Pursue What Matters
Episode 178: Book Review – Wanting
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
What do you desire in life? Is it the same thing you desire 10 years ago, 20 years ago? Will it be the same thing you desire 10 years from now? So join me today as we explore the science of wanting
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Your desires, we all have desires, right? It’s one of the things that pushes us forward. It’s one of the things that pushes us towards pursuing certain things. But here’s the thing, if we’re not careful, we can end up desiring things that undermine our values that we don’t really want, and that land us in a world of hurt. So today, I’m really excited to share another book review, right, it’s the end of the month. So it’s time for another book review. And this book just came out. And I felt so fortunate when I came across it. And it’s really, really good. So I think it’s very useful, and has lots of applications. So I’m excited to share it with you today. And it’s all about the science of desire.
So of course, every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you strengthen your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, which is all about aligning with purpose. Second, leading with curiosity, which is all about building self awareness, and self leadership skills. And third is leading and building a community. And so today, our topic really, it actually hits on all three, but particularly will focus on clarity. So having a sense of purpose. And an alignment with that purpose is so important. And then second is leading with curiosity, because here’s what we learn from the research that often we get pulled into desiring things that we don’t really want. And so that is completely the absence of self awareness. And so of course, we want to help you cultivate curiosity, so you can be self aware. So you’re heading in the direction that you want to be heading right. And hopefully, that’s purpose driven. And so let’s go ahead, and I will share this book with you now. So as mentioned, the book is called wanting the power of mimetic desire in every day like so the medic, maybe you’ve heard of this, maybe you hadn’t. I wasn’t familiar with this term. But you learn a lot about it in this book. So I’ll wait and give you the definition in a little bit. But this is by Luke Burgess.
So let’s talk just a little bit of give you a description of the book wanting. And so what the description is a groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing on fulfilling desires. And so he describes the author as Luke Burgess, he describes desire like gravity. So gravity affects every aspect of our physical being. But there’s a psychological force just as powerful and almost nobody has heard of it is responsible for bringing groups of people together and pulling them apart, making certain goals attractive to some and not to others, and fueling cycles of anxiety and conflict. So in wanting Luke Burgess draws on the work of French polymath, Rene Girard, to bring this hidden force to light and reveals how it shapes our lives and societies. Okay, so according to Gerard, so he was, he was a professor, he said that humans don’t desire anything independently, right? So your desires are not unique to you. Your desires are not. They didn’t spring creatively from you. human desire, instead is mimetic, so mimetic means that we in we imitate what other people want, okay? And that’s a big theme of this book. So this affects the way we choose partners, friends, careers, clothes, and vacation destinations, right? Like how many of you have seen maybe a friend’s photos of a great vacation, you’re like, I want to go there now. And maybe you had never heard of it before. You’ve never really thought about it. That is mimetic desire, in action. And, you know, with the world of social media, my goodness, this happens all the time. So, mimetic desire is responsible for the formation of our very identities. It explains the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s plays. Why Peter Thiel decided to be the first investor in Facebook, that was a good decision on his part, and why our world is growing more divided as it becomes more connected.
Right and just a little hint in that, where we’re more connected, we can see what’s happening for other people. We want what they want. But that’s not a benign wish, right? Because that breeds competition, comparison. And, you know, taking from others what they have. And so, mimetic desire, it is like he describes, it’s like gravity, it just is, it’s something that happens for us as humans, but we need to develop awareness of it so that we’re not ruled by mimetic desire, because being ruled by mimetic desire, can actually really backfire on us and have some pretty significant consequences. And so, you know, the invitation with this book is to develop more awareness of how mimetic desire is showing up for you. So that you can, you can actually pursue desires that you truly want that are consistent with your values, rather than rather than imitating what you see, you know, on social media or among your peers.
