Life after Epiphany

attributing motives to others: just another way we fool ourselves

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imageI was reading a blog that I follow (and generally enjoy) and the blogger was speaking about trolling, and how anytime a particular angle was used with respect to the topic in which he was interested, it must surely be a troll post. As someone who, once upon a time when I had much less life experience, held the very position to which he objected, I know that the expression of this (however misguided I now know it to have been) was never intended as trolling. Perhaps it LOOKED that way, but it was not.

This got me to thinking about how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming we know another’s purpose for a given word or deed. Happens all the time… In business (e.g. “He can’t change that term in the contract at the 11th hour, he’s dragged his feet up until now… He’s trying to sabotage this deal!!”) or in personal life (e.g. “She said that after all I’ve done for her? She must still be after revenge for xyz..”)

When I was a Novice, my Novice Mistress quoted an older Sister in the Community with the following wisdom:

Always give others the benefit of the doubt in assuming good intentions… if not good judgement!

It is so easy to get worked up on an interior level about a fabricated imitation of reality that reflects to us our fears in a situation far more than it reflects the objective reality. Psychologists such as Reeder have done studies that show how the tendency to do this arises with bias because of opposing views… His research is interesting and HE is an expert whereas I am not, but I’d hazard the suggestion that fear is truly what causes this behaviour. Fear would be the substance to which the opposing view was an accident, or at least, a trigger.

If you look at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you will see in annotation 22 an exhortation to extend the benefit of the doubt to others as a benchmark of basic civility. That this is included in this work, however, demonstrates that it is about more than playing nice with others… It is a crucial part of spiritual theology and has a direct bearing on our interior peace and the quality of our relationship with God.

Imagine a tightly wound ball made from rubber bands… when we get caught up in others’ motives and what they might think of us, something inside of us gets wound up just like that ball… But instead of rubber bands, it’s a complicated entanglement of pride and fear. This image is another piece of wisdom I owe to my old Novice Mistress.

Truth needs to enter in. Really, if we allow ourselves to get worked up about imagined motives on the part of another, well, we’re fooling ourselves. We allow our reasoning to become compromised by the fallacy “ad hominem” and as such allow our view of the other to become poisoned. This is how relationships degenerate toward discord. Surely if we are going to hold an unfavorable opinion of someone we want it to be informed by truth, by what can be apprehended from objective reality, as opposed to emotional supposition, self-lie and the tangled mess of pride and fear?

If there is not enough fact to go upon then integrity is required to be able to admit to ourselves that we just don’t know why that person did or said what she did. And from there? Trust. We need to trust in the good intentions of others until their intentions are proven to be otherwise. The jaded person who employs cynicism about others as a defense mechanism doesn’t protect himself from deceit.

Perhaps he won’t be fooled by others. But he’ll be fooled by himself and he’ll have cheated himself of happiness.

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