Ian Anderson 9:30 a.m., Nov. 26
- Community Blog
- Live and Let Live
In the light of our current tragedy, hopefully we as a society will be forced into taking a much deeper look into how we treat each other.
Most of the time, we know when we are being treated badly. When someone steals from us, abuses us for no reason, perpetuates random violence on us, we definitely know we've been treated badly. But. What about scenarios that are not so black and white? What about all the gray areas? Areas so ambiguous and deceptive, we aren't even sure if we are really being treated badly or not. And to make matters worse, the perpetrators themselves are not even aware they are treating us badly.
Scott Peck (Road Less Traveled) in his book "People of the Lie" wrote about a phenomena he calls "subtle evil." It's the evil of seemingly upright, good, upstanding citizens hurting others in such an oblique way, the full extent of damage done is not known until it perhaps is too late. Peck claimed that many of us do harm to each other without acknowledging it because we suffer from the "sin of denial dressed up as moral superiority."
Empirical studies show families with generational mental illness, such as bi-polar, or schizophrenia, that are loving and nurturing, the intensity of the illness, or even the onset of it can be significantly reduced. There is an indisputable link between schizophrenia and families that are unkind and non-nurturing.
Many of us like to think of ourselves as progressive, self-actualized people that try and do the right thing. We believe if we are self-centered, apathetic, angry, slothful, or jealous, we are not good people. So we deny to ourselves that we are any of these things. But the problem is that we all have a dark side, and it is only human to have these negative aspects to our personalities. It's literally written in our DNA to be narcissistic, because self-love/protectionism is necessary for survival. Conversely, empathy, is a learned trait that does not come naturally to us at all. So it is incumbent upon us all to accept and realize our inherently flawed natures, and work with them as best as we can.
What Peck was really getting at was the insidious denial of our flaws: people thinking they are too spiritually evolved to ever feel jealous, apathetic, angry, selfish, slothful. But the sad fact is we are not too evolved to not feel any of these things. Yet we deny that we are. As a consequence, these negative feelings re-surface under a different guise: Moral Superiority. And it's this Moral Superiority that gives us handy outlets to hurt one another. This type of evil, "moral superiority," is so subtle, so ineffable, it's hard to nail it down and call it for what it is. And if we can't recognize it we can't fix it, and then, we can't fix us. Our denial and moral superiority are unknowingly spreading antipathy, destroying relationships like odorless poisonous gas.
I read Scott Pecks "People of the Lie" years ago, and think now it should be required reading--especially in the light of our current tragedies. Since this insidious evil, "Moral Superiority" that Peck writes about eloquently is so complex, allow me to give some real life examples to illustrate what Peck is talking about.
Example One: a couple have an out-of-control daughter. She's flailing, going in all the wrong directions. She needs rehab seriously, as she has become a severe drug addict. Her parents, thinking they "did not sign up" for this when they had kids, feel wholly unequipped to deal with her. They lament to everyone they tried to raise her right, to be a "good Catholic girl." They say they "tried everything, and nothing's worked." They've sent her to shrinks, put her on restriction etc.. Only thing they never tried was listening to her, or showing her any interest or concern other than putting a roof over her head and giving her an education. Because they deny, they were too selfish to have had kids in the first place, they use their "Moral Superiority Card" and say they have thrown her out of the house because they are "practicing tough love." Really? There is tough love that is appropriate, and there is tough love tossed around as a default option when parents don't care enough and are too selfish to help their kids.
Example Two: Two girls who have been friends since childhood. Charlene is extroverted, beautiful, smart, charming, popular. She has a great career, lots of friends, makes lots of money, and has a man that loves her. Her friend,Sue, on the other hand has much less on an exterior level. She's homely, shy, has few friends, no boyfriend, and makes very little money. But, Sue has one thing the Charlene doesn't have: a talent for writing. When Sue gets her first article published for a modest sum of money, Charlene becomes jealous. Yet, Charlene, herself, is not even aware of the fact she's jealous because Charlene's "moral superiority" tells her she is above such feelings. And because her "moral superiority" won't allow herself to feel jealous and deal with it in a healthy, honest manner, her jealousy manifests itself in other ways. All of sudden she finds fault with every little thing her friend does, she even withholds praise about her published article and instead, puts together clever, ostensibly earnest put-downs of Sue's work all in the name of "helping her."
Example Three: Joan was married to Mike, a guy that was wonderful to her. He stuck by her side through some treacherous times: Joan's addiction to pain medication, Joan's inability to work, Joan's poorly managed anger issues. But, Joan got help and largely recovered. Then Joan met a man at work who was exciting, charismatic, sexy and rich. They "fell in love" and Joan left her husband for her lover. But because Joan denied it was a lack of loyalty that drove her into her lover's arms , she utilized "moral superiority" defending her actions by saying Mike "didn't love me anymore," or that "Mike had given up on trying in our marriage."
Lets all just really try and check our motives and see if we are agenda free. We hurt others and ourselves so much in this evil gray area. So much unhappiness in relationships could be avoided, so much tragedy if we could stop being "moral superior" and instead, be "spiritually imperfect."
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