here is the situation. I have refused to have an arranged marriage. I have refused to arrange a marriage myself from the tribe they have chosen – their tribe. Actually, more like a social caste and tribe. They are not at all happy with this and do all manner of things to get me to do as they wish.

One day, I turn up to their home and announce, “I am getting married to French woman. She is white. She is not religious – and certainly not muslim…..The wedding is in France on….. and you are invited to come to the wedding.” Silence. Then, the emotional blackmail started.

“You have killed us. When the community finds out that you – our eldest- have married a white woman, and a non-muslim, a mountain of shame will fall upon us. We will die of shame. How can you do this to us after all we have done for you!!”

I had been down this road many times. And so I was prepared for it given that I had been studying existential philosophy as a hobby. So here is how I responded, “We all die. All of us – that is what we have in common If it is that shameful to you then go ahead and take your own lives now – right now. As for me, I have chosen to marry this woman on this date at this place. And that is exactly what I will be doing.”

After this event, I was never subjected to emotional blackmail from my parents. They never played victim with me and thus put me in the role of either persecutor or rescuer. I taught them that I had seen through and transcended their game of emotional blackmail.

Example 3: My Son Who Experiences Anxiety & Depression

To cut a long story short, my son turned up to Switzerland. And after ten minutes started complaining about this or that. This I am used to and have learnt to accommodate. Then he went several steps beyond that to be critical of me, and my life choices. And beyond that to be truly bitter and put me down. That was all within the first 3 hours of his arrival. This attitude and behaviour continued to the next day, and the next day.

Then it hit me. I have brought this upon myself by accepting his story about himself: I am a victim of life – particularly of anxiety and depression so I cannot be/do/have this and that. And, you – my father or mother – must do x, y, z for me because you love me. Not doing x, y,z is proof that you are bad parents! Loving parents do whatever it takes to make their children happy.

So, I found the right time and place to say this: “You are faced with 2 choices: continue on the path you have chosen – this one of bitterness and condemnation – and then I must ask you to leave my home and go back to the UK on your due date.. Or you can give this sh*t up, be responsible adult that you can be, and treat me respectfully. In which case you can extend your stay – as you want to do – and I will pay for the costs of changing your ticket. Choose.”

Yesterday, we had a fantastic day together. I am clear that was because my son gave up playing victim. Instead, he showed up as responsible and fun loving adult. He helped guide me in driving my car on certain sections of road the were simply too tight to get it wrong. He helped his sister – words and actions – when he noticed that she was struggling. When we got back he cooked chicken without being asked.

In Conclusion: Avoid Domination by Not Being a Willing Participant in the Drama Created by The One Playing Victim

If our loved ones are to grow – including our children – then it is essential that our conduct towards them is that of, “You are whole complete and perfect as you are and are not. Now go live and create yourself and the life that you yearn for or which calls you.”

What do I mean by “You are whole complete perfect”? I mean that if children are born normally, have normal cognitive functioning, and healthy emotional upbringing, then they have the capacities to deal with life – to make the most of opportunities, and to navigate the challenges that come up – by the time they are adults.

Given this, our stance toward them should be one that says “You have what it takes including becoming that which you need to become, and learning that which you need to learn – to deal with life effectively.”

I wish to conclude by saying something some will find contentious. Having studied anxiety and depression from various perspectives including the Existentialist perspective, I choose to see/act from the following interpretation:

1-Some – relatively – few people who are depressed are so primarily because of some impairment in the machinery itself. Therefore, they need medical intervention e.g. mood dampening / killing drugs.

2-Most are choosing or have chosen to depress themselves – even if this has been done without conscious forethought. How so? By envisaging and living into either a dark or hopeless future. And, have learnt that by playing the victim (of life, of depression etc) they can get away with less being asked of them and more (time, attention, love ..) given to them than say their siblings.

3-Each normal adult has the capacity to own his life and to deal with whatever life brings him/her. And, my job as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend, as a team leader or work colleague, is to relate to each and every adult from this stand. That includes demanding that each of us confronts our freedom, our death, and our responsibility to make our choices and deal with the consequences.

Yes, I will help you. And, I will help you to the extent that you own your life – including your challenges. What I will not do is to allow you to put the burden of ownership on to my back! For to do that is to steal the very core of what makes us human – our freedom: to own / shape our lives as we see fit.

If you have made it this far then I thank you for the listening it takes to listen to my speaking. For I do not speak of the trivial, nor do I speak in every day terms. Wishing you the very best. Until the next time……

Hurt: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.

“Don’t Fuck Up!”

Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?

I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?

The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape

One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.

By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.

What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt

Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.

What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?

1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.

2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.

3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.

What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?

1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.

2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.

3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.

Summing Up

No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..

The Bus Driver’s Gift


Our default way of being-in-the-world is to deny our freedom. Which freedom?  The freedom to choose.  Whilst I can talk about this philosophically, I prefer to point this out using a story.

The Bus Driver’s Gift

One afternoon a bus driver was taking 40 children home from school. As the bus made its way down a steep grade, the brakes failed. The driver was unable to steer the bus to the left because of a high embankment or to the right because of a steep cliff.

As the bus hurtled down the hill, the driver recalled that there was a narrow gate at the bottom which led into a field. He decided to try to steer the bus through the gate and into the field, figuring it would eventually come to a safe stop.  He hoped that no cars or other obstacles would get in his way before he got to the gate.

When the bus reached the bottom of the hill, the driver saw the gate approaching fast. But to his horror, he noticed a small child sitting on the gate, waiving at the bus.

It was too late to change plans now. If the driver tried to avoid the gate, 40 children would die. He cried out in anguish as the bus slammed directly into the game. The innocent child died instantly in the collision, but that bus and all of its passengers were saved.

Emergency vehicles were the first to arrive on the scene, followed shortly by relieved parents and grandparents. Many of them wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude to the driver who had kept the bus under control long enough to save their children. But the driver was nowhere to be found. They asked the police officer where he had gone.

“They’ve taken him to the hospital,” the officer said. “He’s suffering from severe shock.”

“Well that’s understandable, ” they replied.

“No, you don’t understand, ” said the officer. “You see, that little boy on the fence was his own son.”

To be human is to be be free, condemned to choose

We play little, we find excuses, we pretend that we are merely ‘victims’ or ‘passengers’ in the game of life. What this story does is to remind us of a truth that we’d rather not see nor face up to. Why?

Because with this truth, comes responsibility: responsibility for the way our life is, responsibility for the way our community is, responsibility for the way our organisations are, responsibility with the way life is.

Stuff happens, that is simply the way the universe works.  Sometimes, even often, we don’t get to choose what happens.  And always we get to choose how we will respond to that which the universe puts our way.  This is the essential truth that this story brings alive for me.