Okay, so that’s a little bit of the focus here. And so the book just came out, and there’s some great praise for it already. So first, from Adam Grant, who’s one of my favorite leadership writers, what he says, this book makes a startling case that many of our goals are merely reflections of what we think others want, oh, my goodness, how many of us have lived our lives like that? It’s a spellbinding read. And it will leave you rethinking your own motivations for months, and maybe even years. So I really love that endorsement, because like, this is a book that makes you really consider your own choices and your own life experience. And hopefully, that’s not in a way that overwhelms you, but can actually be really helpful. Another endorsement or advanced praise from Jonathan Hite, who is also one of my favorite thinkers, he’s a researcher. He says, this fascinating and playful book will be full of particular help for anyone who leads or manages people. And it offers all of us powerful explanations for why we want things and why society seems to be going haywire in our increasingly connected world. So there you go, that also helps us to lead and build a community because it helps us to understand people better. And so this book is really helpful. As self help, it’s really helpful for parenting, it’s really helpful for business and entrepreneurship. So he’s got lots of applications throughout the book. And like I said, I really just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it and found it really helpful. And, you know, like Adam Grant said, in his endorsement, it really left me thinking a lot about my own choices, and what has motivated some of my desires. So I love a good book that makes you think, and even better if it makes you think about your own life and your own experience. So this one is a thinker, and it’s great for, you know, shifting or pivoting as could be helpful. So now let’s just talk a little bit about the author. So his name is Luke Burgess. He’s founded in lead multiple companies. He’s currently entrepreneur in residence, and Director of Programs at the Siaka. Sorry, I don’t know if I pronounced that right center for principal entrepreneurship at the Catholic University of America, where he teaches business and develops new education initiatives. He’s also the founder and director of fourthwall ventures, an incubator for people and companies that contribute to the formation of a healthy human ecology. He graduated from NYU Stern School of Business, and later from a Pontifical University in Rome, where he studied theology. He lives in DC. So I loved how this book started. So this book started with Luke’s story. So he was an entrepreneur, he had a very successful company. And he was in the midst of being wooed by Zappos. So right most of us are pretty familiar with Zappos. And, you know, over the course of this business courtship, what Luke noticed is he started shifting his behaviors and he started shifting how he dressed and what he wanted in line with Zappos, right? Because he was like wanting to get wanting to get bought by Zappos. And he talks about this period of courtship. And, you know, what he noticed mostly in looking back, but, you know, when things finally settled, right, so were they going to be bought, or were they, you know, was the courtship gonna break off? Luke said that he, you know, when he found out that he didn’t get why he thought he wanted. His first response was total relief. And so that that led him to really question like, What do I really want and what am I chasing after? Because he had spent this time and energy you know, pursuing what he thought he wanted, only to realize Got, it did not make him happy. And so that’s what really led him to this exploration of mimetic desire, and the work of Gerard. And so I, of course, I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of the book, but I want to just give you a taste of it, so that you can determine if this is a book that you might be interested in reviewing and reading for yourself. So first of all, let’s think about what the book is about.
And this is what Burgess says, This is a book about why people want what they want, why you want what you want. So he says that each of us spends every moment of our life from the moment we’re born, to the moment we die, wanting something, think about that. Think about that with a newborn. Think about that with someone on their deathbed. We even want in our sleep. Yeah, a few people ever take the time to understand how they come to want things in the first place. Right and even talks about some of the basics around food and shelter. So what he says here is wanting well, like thinking clearly is not an ability we’re born with is a freedom we have to earn due to one powerful, yet little known feature of human desire, that freedom is hard one. And so that’s where he starts to talk about mimetic desire, and that mimetic desire is like gravity, right? Like it will pull you away from, from things that are good for you, because it focuses your attention on imitation. And so, you know, he relies on the work of Gerard, who was a researcher, and a polymath and gerar discovered that most of what we desire is mimetic, so you spell that mimetic, so if you’re having a hard time with that word, that’s what it is. So he says that most of what we desire is mimetic or initative, not intrinsic, so meaning we don’t come up with our desires from an intrinsic, deep place in our soul. It’s really we watch other people, and we want what they want. And that really reminds me of the research of kind of your product of the five people you spend the most time with, right? Because we tend to imitate people, and we tend to want what they want.
So be careful of who you spend your time with. So gerar taught that humans learn through imitation, to want the same things other people want, just as they learn how to speak the same language, and play by the same cultural rules. Imitation plays a far more pervasive role in our society than anyone had ever openly acknowledged. Now think about that in the in the online world, and social media where people can curate lives and images. And if we’re not careful, we end up wanting something that’s not even realistic, or that’s not real. And so I think it has really, really important implications for our world today. So, Burgess says, our power of invitation dwarfs that of any other animal, it allows us to build sophisticated culture and technology. At the same time, it has a dark side. initation leads people to pursue things that seem desirable at first, but ultimately leave them unfulfilled. It locks them into cycles of desire and rivalry that are difficult, practically impossible to escape. So that’s the real rub. That’s where you have to be really careful about mimetic desire. But verjus says that Gerard offered his students hope. So what he taught is that it was possible to transcend the cycles of frustrated desire. And it was possible to have more agency and shaping the life we want. But if you don’t have awareness of mimetic desire, then the chances of you developing that agency and that freedom, probably not likely to happen. And so, you know, Burgess, in his, in his own personal experience, turned to the work of Gerar. And he said, I’m now convinced that understanding mimetic desire is the key to understanding at a deeply human level, business, politics, economics, sports, art, even love.
