The Hypocrisy of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy

So, turns out that we humans are wired to be hypocritical.  According to Jonathan Haidt, author of the Happiness Hypothesis (and references therein), our opinions and perspectives are driven by our feelings, then justified by our consciousness.  Since our feelings are neither logical nor rational, then we are routinely defending and justifying our visceral feeling and proclaiming it to be reality.

I don’t know about you but that concept stopped me short.  Like everyone else, I’ve been right there feeling like a smart, rational person who makes informed, reasonable decisions.  Though I sometimes indulge in complaining about people that we love to complain about, a part of me feels hypocritical as that criticism says just as much (or more) about me as it does the one I’m griping about.  So, on some level, I have looked for hypocrisy in my own life, but not like this.  I had thought that I was living my values of being trustworthy, a good citizen, a hard worker, ecologically-minded, fairness, opportunity for all, responsibility, and loving my neighbor.  Where have I been falling short of living my values?

This is going to take more reflection than I have been able engage in up until now.  In the meantime, here is where I will be more attentive:

  • More random acts of kindness
  • Walk more, drive less
  • Shop the farmer’s market more regularly
  • Volunteer more
  • Be more deliberate when making decisions that affects others
  • Give more to charitable causes
  • Be proactive about finding opportunities for helping those that are struggling

I think just knowing that we are wired for hypocrisy will make me more aware and cautious about my certainty.  As an opinionated person, I hope this means I will approach subjects with a more balanced approach and engage in conversations or thought processes with a more open-minded attitude.

There are the gentler spirits among us that already struggle with voicing their opinions.  They do not want to offend or make an error.  To you, I also refer to Haidt who talks about satisficers versus maximizers.  Maximizers tend to perfection and excellence, and take extra time to make decisions.  Satisficers tend to be satisfied with “good enough.”  The latter often do not make as many good decisions as maximizers, but they are happier.   Satisficers are content falling short of perfection.  So, given we are prone to hypocrisy and error, being imperfect is human nature.  We are wired to err and have faults.  The question is just whether we forgive ourselves and others, and move on productively, or wallow in our shortcomings and failures.  It’s just as bad to turn that criticism inwards as it is to deflect it onto others.

Even this very blog is hypocritical.  I don’t always practice what I preach.  I recentlywrote about a sleepless night filled with self-recrimination.  Rather than begin every sentence with an “I don’t know but I think that….,” we can just have a mental astrick by our thoughts that say, “maybe.”  Or not?

An Exercise in Self-Control

Losing My Cool

Losing My Cool

One of the remaining bastions of my small-mindedness and poor self-control has to do with dealing with customer service representatives (fondly referred to here as a CSR).  I’m sure if I knew any CSRs socially I would think they are lovely people who are in the job because they love to solve problems and help people.  The CSR would similarly think I seem to be a kind and non-judgmental person who is generally reasonable and logical.

On the phone, we would bear no resemblance to our social selves.   Or probably more accurately, I bear no resemblance to that kind, rational human being I generally try to be.

Not all CSRs are the sadistic, misogynistic people that I tend to perceive them to be.  There are some that are so good at their job, they just make me want to hum or sing for joy at how cared-for they make me feel.  That is a great CSR.   And I concede that CSR must be an incredibly tough, unenviable, thankless job that I would never want to undertake.

Nevertheless, despite reminding myself of what a good person the CSR must be, how they must be trying their best, it is way too easy for me to transform into the equivalent of The Hulk:  What do you MEAN you always add unwanted charges to the bill (for you, Verizon)?  What do you MEAN you have a 3 day return policy?  What do you MEAN it’s been 10 weeks and you still can’t ship it?  What do you MEAN your mistake created a major problem for me and you can’t (you mean WON’T) do anything to help me?  What do you MEAN that after being on hold for 20 minutes, I have to call back later?

When anticipating a particularly difficult CSR conversation, I try to be proactive in staging my inner world to be present, open-hearted, and forgiving.  I’m not going to lie.  It still ain’t easy, and I am frequently in pissed-off mode in no time at all despite my best efforts.  Yet I’m making progress.  My sweet, empathic younger son told me I only had one hand and one foot in “the box” last phone conversation with a CSR, which is a big improvement over my usual M.O. of being so deep in the box with CSRs I can see no daylight.

