Good Heart Exploited? Hijacked by Your Virtues
One day I watched a man coming towards me down the street followed by his dog. The dog was behaving in a very eccentric fact weaving in a zigzag right behind him as he walked. When they passed me and I looked back I saw that the dog, which was of a herding copy, was systematically darting towards whichever of the mans legs was momentarily in the rear. Clearly being accustomed to his dogs attempts to herd him, the man walked calmly straight ahead.
In a natural situation where the dog would have been attempting to excursion a sheep in a particular direction the sheep would reflexively run in the direction away from the dog. By always approaching from the opposite angle, the dog could excursion the sheep in the direction the shepherd wanted it to go.
Driving others by provoking fear
Variations of this guidance and direction behavior are very shared in human interactions. In its most negative form we generate a fear or threat in some domain, so that a person will flee physically or behaviorally in the other direction.
If I frighten my children with stories of abduction by strangers, my children will be extremely careful… already phobic… about strangers and stay close to home. I can manage their behavior by provoking their fears.
A more benign example…
Pride may excursion an individual to confront down a fear by running towards it. We call this counter-phobic behavior
When this is done in the name of expert and the fear is reduced by exposure and familiarity this can be very healthy.
But when someone insists on doing something, continues to be afraid… but cannot stop because of internal or external shaming, this can create enormous psychic strain and is not really healthy or helpful at all.
Interestingly, we can be pushed in the same reflexive way by our virtues as by our fears.
What is a virtue?
A virtue is an internal decision to prioritize acting in a particular value pushed way.
Deciding in improvement on a behavioral rule is psychologically helpful because it gives us a ready-made position in situations where we might otherwise consume a lot of time debating individual instances.
Often virtues, such as modesty, studiousness or hard work help us stay in line with the values of our group or culture,
Inner guidance system.
We take inside ourselves the values and principles that we have experienced or been taught by important people and institutions.
At their best values are freely endorsed, self-sustaining and self-regulating. A psychologically healthy individual knows:
when to stop being generous and keep something appropriately for themselves.
when to draw a line between offering their time to help someone and being exploited…
how to navigate between being patient with a friend and speaking up about boundaries being inappropriately crossed.
A psychologically self-regulating person can tell the difference between giving someone a hand and doing it for them.
If you virtuously always tie your childs shoes, they will never learn to do it themselves… and an infinite number of variations on that theme.
Virtue or identity?
Because we come to clarify with our virtues and principles, it can be very destabilizing to have these parts of our identities doubted or attacked.
For example, for a person who believes in generosity and selflessness, the accusation that they are acting selfishly can be absolutely extremely.
This is often a problem for women who have typically been raised to be nurturing. Many women, when it is suggested that they are being selfish, will redouble their efforts at accommodation and generosity in order to prove to others (and reassure themselves) that their virtue-identity is nevertheless substantial. When this passes the bounds of reasonable effort or generosity, we may say,They took advantage of her good heart.
Men who reflexively value courage can be provoked to take unreasonable risks.
Individuals who over-value stoicism can be rule into tolerating what they should never tolerate
Danger! pushed by your virtues instead of exercising them freely…
When a person reacts reflexively to any doubt about their virtue by leaping to prove it, they are acting just like the sheep pushed by the sheepdog. It becomes very easy for others to consciously or unconsciously begin to selectively excursion their behavior by expressing doubt or making accusations.
If a child accidentally learns that saying to their parent, You dont love me, leads more often than not to their parents offering additional-solicitous care, giving in to a need or giving an additional-special treat as a reflexive proof of their love, it is only the uncommon child who will not learn to guide their parents with that accusation.
The situation works equally well in reverse… and there are many adult children being pushed to bend over backwards to please their parents in order to counter or head off an accusation of being ungrateful.
Why is this reflex so easily triggered and consequently exploited?
Typically because we all secretly know how tempting it is do the opposite… to be lazy instead of industrious, selfish instead of generous, sloppy instead of tidy. We are most of us aware that we are in a nearly continued battle to live up to our highest values and each of us knows all the times (already when others dont see) where we have failed in small ways and large.
So we all know that, to some degree, the accusation of our without of virtue has some truth… and in the confront of the accusation we redouble our efforts to show our virtue.
Unfortunately, since virtues are intended you be inwardly-pushed, self-sustaining and self-limiting, having them challenged and responding reflexively in response can quickly rule to inappropriate or excessive behaviors.
The consequence is an accumulation of resentment and a sense of having being maneuvered or exploited.
True to your own path?
So what is the best way to manager others attempts to excursion you inappropriately by attacking your virtues?
By recognizing the inward solidity of the virtue, by valuing your own course and by listening to your own inner guidance system
By believing that, though you may sometimes get it wrong, your value system will truly guide you without outside supervision and tinkering from others.
Like the man whose dog chased first one leg than the other, it is possible to continue your own course despite the attempts of people around you to influence you and make you jump in one direction or another.
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