Clean Your Own Kitchen, or What I Learned About Being the Change You Wish to See in the World from Project Runway

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I’ve recently become obsessed with Project Runway, and, this season being over, decided to work my way through all the old episodes, starting with Season One. I’m a huge fan of the creativity, and I love the designers who play the game by taking the high road, helping each other, and maintaining a positive attitude despite the stress. I’m not so hot on the ones who believe that, because it is a competition, everything is justified as long as they win.

In Season One, there is an interesting woman who is overtly playing the game in what we’ll call it the “below the line” way. She actually does make it pretty far, in the process alienating the other designers—who all seem to be pretty nice people—to the point they don’t even want to talk to her. And let’s be clear, she brings this upon herself through her own nastiness and underhanded strategies.

In one of the last episodes, she wins a challenge (if you don’t watch the show, that just means her design is chosen as the best) and the others are given some pretty harsh feedback. She gleefully says something along the lines of “This feels incredible, I could stay here forever. There is nothing better than watching others who have been mean to you get what they deserve.”

As I watched this, I found myself snorting and being incredibly judgmental – I mean, what kind of person says that? Isn’t she aware she has created her own situation? And then a little voice whispered in my ear, “Oh, you mean you have never felt that? You have never had the smallest urge to rejoice when someone you don’t like fails?” Gulp. Um, yes. Truth be told, I’ve even had the occasional twinge of glee when someone I like fails.

Not to excuse myself (and I’ll come back to that) but there is something deeply human here. The Germans even have a word for this: schadenfreude, the satisfaction one gets from the miseries of others. At BEabove, we recognize this as being part of the third level of effectiveness, Frustration. The definition of this field is: The focus on jockeying for position against, not with, others. The feeling that the external world must be resisted.  

And we’ve discovered through our explorations into neuroscience that while adrenalin and cortisol play roles here (part of the biochemical fight-or-flight response), so does the neurotransmitter dopamine. When we feel that our own status is higher than someone else’s, we get a release of this reward chemical. In other words, at this level of consciousness, other people’s failures and misery can make us feel better. Even happy.

Note that I say “at this level of consciousness,” because I don’t believe it is an absolute. When I am truly in a higher state, I don’t feel the least bit good when I see someone I care about fail. And when I am really in touch with my highest self, I don’t feel good about anyone’s pain and misery, no matter how awful they have been to me or anyone else. I simply don’t get the dopamine hit when I remember that I am a part of all that is.

Thus, the title of this blog post, Clean Your Own Kitchen. If we really want to end war and pain and suffering, a part of the task is to look within. I know it’s not the only task. There are actions to take as well, but it is imperative that we take them from a higher state, not the eye-for-an-eye place where we are caught in an endless cycle of power-seeking behavior hoping for the ultimate dopamine rush of winning, at any cost.

And so, as I hear about attacks in Paris and Beirut and Kenya, part of my response is to ask myself, where do I need to clean my own kitchen? Can I honestly say I am, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, being the change I wish to see in the world? Or I am rejoicing at others’ misfortunes, judging people, and hoping to win at any cost? Because that lives on the continuum of hatred, and does not represent who we need to be to move more fully into the light. And I still believe that is the only way forward.

 

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