Fortunately the point of life is not to be perfect (pay attention, perfectionists), but to just keep trying to do better.   I’m making progress in that I don’t blame them anymore and am taking responsibility for my own impatience, temper, and feeling of entitlement that I deserve good service if I’m patronizing the business.  Yes, I might be entitled to that, but CSRs are only human too.  They are dealing with their own impatience and unreasonable company policies that inevitably trap themselves on the phone all day with a**holes like me.

So, CSRs everywhere:  I hope for your sake that I don’t end up on the other end of your telephone.  If I do, I apologize in advance for being testy and temperamental.  I’m doing my best, as I know you are too.

I love this story I read or heard somewhere about the Buddha.  Buddha once had a student who was always complaining, negative and nasty.  He was impatient and constantly needed attention.  He felt he deserved special treatment and would whine until he got what he wanted.  One day, someone asked Buddha why he kept this annoying student so close by, and the Buddha said, “He is not my student.  He is my teacher.”

So it is that CSRs and others like them are my teachers.  They teach me how to be a better person, to address my weaknesses,  to practice how to be more patient and forgiving, not only of a “difficult CSR” but of myself when I fall short of my expectations.  Now THAT is customer service.

Perception and Projection

Perception

Perception

Sometimes I have to remind myself that reality is relative.  Reality usually feels so, I don’t know, real that I often feel like I know what is happening or what just happened.  It only takes one person to disagree with me for me to bring me back down to Earth.

We can have differing perceptions of pretty much everything:  taste, sight, touch, sound.  It’s bitter to me but savory to someone else.  Scratchy to me but not noticeable to someone else.  The incidents where we really can get into trouble are when we are trying to interpret, and agree on, what we see or hear.  I have unfortunately found myself too often arguing way too long about what was said or done.   I can be 100% sure that events unraveled in a certain way only to find I was dead wrong, or that someone else is 100% sure that it didn’t happen the way I remember.

“There is no reality – only perception” – Dr. Phil

I take home a couple of lessons from this.  As with most things I write about, they often fall into the “easier said than done but worth trying” category.

  1.  Futility of arguing – Given that perception is reality, as well as the fact that we can’t change the past, arguing about what happened or he said/she said is pretty much a waste of time at best and damaging at worst.  There are exceptions to this idea, but the vast majority of time we’re arguing to feel right, as opposed to a real need to agree upon what is often a minor distinction.
  2. Dangers of judging/assessing another – It is way too easy to judge others and let ourselves off the hook.  For example, have you ever been accused of being depressed, angry, manipulative (or whatever) but found yourself thinking that the accuser is actually the depressed, angry or manipulative one?  Yep.  I hope you don’t believe that only others are guilty of projection.   I have learned to stop criticizing or complaining about others because the majority of the time, I’m complaining about what I hate in myself but blaming it on another.  That’s not only unfair but hypocritical.

I have had a couple of major Aha moments about projection.  As far back as I can remember, my sisters and I have always joked about who was the favorite daughter.  Of course, it was always ourselves that we proposed to be the favorite, the smartest, the prettiest, etc.  (Recently our uncle said I was the pretty one – ha!)  But in truth, I’ve always believed my eldest sister was the favorite daughter.  One day, we actually had a discussion about this subject.  My eldest sister thought the middle sister was the favorite; the middle sister thought I (the youngest) was the favorite.  Hmm.  Forty years of petty jealousy.  What a stupid waste.

Here is another example.  I’ve posted recently about how my life has a lot going on right now.   I’m very proud to say that despite the chaos, Chris and I have been maintaining equanimity in our relationship.  About a week ago I noticed that his energy seemed different:  a bit of an edge, somewhat cranky and more energy in his words and actions than I’m used to.  Finally I brought it up, asked him if there was something going on with his change in energy.  He responded that he was going to ask the same thing of me as he noticed a change in the quality and quantity of my energy.  Ouch.

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” – Edgar Allan Poe

So, I’m again reminded that my perception is just that, and I am apparently more wrong than right about what I perceive.  So since perception is reality, I might as well choose the most positive and forgiving interpretation of people and events.   After all, why choose discord, smallness, and injustice when you can choose harmony, inclusiveness and generosity?  Why choose silence and recrimination when you can have understanding and affirmation?

So, an exercise in perception: this blog isn’t rambling, it’s….complex.  Have and perceive for yourself a great day!

