2013-10-11

Emotionally Crippled

I am not sure whether "crippled" is a politically incorrect word in this day and age. Forgive me if it is.

I have classified this blog post under "Philosophy," however may actually be more psychological than philosophical in nature. I have classified it under "Illusions" despite the fact that the phenomenon I now wish to describe is more of a pleading emotional crutch than a true illusion.

Diplomacy
I'm not big on politicians; in fact, I consider them nothing more than professional liars. Nonetheless, one year someone purchased for me a copy of The Reagan Diaries, presumably because she thought I was an ardent conservative. I could not make it through the entire thing, and I do not envy the person who possesses such an ability. However, I did make it far enough into the book that I was able to learn something important from it.

What I learned was that diplomacy is the art of helping someone who disagrees with you find a way to agree with you without looking like they've betrayed their cause. This point is made time and time again throughout the book, or at least throughout the first part of the book, the part I was able to make it through.

We can keep this in mind when we disagree with others. More often than not, who is right and who is wrong is irrelevant. The person who is right won't accomplish anything if the person who is wrong won't agree with him. The person who is wrong won't agree with the person who is right unless he can find a way to do so without looking like a moron.

Think about it: If someone caught you stating publicly that there were cows living on the moon, a simple, "Ha-ha! Just kidding!" isn't going to cut it. For that matter, it isn't much better to consider your interlocutor's thoughts carefully, and then respond by saying, "You know, I think you're right - I now think it is impossible that cows live on the moon. Thanks for setting me straight."

What more often happens when someone is proven wrong is that he or she will end the conversation rapidly, and sometimes emotionally, although not always angrily. Then, the person who is wrong will allow some time to pass - a few days or perhaps weeks. At a later point in time, he will again broach the topic with the person who was right, but announce that he has discovered some new piece of information that he did not previously possess. This new piece of information shows that, lo and behold, while it is totally understandable that he said that cows live on the moon in absence of this very-important piece of information, the truth is far more obvious in light of the new facts. Thus, he is now in agreement - mostly - with he who proved him wrong. (Although, he must also point out that there is a small, insignificant, minor point on which the right person is actually wrong, as this new information demonstrates. Thus, we were all a little wrong, weren't we? Yuk, yuk...)

It's all part of a person's inner need to save face and maintain respectability. It's all part of that person's deep-seeded need to feel good, regardless of what the truth happens to be.

The Angry Truth
And, brother, sometimes the truth comes tempestuously.

There is certainly no harm in believing a harmless falsehood. There are thousands of silly little things about which we like to delude ourselves. To choose one at random, think of the "Race For The Cure" (any of them). We sign up for a 5K and convince ourselves that our registration fees are going to make a critical amount of difference between finding a cure for cancer and not finding that cure. For the most part, that money goes to a good cause. Did we really contribute to a cure for cancer? Of course not. But, as I said, there is not harm in believing a harmless falsehood.

On the other hand, believing a pernicious lie or absurd delusion very definitely is harmful. Avoiding any potentially political examples, let's choose one we can all agree on: denying the Holocaust. I defy anyone to argue the Holocaust-denier's case without invoking the hatred of every rational, empathetic human being in the world. Making such a claim would result in meeting the tempestuous truth head-on. Any other kind of racist will often experience the same thing once having made the case for their racism. Modern human beings reject this sort of thing.

The problem is that these are clear-cut cases, whereas nearly every other disagreement in life is far more complex. In these less-clear-cut cases, the truth will always appear as though it is an angel to he who is correct, and it will appear as a devil to he who is wrong. There is no profound reason for this. It is better to be right than wrong. It feels better to be right than wrong. Human beings, in our infinite weakness, will always seek to maximize good feelings and minimize bad ones.

Crippled
As functional adults, we all understand that life is full of good feelings and bad ones. We know that we're not allowed to negate the truth even when it comes roaring into our lives like a tornado of bad feelings.

Right?

If we didn't know this, then we might be inclined to refuse to acknowledge the truth when we see it, for no other reason than the fact that it didn't make us feel good. We might choose the wrong side in a passionate debate, merely because the correct side sounds mean. We might elect to ignore all information that isn't expressed in a way that coddles our self-esteem. We might rather harbor any illusion that insulates our feelings from truth-meanies.

In other words, if we didn't understand that sometimes reality is unpleasant and we have to face it anyway, we'd be emotionally crippled.

Luckily for us, we don't know anyone like that.