So this is like a golden ticket to understand the life. So it can help you make more make money, if that’s your primary drive. Or it may help you avoid waiting until middle age or later, to learn that money or prestige or a comfortable life is not primarily what you want, right? So it really helps you to think clearly, and separate imitation, from your true values. And so mimetic theory sheds light on what motivates economic and political and personal tensions, and also shows the way out of them and that’s what this book is all about. So for those with a creative spirit, it can guide their creativity to projects that create real human and economic value, and not just wealth transfers. Okay. So if we’re not aware of mimetic desire, it will take us places we don’t want to go, but his case right so his thesis for the But, but if we develop the right social and emotional muscles in response to mimetic desire, it becomes a way to effect positive change. And so that’s really what he takes a look at with this book. And so I just want to share one other. One other tidbit about the book, because I think it gives you kind of a nice frame. And so mimetic desire, because it is social spreads from person to person. And through a culture, it results in two different movements. And so he spends a lot of the time talking about these two different cycles of desire.
So the first cycle, which many of us are locked in, leads to tension conflict and volatility, breaking down relationships, and causing instability and confusion, as competing desires interact in volatile ways. Okay. And he describes this as the default cycle that has been most prevalent in human history. And he argues that this default cycle is accelerating today, right, and we can see how that that is, is sped up through social media and our online personas. So but it is possible to transcend the default cycle, it’s possible to initiate a different cycle that channels energy into creative and productive pursuits that serve the common good. And so the book explores those two cycles. And he talks about those cycles been fundamental to human behavior. So because the cycles are so close to us, in fact, they operate with Anna within us, we tend to look past them. So we don’t tend to notice these cycles, yet the cycles are at work constantly. And so I just want to leave you with four, kind of take home points where he makes his case for why you need to understand the power of desire, right. And basically, this idea is, if you don’t understand the power of desire, you’re going to be ruled by it, and you’ll end up pursuing things that you don’t want. So first, Nemesis can hijack our noblest ambitions. So we live in a time of hyper imitation. So we are fascinated with what is trending think about influencers, right, we end up wanting what they want. And yeah, we don’t know them. We don’t know their values. We don’t know anything about them, except what they present to the world. And if we’re not careful if we’re spending our time and attention, following influencers or celebrities, right, that can hijack our noblest ambitions, and we end up living a very small life. And I’m not saying that the influencers, or celebrities are living a small life, I’m saying you don’t know. Because you only know them on social media, and, and regardless, right, you’re, you’re disconnected from who you are, and your values and your rootedness in family and culture and society. The second reason we need to understand the power of desire is because homogenizing forces are creating a crisis of desire. And so he talks about this idea that equality is good, but sameness is generally not. And I think we’ve gotten caught into a little bit of a trap, where equity trumps everything else, which equity is not the same thing as equality.
But I think the way that we talk about equity, we talk about it as though sameness is what we’re looking at, but everyone should have things exactly the same. And Burgess makes the case that this is actually really dangerous for our society. And that it pushes people to be the same, right? And the more pressure they feel, to think and feel and want the same things, the more intensely, they fight to differentiate themselves. And he says, This is really dangerous. And then he gives some examples throughout history of how this is so dangerous. I think we are seeing this play out in our society right now. It actually concerns me quite a bit. And then the third reason you need to understand the power of desire is that sustainability depends on desirability. So he says that decades of consumer culture have forged on sustainable desire. So we’re running ourselves into the ground, we are really tearing up our planet. And so many of us know intellectually that we could do a better job taking care of the planet, for instance, but we’re not willing to change our own habits. And so right it’s just an A Call to awareness about that. And then the fourth reason you need to understand the power of desire is that if people don’t find positive outlets for their desires, they will find destructive ones. Okay. So this is this is something to really pay attention to, and he actually uses the examples of the terrorist attacks on 911 To make this case he says people don’t fight because they want different things they fight because mimetic desire causes them to want the same things. And so we’d need to, we need to be careful about that because we can end up wanting things we don’t want. And so that in a nutshell is a, you know, a very brief description of a book wanting by Luke Burgess. I really highly recommend this. I have saw, I’ve seen applications in every area of my life. And like I said, at the top of the podcast, it’s a thinker that makes you think and consider your own experience, which I always think is the mark of an excellent book.
So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/178-wanting the book is called wanting by Luke Burgess. I will have a link to that book in the show notes. So you can you can take a look at that. And I’d love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. I’ll have some more resources from the book. And in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai