The View from Outside the Fishbowl

Fishtank 2

Our universe is infinitely large, endless, and spacious. It’s likely that, somewhere out there in space, conditions conducive to other life forms actually exist. We, therefore, surely aren’t alone. But we seem to be nonetheless. So where is everybody? This is the stuff that the Fermi Paradox is born of. And the stuff of continued wonder and debate within the scientific community. One theory around this confounding paradox centers on what’s called the Zoo Hypothesis—the notion that intelligent life does, in fact, exist out there in the universe. But these other alien civilizations have purposefully chosen to withhold divulging themselves to us here on earth. They are out there, but they’re simply ignoring us for the moment. Or, better yet, they’re watching us. From the outside. In all likelihood, they’re more advanced that we are, and they don’t want to get involved with us. Or, perhaps, they see the messiness of human life here. With a visual clarity that we fail to achieve. They have the luxury of seeing us as ‘object’. Standing back and objectively evaluating our inter-human behaviors on our planet. While we continue to struggle within our own ‘fishbowl’ called earth.

Yes, in some ways, humanity lives like fish within a bowl. We colonize our particular turfs within our watery environs. We scavenge for food. We squabble for shelter. We compete for territory. And, if we’re honest, we swim in tight circles far too much of the time. Our surroundings are constricted, cramped, and overcrowded. And we’ve muddied the waters with our own refuse. We think we can clearly see the world outside the fishbowl boundaries. But the images beyond those directly before us are blurred and distorted to a large degree. So, while we swim around, we’re lost in our own heads, lost in today’s agenda for survival, and stuck with the same ‘view’ every day. We wait for our preverbal ‘owners’ to feed us with our daily ration of fish food. And, as we impatiently await our morning ‘grub’, we see the world around us almost entirely from the perspective of ourselves. We are ‘subjects’, viewing the world around us as largely acting on us.

So what’s the problem with all of this? Within our own respective fishbowl universes, we certainly try to do better. To be better. To make things right. We watch our speech. We mind our thoughts. We restrain our actions. We manage our beliefs. We measure our intentions. And we guard our feelings. We’re really trying hard. Don’t we get some ‘love’ for that? For we’re ‘putting points on the board’. But, interestingly enough, this idea is at the very core of the fallacy. For we ‘put points on the board’ far too often in an effort to please the ‘owner’ of the fish tank… the very tank that we’ve created for ourselves in life. Accordingly, we measure our own self-worth by the volume of fish food dropped into the fishbowl’s water each day. Stated in a more human-centric way, we view ourselves and our value by what we think others would value in us. Then we create and put on our very best ‘fish mask’ in order to manage that external audience. In other words, we adopt the persona that we deem most appropriate to ‘survive’ in the world. A world in which the rules are made and enforced in ways wholly external to us. All well and good, I suppose, in terms of ensuring our survival. But the fake personas aren’t really ours. They’re not authentic. And our survival is simply that. Nothing more.

So what can we do? How do we jump out from inside the fishbowl? In order to take a different, more objective view of ourselves and of our humanity? Toward a view more akin to the ‘zookeeper’ in the Zoo Hypothesis… or that of the fishbowl owner instead of the fish. As strangely simplistic as it might seem, the act of leaving the fishbowl is not merely the start. No, it’s so much more than that. Because the very act of mindfully stepping outside ourselves is the solution in many ways. For when we finally step out, we’re able to see ourselves differently. We can look curiously, without external judgment and condemnation, at our thoughts, actions, speech, beliefs, and feelings. We’re able to evaluate the ‘why’s’ of these things far more objectively than ever before. We’re able to assess what’s really going on underneath the surface.

This new level of objectivity from ‘outside the fishbowl’ doesn’t stop there, though. Our ability to more dispassionately assess ourselves can help us to live in healthier, more mindful ways. When we escape the narrow, constrictive confines of our fishbowls, we can better manage our actions relative to others and our ongoing human, spiritual development. We can curiously and openly ask ourselves what’s driving our actions. And whether our constant worry about external forces and dependencies are, ironically enough, bringing about the very things that we’re most anxious about. Whether our beliefs and our actions are actually helping us. Or hurting us, however well intended, instead. Further, we can recalibrate our ‘locus of control’ toward a more internal model. You know, depend less on external stimuli and influence in our lives. And, instead, live by our own God-filled capacity to thrive.

In the end, the key is Freedom. Not escape. For escape doesn’t really change the environment or the narrative around us. Escape is merely an action of running away from something… without committing to something different. Conversely, true freedom is liberation. Liberation from living our lives solely or primarily in reaction to the expectations, judgments, and the ‘rules of the game’ imposed externally upon us. Liberation from our felt-need to judge every thought that comes into our head from the perspective of someone else. Liberation from the deceptive, but false, comforts of ‘permanence’ and the attachments of our lives. Liberation from the reality-fleeing behaviors that merely mask our spiritual unhappiness and emptiness. Liberation from the self-imposed disempowerment created by too many of our traditions, rituals, and beliefs. And liberation from our self-surrender to a life within a fishbowl.

We need freedom and liberation. True freedom starts when we leave the fishbowl and our false fish mask personas aside. When we finally step back with new curiosity, wonder, and openness to look at ourselves with greater love and objectivity. Then commit to real intentionality and daily discipline in making the changes needed to live our lives more fully and spiritually. Within God’s love, grace, and dignity. True freedom arrives when we strive, each and every day, toward greater capacity… not captivity. When we strive toward hope… not a safe habitat. When we strive toward possibility… not imprisonment. When we strive toward freedom… not fishbowls. When we strive toward a better ‘view’. A view from outside the fishbowl for a change.


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