Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Self Reflection and our daily hubris

I thought this was a funny little piece at Slate - Narcissism: How to be vain without being a jerk -it raised this question for me... Why are we so bad at self reflection?

There is a tightrope to walk between seeing our actions and behaviors as others may view them and not tailoring one's behavior to the desires of others.  And while we see lots of navel gazing and self importance on everything from Oprah, to never read blogs such as this one, I would suggest much of the navel gazing is superficial, not serious looks at our own behaviors, or reflections on the justifications and stories we tell ourselves.

Some of this is easy to see and some pretty superficial, I'm thinking here of the skinny person who complains of needing to lose a few pounds or the average American lamenting our lives when 50% of the worlds population has never placed or received a phone call.

We also see it pretty clearly from the millionaire politicians, billionaire celebrities, and business moguls, who are unable to take a step back and say, "boy I'm lucky I was born into,or married into money... Or got wildly lucky when I met someone who changed my life or gave me a break....". How quickly it appears these folks bought into their own stories.   Easier to tell themselves lies about the road they've traveled than step back and give credit to fate, the sacrifice of others, etc.  I would argue the same is true for most of us... We're so caught up in our own stories, we either have no time for, or no stomach for, the truth.

Just a few hundred years ago the hubris was born into families... You were someone because of your superior bloodlines.  There is obviously still some of this,  but today I think I would argue that it's more likely that if you are conservative politically, nothing is more important to your political faith than to believe the social contract was of no importance to your success.  And related for another group, regardless of politics, it's important to believe we are "self made".  Frankly, it's this confidence I would argue that helped many of the successful, become so... it nothing is ever your fault you never lose your confidence.  But, here's the point where it begins to piss me off... 

If you've made your lot on the backs of others, and view it as either their aloofness, or their loyalty, or their "choices" that gave you an advantage then you're delusional.  Further, for both examples it is often their own self righteousness in the way they think, worship, eat, work, and live their lives that cause these delusions.

Joe Bageant tells a story about a fellow in Winchester VA who for somewhere around 50 years had an African-American women come to their house every Christmas morning and cook their Christmas breakfast... when he asked the fellow if he ever thought the woman would like to spend Christmas morning with her own family he replied, "Nah, she's been doing it so long she loves it, we're her Christmas family"... he was dead serious.  I have an acquaintance who is absolutely convinced that his mother in law just would not think it right if she didn't get to pay for their families vacation every summer, no mention of the fact that this man makes literally 50X what the mother-in-law makes, lives in 20X the house she does, or drives 30X the car... it's just something she likes to do... and he takes the 2 or 3K he saves on the vacation and invests it in the freaking stock market or on new golf clubs or a new seadoo and I suppose he would argue everybody is happy.  And when mother-in-law is dead, he'll sit on the porch at the lake house and think about how hard he worked, and how well he treated his mother in law by giving her the privilege of enjoying his view of the horizon when he invited her to come to his house for her birthday.  Never seriously wondering if it would have been more appropriate to go to her house on her birthday or paying for something she wanted.

Have we completely lost the ability to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes?" I think we have.  No strings, I suppose, are as hard to break as the one's we have tied to the stories we've told ourselves.

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