The Importance of Limits


In today’s fast paced society, there are daily examples of the extraordinary. Individuals are subtly becoming scripted and children imprinted with excess. Lately, Christmas actually arrives at Halloween, and Halloween arrives in early September. There is the month of Halloween and the month of Christmas. By the time January hits, marketing will be gearing up for Valentines Day, which will incidentally start after MLK day! It appears that our culture is thoroughly saturated with advertisements, high expectations, and a fast paced movement. The Web, Social Networking, and yes, even Blogs, have increased the tendency that more is better. More knowledge, more access, more notoriety, more superficiality etc, and less depth in our interactions.

Christmas this year at my home and my experiences in my clinical work brought it home this year. There is a quiet, and subversive tendency to “go all out.” Many of us, including the well intentioned do this. Actually, we all do it. If we don’t go to the excess, then we’re guilty.

This year, my wife put fruit in the stockings: Apples, oranges and the like. This was a nice touch and alternative, and balanced out the candy the children received. After we opened presents, my father shared a story of how my Paternal Grandfather used to tell him that if he received “one orange” this was considered a good Christmas. This was probably true for all my grandparents. As this was shared, I peered over the landscape of my living room. It was full of multiple gifts. Did my children really appreciate what and how much they got, or did the overload of “stuff” represent our own need to comply with the societal expectation of a room full of presents? Did they get lost in the message of giving, with the excess of getting? This was humbling for me, and I felt a bit embarrassed with myself. We worked really hard to meet the expectation with the society now has scripted us to meet. Our dependencies with excess are real and problematic in these times.

The problem naturally, is how that can be sustained, or whether that is really healthy for people in the long term. My view is that we all could stand a few limits in our lives, and slow down. Having everything or more of it, is not necessarily good. It causes us to miss the hidden and valuable non-material gifts of our lives. It also keeps us from further investigating or exploring our existing resources. The problem goes beyond people, and is painfully apparent in government and spending.

A principle that I have subscribed to with my work changing people and situations is that: Where people do not have to pay the price (initiative, financial, or emotional), they usually don’t value what they got, and thus, don’t make the changes they want. It makes me wonder, with all the unlimited opportunities out there, has it made us slightly, or even significantly more inclined to live without limits.

Limits help us appreciate more what we do have, but also help encourage us to “pay the price” to obtain that which we would like to have. The lack of limits is progressively eroding our sense (and sensibility) or appreciation for what we do have. During this year forward, perhaps we can take stock in what we have, and set realistic limits – and avoid the excess trap. Look for what you’re missing in your life, but focusing on being and giving responsibly, and discovering for the first time what you’re missing as you filter the excess out and set limits in your life.


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