In the late 90s I saw a movie called Office Space. It was pretty funny to me because I’d had just enough corporate experience to recognize some of my experience in it.
There was a character in the movie who had been fired. Nobody wanted him there. But he wouldn’t stop showing up. They even moved him to the basement. All by himself. But he kept showing up.
Then they took his stapler. And it was the last straw. He freaked out. He’d been clinging to the stapler as his lifeline. Grasping desperately at something. Anything.
We’ve been fired. We’ve been edged out.
Take a look. It’s laughable how much we’ve been edged out.
I’m typing this while sitting out under the night sky. About 140 degrees of dark sky and stars and a few moving, blinking lights from airplanes surround my head. Hurricanes just beat the shit out of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding regions. Massive earthquakes hit Mexico. Attacks in Afghanistan. Bali is being evacuated because of a volcano. The planet is hurtling through space at something like 63.5 gazillion miles per hour.
And that’s just superficial stuff.
Then there’s all this god damned experience stuff happening. I mean, the stuff that happens now and now and now and now.
Like whatshiface in Office Space, I’m clinging to staplers. And by staplers, I mean agency.
I’m not going to waste our time getting in arguments about whether we have any agency. Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Who cares?
What’s obvious if only we take a moment to see it is this: whatever agency we might have is infinitesimally small.
Now, of course, something being small doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I’m not suggesting that. But in terms of how much leverage I honestly expect to have in all this whole big mess…well, let me just tell the truth: not much.
I pretend and lie to myself a lot. I imagine that I have a lot of leverage.
Here’s one such lie: I can be good.
Now, again, I am not going to waste our time arguing that I cannot be good…within a very, very, very small window of agency. Perhaps I can. Meaning, maybe (maybe) if the stars are aligned right and all my history and everything else is just so I will get to choose between being a little less nice or a little more nice.
Or, if things are a little different – just one little thing a little different here or there – maybe that choice is radically different. Instead, now I get to exercise my choice between being slightly less murderous or slightly more murderous.
Because whatever happens, my agency – to the degree that I have any (which we won’t debate right now) – is, at best, infinitesimally small.
But I cling to staplers.
Until I don’t.
What a relief.
A guy wrote me the other day. He seemed very earnest. I could relate. I had been like that once. I wanted relief so badly. “Just tell me what to do. What is the truth? Please help me!” is what I was silently shouting.
But the truth is here. It’s the earthquakes. The tsunamis. The hurricanes. The crickets. The music. The breath. The stars.
And it’s that god damned experience happening.
I suggested to the guy that maybe he could just stop giving attention to thought as if it was trustworthy. Or, put another way, just stop believing it.
I didn’t mean that he should or could get rid of the fear and doubt. That’s very unlikely to happen.
I just meant don’t believe the thoughts. Just see what is happening without giving so much attention to the commentary.
And, bless his heart, he clung to staplers. He replied, “But if I don’t believe my thoughts, I’ll do bad stuff.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist.)
Just let go for a moment. Maybe you could try it out for just a few minutes each day. See what happens.
Chances are, not much that doesn’t already happen.