In economics, an externality is a cost incurred by someone who did not choose to incur that cost. Most of the time, governments try to ‘internalise’ costs so that they are bourne by people who chose to incur them. For example, car tax is paid by the owner of the car. Someone who chooses not to drive does not incur a cost. On the other hand, pollution emitted by a factory affects everyone therefore we can term it an externality. A positive externality might be the tidy towns committees that create a tidy and litter free environment for all.
We go through life and whether we like it or not we experience externalities in our lives that have nothing at all to do with us. They happen, we don’t choose them but yet their impact on us can be huge. We are also the cause of externalities occurring to other people. What may seem perfectly reasonable to us is a negative externality to someone else. You grow your hedges too high and your neighbour feels like you are blocking his view. You hold a party yet disturb the sleep of those in the neighbourhood. You let your dog crap on the sidewalk and someone else steps in it.
The concept of externality is a nice economic description that attempts to partition into neat boxes who is responsible for what. It gives the illusion that we are separate and distinct entities, that the ecosystem of us is separate to the greater ecosystem of the All.
In spiritual terms, it is impossible to be separate to anything because we are all one. We cannot cut ourselves off from the world because its energy permeates through us. All we can do is chose how we react and respond to events around us. We can attempt to control a universal energy that is greater than us which leads to conflict and stress. This is when we become upset, angry or anxious that the universe hasn’t given to us what we planned. Events didn’t go our way, things didn’t work out, we were unfairly treated or dealt a cruel blow. This is all the result of attempting to control an energy greater than the tides in the ocean. If we can bring ourselves to a knowing that our journey involves understanding our reactions to these events than our journey becomes that bit easier. We can only control our ‘self’, that bit of us that we call the ‘I’. This is not to say that we are immune to grief or anger or should never experience an emotion. It does mean that we understand the emotion we have and are able to accept it as a natural state that we can work through.
Part of this process is having a knowing that what we wish for will come to fruition when the time is right. The tide will come in and the goal that we have set out attention, focus and work on will come about. We do not have to exist in a state of want or a state of desire if we understand that our energy will mould with universal energy to bring us to our goal. But this will only occur when both energies have enough power to allow the universe conspire to bring everything together. If what we wish has not come about, then we continue sending our energy out into the universe in the knowledge that our goal will come.
Thinking this way means it is impossible to separate ourselves into an externality. There is nothing that happens to us that is separate to us. That it is even happening to us means it is a part of us. The energy of the ‘externality’ and the energy of us have met. Both are part of a universal energy. Returning to the example of pollution, we can only decide our own actions rather than getting angry at the world. We can chose how to react to that pollution. We might decide to help solve it, campaign against it, help clean it up, move somewhere else or any number of options. We accept that this event has come into our lives and is part of our life journey for the moment. It too will pass when we understand ourselves.
There is always the argument that the event we view as an externality has happened to us because at some level of consciousness, we stepped into its path. Rather like the person we know as ‘angry’ always manages to encounter ‘angry’ situations. There is always some event that sets them off! The impatient person always meets delays and obstructions. The jealous person spends their time somehow finding another thing to be envious of. Only when we seem to resolve our own issues (anger, patience, jealousy) do these events cease to occur in our lives!
Events that provoke a strong emotional response in us happen everyone. We are not unique. Grief, sadness, anger, happiness, bad luck – these befall everyone and even though they can be difficult, we can make the journey that bit easier by consciously deciding that we are not going to spend the remainder of our days trapped in an emotion caused by something we previously viewed as an ‘externality’. Instead we can accept this event has occurred, work through it and put our focus on an outcome we envisage.