I don’t know why I feel compelled to write this, this morning, but I have always had the sense that we, as a species, are “too big for our britches” as my mother used to say. At other times, I think we don’t try enough to live out our dreams and challenge the limits. Mostly, though, I feel like limits just are and we get in trouble when we act otherwise. For the most part, though, a life of humility and sense of my place in the world give me a sense of comfort. To use Virginia Satir’s words, limits give us “context” within which our relational journeys take place. With that said, here’s a list of true limits to consider:
1) There are only 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year. You can only do so much in that time. Your day may be shorter than that. You could die today. Your day will never be longer than 24 hours, no matter how hard you try or wish it were otherwise. Use it well.
2) There is only so much you can own, know about and care about. At some point beyond that, you will not know how much you have. My uncle once had cars stolen from a car lot he owned and it took him days to figure out (when asked) if they were his. There is a limit on how much your wealth and things can bring you happiness. Studies show this.(see, for example, University of Colorado at Boulder, Van Boven, 2004 and Boston College survey, “Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth”, March 2011)
3) We don’t know everything. We just don’t and we can’t.
4) Most of us can’t be perfect ever. There are people who — for one, bright, shiny second — do something perfectly. They are, like, one in a billion or one in a trillion. And even they can’t keep it up for more than that one, brief second.
5) We age. We can slow down the process. We can alter the appearance of the process, but the process still happens until we die.
6) We cannot control nature. It’s bigger than us. We can’t stop a tsunami or an earthquake or a tornado or even just rain. We can limit its effects on us sometimes. We can harness it sometimes. In the long run, though, we need to respect it because we can’t control it.
7) There is only so much heartbreak the human heart can handle. Everybody has some limit. You can’t go beyond whatever limit that is for you or you will become mentally, physically, or spiritually ill. Wars are especially good at breaking those limits. If a person goes to war, there’s a good chance they will surpass their limit.
8) We need a certain amount of oxygen, a certain amount of sunlight, a certain amount of warmth, a certain amount of water to sustain ourselves.
9) Just a reminder: gravity still works. If you jump from a high place you will fall. Eventually you will stop falling, and then it’s likely to get really nasty.
10) There is a limit to how much poison you can take in without dying — physically and metaphorically.
11) All people need food, clothing, shelter, and water.
12) It takes time for healing to take place. If the amount of time it takes to heal is longer than the time a person has on earth, that person will never heal — at least in this life.
These are not political ideas, but they have political consequences. If we make policies as though we can control nature, bad things will happen. If we make policies that reduce the amount of air, water, sunlight, warmth, or food available to people, bad things will happen. If we assume we can have war without consequences, we delude ourselves. If we assume people can handle anything, we set ourselves up for failure. If we assume that we can know everything in advance, we will learn otherwise.
These are not just philosophical ideas, but they have physical, emotional and spiritual consequences and can help us choose a philosophy of life that works or doesn’t. . If we think we’re going to be perfect, we will fail at it. If we think others are going to be perfect, they will fail at it. If we expect perfection, there will be scars somewhere. If we think we can stop the aging process, we will be frustrated. If we think we can be brutal with each other and nothing bad will come of it, we will suffer loss and find out how wrong we are. If we think that everything can be fixed — at least in our lifetimes — we will discover how wrong we are and it will hurt — big time.
Much of this, for religious-minded folks, can be summed up this way: We’re not God. We can say to ourselves, “OK, that’s God’s job. I don’t have to do it and it’s silly for me to think I can”.
For everybody, though: Why should we live in a society that expects perfection, that expects that mistakes aren’t part of the human condition, that we won’t age, and we won’t die? Why would we believe those things and not be absolutely sick in our souls? If we believe — and act on — crazy things, we will become mentally ill as a society.
In the same way, how can we expect that we can poison ourselves or the environment we live in — with this chemical or that radioactivity or that hateful word or action — and yet not poison ourselves? That’s just dumb. We can’t.
Maybe we should consider that we’re well-meaning people who don’t know everything, who have limited life-spans and limited knowledge, and because of that we will make mistakes. Maybe we should consider that we know what hurts and what makes us ill in our souls, and maybe we should not do those things. Maybe then, we wouldn’t promote those things that kill us while thinking we should rejoice over them. If we at least start there — in reality — we stand a better chance of making choices that work.