Friday, March 17, 2006

Never Buy A Shade-Tree in Hell

When The Exit Door Will Do Just As Well

There are times in our lives when each of us will be tempted to trade-up when we really need to opt-out. This is not a unique attribute of modern times but has been with us for thousands of years. I was reminded of this recently while reading H. W. Brands biography of Andrew Jackson. He recounts the story of Jean Laffite, the "French General", around the time of the Battle of New Orleans. Laffite was a pirate and slave trader who operated near the mouth of the Mississippi. Laffite rationalized his slave trade very simply. Brands says, "Purchasers got what they wanted: cheap slaves. Sellers got what they wanted: profits." By Laffite's way of thinking the slaves benefited as well. Most of them were coming from the West Indies where conditions were horrible compared to Louisiana where conditions were, well, not much better than horrible. The problem was they were still slaves. They were "traded up" to a more comfortable spot in hell (under a shade-tree), but they were still in hell.

The Golden Handcuffs

It's not the early nineteenth century anymore, but even the best of us can still rationalize our actions in such ways. We don't have to be slave traders or slaves to do it. It may be a job or relationship that creates the undesirable environment within which we find ourselves living. Something about it isn't working or may even be toxic to us. Along comes a pay raise, promotion, new title or promise of a change in the relationship and we stay further trapped in that environment. We traded-up or negotiated a temporary peace settlement and in doing so dug our heals in deeper. The reward was an illusion of relief just as a shade-tree in hell. Real relief in such an environment only comes when we opt-out and make way for the exit door.

"So often-times it happens that we live our lives in chains never knowing that we have the key."
The Eagles

As people develop greater autonomy there comes with it greater responsibility. No longer are we bound by a single owner, ruler or powerful elite. Each of us must define the environment in which we are willing to exist and the conditions under which we will continue to exist. Too often we can be persuaded to stay in an environment or under conditions that are antagonistic to our growth and ultimately to the growth of those around us. Enticements to stay that do not fundamentally change the environment or conditions in such a way as to encourage our growth and freedom are no better than a shade-tree in hell.

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