Why Is It We Take Things for Granted?


Unconscious Complacency 

Some years ago when I served as the Chairman of the Board of Holistic Management International, we had visitors come to New Mexico from their ranching fieldwork in their communities in Zimbabwe. At the time, their country was in the midst of extreme economic collapse. And they had never been to the United States. I was very curious about their experience.

“What has made the biggest impression on you?” I asked.

The senior member spoke: “Everything works here. Planes leave mostly on time. Cell phones work. Traffic lights function. Food stays cold in refrigerators and does not spoil. It is remarkable.”

I was stunned. All the things he mentioned were ones I took for granted. I even chuckled at myself because only that morning I had booked a flight across the country and arranged for business meetings within a few hours of my expected arrival, because it was quite likely.

My thoughts flashed to a comment I had heard somewhere, though I could not source it. Familiarity breeds complacency. That which we receive consistently a number of times comes to be expected. Yet it is an unconscious expectation that forms. We do not decide to feel entitled, it just sneaks up as a part of our psychology.

A short time later as I was again scheduled to fly across the country, I had a chance to see it in myself. Because of much time in the air, I had come to always be upgraded on flights. But on that day, I looked up at the monitor in Boston’s Logan Airport, and saw my name far down the list. And I saw indignation rise within me. “Do they not know who I am?” asked an incredulous inner voice.

Then I laughed. It was utterly unconscious, the product of having received the gift of upgrades on many occasions in a row.

With the awareness, I began to see examples of people taking things for granted everywhere. Not just in me, but all around me. After all, we live in a very advanced and prosperous country, which allows for us to receive any number of privileges every day. Because of that regularity, we simply come to assume we should receive it. Right up until the moment that we don’t.

So do we then come to overlook things that would otherwise capture our attention. When my daughter Brianne and I drove through South Africa a few years ago we were overwhelmed by some of the poverty, yet we so easily overlook the homeless in our own communities. We experience service in so many stores and restaurants in our culture, that the data tells us one of the most overlooked groups of people in the United States are waiters and waitresses as well as retail clerks of all kinds. Road construction annoys us though we spend most of our time driving effortlessly on big, broad, smooth highways. And if we’re honest, it’s at the heart of what has been called “the honeymoon ending” in relationship when suddenly our emotional autopilot stops working.

After we experience something a number of times, we just stop being aware of it. Right up until the moment it is no longer there. We are wired at the biological level to normalize things. Unfortunately, it is then we take them for granted.

Seeing True™

Every disturbance is a reminder to become aware. Awareness is the only possible strategy for everything we cannot see. If we cannot see, we can never appreciate. Worse still, without information in the form of seeing, nothing can possibly change.

Seeing True™ in Action

One of the most powerful tools I’ve been taught is a simple awareness exercise and journaling exercise. It’s taken from the work of A Course in Miracles.

Get a journal. As often as you can, notice people, things, situations and circumstance and simply write it down along with the question: What is this? Feel free to try to answer the question. You’ll be surprised. And you’ll begin to see.