What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?
(This prompt comes from day 10 of this Reverb11 list.)
I was really struck by the child abuse scandal this fall at Penn State. Besides immense sadness and compassion for the children affected, I felt incredulous that after someone witnessed the rape of a 10 year old and reported it, nothing more was done. Where were all the adults? How hard would it have been to just call the police? Surely, in the same situation, I would have done something. Any of the decent people I know would have!
And then I read this extremely insightful look at human behavior, written by the very thoughtful David Brooks (whom I’d only a week before been introduced to via Charlie Rose on NPT, which we were watching because we cancelled cable). In his piece, Brooks challenges me and everyone else thinking the same thing I was about the actions we surely would have taken had we been witnesses. He highlights case after case of people witnessing wrongs against their fellow humans and continuing blissfully without taking any action. Humans, he says, are good at self deception, paying attention to what we like, and ignoring that which is inconvenient, unwelcome or objectionable. Brooks ends with this nugget (emphasis his):
Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?” The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive?
And I feel like David Brooks is speaking directly to me or maybe shouting (though I don’t think he shouts actually; he seems quite polite). How often do I self-deceive? How easy is it to not hold myself accountable at work to get lab stuff done? Is that any way to finish a PhD? In social or professional situations, when the subjects of religion, choice, or marriage equality come up, how often to I just keep my mouth shut? And how many people could I advocate for if I spoke openly, rationally, and calmly about my views? When I struggle with relationships, what do I do to address the situation? (Blaming the other person doesn’t count.) When I see a stranger riding a bike on the sidewalk or walking their dog without a leash, do I address it with them? What steps have I taken this year to help the least of us, the homeless, the sick, the in other ways maligned? How do I act to save our quickly warming planet and to reduce consumption? The answers to these questions vary in how good I feel about them, so my lesson for 2011 is that self-deception is easy to slip into, and in going forward, the best way for me to address this habit is to be mindful of it.