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I recently read the book Leadership and Self-Deception. In the preface, the author asserts that while ““leadership is about making matters better,” “self-deception” is “central to leadership” because it tends to “make matters worse. The author uses the concept of being “in the box” to describe self-deception. It discusses being in a state of mind, “in the box”, where you cease to really view other humans as humans but instead se them as objects. Objects worth of blame. Objects that cause problems for you.

The distortion that results from self-deception is destructive to relationships. When one person’s view of the other person in the relationship becomes distorted it is easy for the other person react in kind. This, too, becomes a downward spiral where both parties are in the box toward each other until someone breaks the cycle.

Most of us spend most of our time “in the box.” We shake our fists at the idiot drivers who won’t let us merge. We think our spouse/significant other/family members/ friends are slacking in their duties. We think our children are irresponsible. We think of ourselves the most awesome thing since sliced bread.

And it all stems from us not doing the things for others that we know we should do. While targeting business relationships, the book contains an example familiar to many families, to explain the concept of “the box”. Here I paraphrase: A husband wakes at night, hearing his infant crying in the other room. He thinks he should go tend to the child to let his overworked wife get more rest. Everything is good so far. For whatever reason, the husband decides to not get up and take care of the baby. This is where things begin to go awry. In order to justify the decision to not act as he knows he should, the husband begins to blame the wife.

He begins to think about all the times he has gotten up. He thinks about the work he has to do in the morning. He thinks about how his wife is probably lying there, simply pretending to be asleep so he’ll have to deal with the child.

In a matter of moments, the man has gone from an “out of the box” mindset of thinking how he could help his wife, to demonizing her to justify his own inaction. His own self-betrayal has caused him to move to an “in the box” mindset, resisting his own wife as a human being. By choosing to not do the thing he knew to be right, he has betrayed himself. And thus he goes looking for faults in others to justify his behavior.

Clearly this is not good.

Now, imagine your own marriage, children, family members, friends, or coworkers. Does blaming help the other person improve? Will it help them correct whatever fault you perceive? Or will it ultimately encourage the exact behavior you claim to find deplorable? Ultimately, the bottom line is that we need to be aware that we are all jerks. And the way to stop being a jerk is to think of others are actual people.