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Back to Square One

Back to Square One

One of the joys of being human is that you never have to worry about having life all figured out. At times, you may feel like you know what to do and what path you are on, but when that reptilian brain kicks in, everything you’ve been working on towards self-management and self-knowledge comes undone.

And so it goes when my sense of responsibility is affronted.  According to Clifton StrengthsFinders, people with the responsibility theme take psychological ownership of their promises.  I admit I have a love/hate relationship with this theme.  This profound sense of responsibility means I’m utterly reliable, but the psychological ownership part can be a heavy burden and drive me and others crazy.

For example, I HATE to be late.  Just HATE it.  Chris and I had an appointment recently, and he was still getting dressed past the time when we should’ve left.  As we get close to, then exceed the planned departure time, my anxiety level goes through the roof.   As it turns out, the person we were meeting was even later.  Regardless, being 10 minutes late just does not matter in the scheme of things (and I know this) but I said I would be there and letting go of that is hard for me.  In this case, Chris is the victim of my promptness compulsion/obsession.

Even worse, I can torture myself for hours, even engaging in a sleepless night riddled with guilt and anxiety if I feel like I’ve contributed to or caused a costly mistake that affects others.  If it’s my own mistake and I am the sole benefactor of the fallout: no problemo.  But if I’m impacting others, I feel I’ve let them all down and am a terrible person.

In those moments (or hours as it may be) it just doesn’t help that much that I know that perfection is not possible, that I’m in the “basement” with my responsibility theme, that there are no bad events, just failure to turn them into opportunities.  I know these things to be true with all my being.  Yet, there I sit, wallowing in guilt and anxiety into the wee hours.

(Big sigh.)

This is my journey.  Sometimes I feel I’ve made great progress and sometimes I feel like I’m camping out at square one.  Maybe being at square one will motivate my responsibility tendencies to work even harder at letting go.  Does that sound like a contradiction?  Yeah.  Me too. Marshmallow anyone?

Setting Boundaries With Toxic People

 

“You teach people how to treat you” – Dr. Phil

Think what you will about Dr. Phil, but he has a few good lines that are really applicable to our lives. This quote is one of my favorites, because it reminds us that we do not have to feel powerless when it comes to our relationships.

It’s easy to play the victim or helpless card, where we tell ourselves that we can’t do anything about how someone else is treating us.  It’s true we can’t control someone else’s behavior, but it’s also true that we can set clear boundaries and adhere to them.

For example, if a friend is constantly criticizing your parenting style, how you do your job, how you behave in your romantic relationship etc. then you don’t have to endure it in silence.  Or perhaps you have asked them to stop criticizing you, but if you allow them to cross the line again without comment, you are teaching them that they do not have to respect your boundaries.

Here is an example of a conversation you might have with Debbie Downer, “Debbie, I love you very much, you are my dear friend.  But I want you to know that your criticism of my parenting style is very hurtful to me.  I’m not saying that you’re wrong, or that you’re not entitled to your opinion.  You are entitled to your opinion and you’re entitled to express your opinion to whomever you want.  And I know your comments are given out of love and concern for me and my kids.  But when you criticize me, it hurts my feelings and I want you to stop the criticism.  I also want you to stop criticizing me to my family. I’m doing the best I can and your comments are not helpful.”

The more calmly you can say this, the more effective you will be.   You may even want to give her advanced notice about the need to talk so she doesn’t feel ambushed.   If you have a conversation like this, consistency afterwards is also very important.  Don’t follow this conversation with a request for her opinion about your parenting style.  Don’t say stop, but then tolerate subsequent criticism in silence  (you may have to repeat the conversation if they regress.)

You may be reluctant to venture into a difficult conversation with your buddy because of the potential damage to your relationship.  Consider the damage that is already occurring to your relationship while you feel criticized and your feelings ignored.  Also consider whether the friendship is worth keeping if it cannot withstand a dose of honesty or request to respect boundaries.  A true friend will want to honor your wishes and strive to be sensitive to your needs.  Also ask yourself:  if the roles were reversed, would you want to know that you’re hurting your friend unintentionally?  I thought so.

