Careful what you wish for: 2 crucial mistakes we make when chasing desires

When people deny that they are affected by what other people around them want, they are most susceptible to getting drawn into an unhealthy cycle of desire that they don’t even know to resist.

Luke Burgis

Stacy highlights key takeaways on how to avoid chasing desires that limit us from Luke Burgis’s book Wanting.

I couldn’t stop reading Luke Burgis‘s book Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life. I highly recommend it. It’s an easy-to-read and insightful exploration of Rene Girard’s ideas. Rene Girard is a French polymath who analyzed classic literature to uncover “mimetic desire”:

Girard discovered that most of what we desire is mimetic, or imitative, not intrinsic. 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.

Two mistakes we make chasing desires

The first mistake is that we are not aware that our desire is mimetic. We, therefore, don’t realize who our models are. We end up picking our models with intention.

Second, this unawareness can lead us to pick thin desires, not thick ones.

Thick desires—desires that are not hyper-mimetic, desires that can form the foundation for a good life… are protected from the volatility of changing circumstances in our lives. Thin desires, on the other hand, are highly mimetic, contagious, and often shallow.

What to do instead

To break through thin desires, Luke Burgis suggests “disruptive empathy”:

Sympathy means “feeling together.” Our emotions fuse with those of the person we sympathize with… Sympathy can easily be hijacked by mimesis… Empathy is the ability to share in another person’s experience—but without imitating them (their speech, their beliefs, their actions, their feelings) and without identifying with them to the point that one’s own individuality and self-possession is lost… It would not entail empty platitudes or white-lie niceties that we often say to people with whom we disagree. Empathy disrupts negative cycles of mimesis.

To cultivate such empathy, he suggests sharing “fulfillment stories” where you can ask someone to…

“Tell me about a tie in your life when you did something well and it brought you a sense of fulfillment.”

Then, take the time to listen and understand others’ core motivations. Doing so will also help you identify yours, independent of theirs.

If you’re interested in conversations like these, you might want to check out the Lighthouse Moon Society. For more info, contact me.

Knitting notes

I am making progress on my second maize and blue hat—the one I started a short while back with leftover yarn from the hat I made for my daughter.

Learn more about Stacy’s Book Notes.

Sign up to receive a monthly digest of book notes via email.

*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.