The Upside of Losing Control

People seem to like to say they know they have no control, but continue to act as if they do anyway.  Certainly there are some things we want to be able to control: whether we’re employed, making a sufficient income to meet our needs or even wants, whether opportunities become available to us, the outcome of our grades or projects, whether our backyard has sufficient drainage so it won’t flood.    Indeed we have profound influence on the likelihood we can achieve each of those goals, but in the end, circumstances beyond our control may have the final word.   You know that 100-year storm will hit as soon as you’ve upgraded the drainage system to handle a 50-year storm.

Then there’s the stuff that we know we should not even try to control, namely, other people.   We have no control over how others think, feel, or act.  Heck, we can’t even control our own feelings half the time, nor should we try.  The feelings just are, and we can either manage them or be a slave to them.  In addition, we often do not understand someone else’s feelings (even if we think we do) since their hot buttons and filters on the world will differ from ours.  Yet here we are, trying to control that which we poorly understand and which we have no control over.  Cool.

Ditto for how others think.  Often we do not understand, and in some cases cannot understand, why others think as they do.  Nor do we have any control over their thoughts or opinions.   If you add to the mix that some people – for instance – will not like or respect me no matter what I do, no matter how sweet, smart, friendly, pretty, or cool I am, then trying to get them to change their opinion of me is pretty much a waste of time.   That’s not to say I give up trying to be my best, or continue to try to improve to improve my communication skills, the effectiveness of how I interact with others, etc.  Not at all.  I just don’t invest too much of my time or energy into worrying about how a subset of people perceive me or trying to change their mind about something they believe strongly in.

The above does not necessarily apply to my loved ones or the people I work closely with.  I invest much time and energy into those relationships, and if something goes wrong, I will engage in a critical conversation with them about our issues and make sure I understand their perspective.  But the grouchy gal down the street that I don’t have to work with? Not so much.

The same goes for trying to control what others do.  My sister constantly gets frustrated because my parents just won’t take care of themselves.  Yeah, me too.   I get frustrated too if my child doesn’t turn in his homework.   I want my parents to be healthy and live a long life and my son to make good grades, but I can’t make them do what they don’t want to do.  If that means they die at a younger age or don’t get into college or graduate school, that’s their choice.  I’ll be encouraging and supportive for their journey of self-actualization, and I won’t encourage or reward (intentionally anyway) a self-destructive pathway.  The rest is up to them.

You may say this sounds cold and callous.  After years of trying to take control of everything in my environment, I now contend that this is dealing with reality in a healthy way.  While I spent all those years trying to control everything around me, my life and health were going down the tubes.  In my dictionary, that would make me a hypocrite in addition to being an unrealistic butt-insky.   The recovering control freak in me still has a tendency to do too much, say too much.  However, now I know that the more I attend to my own journey, the better others can attend to theirs.

Also see Healing the Perfectionist and Control Freak

Evolution, Not Revolution

Four terrific kids

Four terrific kids

A snapshot of each holiday gathering is like time-lapse photography capturing the evolution of both family members and the family itself.  With each new frame, the subjects, and the relationships between the people develop and change.  Sometimes the differences between snapshots are dramatic, sometimes subtle.

I reflect upon these changes with the recent family gathering over the holiday.  This year, my youngest son, his girlfriend, Chris’s daughter and her boyfriend, join us at the beach.    All together under one roof for four wonderful days, this is our first time cohabitating for longer than the time it takes to enjoy a meal together.

What a difference a few months make.  I guess you can say Chris and I have been together a “long time” according to the perception of teenagers.  When we started dating we were working through the emotional turmoil of separation and divorces. Since then, not only have we worked through that transition, we have also invested time and energy into strengthening our relationship.  This upfront effort has paid off to create a smooth, comfortable and companionable partnership that would be apparent in our couples’ portrait.

A more dramatic change would be evident with the picture of the kids.   The divorces after our respective 20+ year marriages were understandably traumatic, and being introduced and acclimated to new surrogate families was a big, and not so easy transition.  Yet we progressed, within a pretty short timeframe, from “I’m not ready to meet anyone,” to hanging out under one roof as if we’ve been  palling around for years.

Frankly my style tends to be to push forward without looking back, but that style does not work for everyone.  Sometimes just patience and acceptance is the best way forward, Chris reminds me.  Evolution, not revolution.   Living in the land of Patrick Henry during Independence Day, I am now channeling my inner Darwin and celebrating changes that are more incremental than dramatic.  Viva la difference!