• 19Mar

    Seeing yourself as others see you can be disquieting. Your friends and relatives, who know you reasonably well, sometimes react badly when you have a negative impact on them. Like when, without realising it, you happen to act in a self-centered way. Taking more than one’s share of food and drink, telling someone else’s story in order to grab the limelight, or criticising someone else without acknowledging one’s own contribution towards a family problem. We are all perfectly capable of being be blind to our individual faults which are glaringly obvious to others. Likewise we may not notice when our own group act in a self-centered way towards outsiders.

    Native Americans as victims of self-centered behaviour

    When one’s own negative traits are shared by others and common to one’s own community, then such traits are harder for us to see. Yet such faults can be clearly observed by outsiders.

    Chief Black Hawk

    One example is how native Americans perceived the white men who came into territory that did not belong to them in the 19th century, cheating the local inhabitants and taking away their lands. According to the Sauk leader Chief Black Hawk, his people were not deceitful, and did not steal, yet the invaders spoke ‘bad of the Indian’ and looked at him spitefully.

    “An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation… The white men are bad schoolmasters; they carry false books, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by their hands to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them and ruin their wives… We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterous lazy drones, all talkers and no workers. The white men do not scalp the head; but they do worse: they poison the heart.” (see Black Hawk’s autobiography which became an immediate bestseller and has gone through several editions.)

    Self-centered behaviour in modern life

    I would suggest these hidden (and not so hidden) self-centered attitudes of self-gain at the expense of others, deceit and hypocrisy, are still very much around today. For example are they not common in international conflict, sharp business practice and the ethos of individualism that characterises western culture? Does a self-centered attitude to life really lead to living well, human flourishing and happiness?

    How can our society be at peace when through military and economic means it seeks dominance?

    Effect of society on our own self-centered behaviour

    We each cannot help but be negatively affected by the cultural norms of contemporary society. It is inevitable that we as individuals share some of its blind spots. How can we as individuals experience contentment when we seek an advantage over our rivals, getting our own back on those who oppose us?

    Wanting to be less self-centered

    You may feel you need to be more sensitive to the needs of the natural world around you, to better foster the people with whom you come into regular contact, and to seek the good of your community by taking more steps to prevent its harm. The trouble is people these days seem to have little or no time for such things being wrapped up in the business of their private lives. Yet those who are uncomfortable with how things are may feel trapped by their own self-serving attitudes.

    Humanist solution to being self-centered

    There is an assumption, doing the rounds, that human beings are basically good. That deep down we have a positive, creative and constructive nature. According to this view, self-centered conduct as shown by dishonesty in human relations, addiction, mood disorder, crime, abuse and violence are merely the adverse effects of physical and social environment. Without for example insanitary conditions, inadequate education, pollution, malnutrition, poverty, and shortage of good health care, it is thought people would be fit, sane, kind and good and less focused on their own needs.

    Transformation of a self-centered attitude is possible

    There is probably some truth in the humanist account. But is it the whole story? From a Swedenborgian perspective, there is a basic weakness in our human nature that needs to be addressed. The weakness is not the original sin believed by some traditional Christians, but rather, according to Swedenborg, it is due to everyone’s inbuilt inclination towards self-orientation.

    Perhaps you have noticed how at times you have brought on to yourself disappointment and difficulty? And that this has happened through your own foolish self-centered choices. Perhaps you have realised you need other people to help you get through the troubles of daily living: and that lacking in yourself all the answers and energy for finding happiness, you need a higher force beyond yourself. If so then you will have signed up to a spiritual power that creates bodily and personal growth, heals physical and emotional wounds and enhances well-being. A hidden influence that spiritually minded people welcome into their lives.

    How to change self-orientation

    According to Swedenborg, although we don’t realise this to begin with, part of the process of personal growth is to accept that of ourselves we lack goodness itself – the reason being what is good originates in the source of goodness (love and wisdom of the Divine) which can be present and active within us. Religious people refer to this as the holy spirit of God illuminating their minds and inspiring their hearts.

    In line with this belief is an appreciation that the talents and good inclinations with which we are born, are mere tendencies, for which we cannot claim merit.

    If all this is true then without a change in your self-centered attitude there can only be emptiness, meaninglessness, and continued vulnerability to problems involving other people related to selfish desire. In other words the person engaged on a spiritual journey can look forward to experiencing inspiring ideas and loving impulses. I strongly believe that only when a self-centered attitude is moved to the side can you hope to find deep contentment, peace and joy.

    As a clinical psychologist, Stephen Russell-Lacy has specialised in cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, working for many years with adults suffering distress and disturbance.

  • 19Mar
    Categories: Uncategorized Comments Off on When Disaster Strikes, Keep On Going

    SOMETIMES what seem to be disasters in your life or career turn out to be nothing of the sort.

    Like, in my case, not getting a job I felt I really wanted.

    Newly back in journalism after a spell in a government job (which turned out to be a big mistake, but that’s another story), I saw an interesting ad in a national newspaper. A respected orchestra was looking for a press officer. It seemed perfect for me, as music has always been one of my passions and I had the right background.

    I sent in an application letter and in due course heard I had an interview with the general administrator the following week. When we met, there was instant rapport.

    According to recent research, job applicants have just eight minutes to impress in an interview and eye contact is the most important factor. Without knowing any of this, I must have unconsciously done all the right things.

    Influence

    I haven’t always been brilliant at interviews, but it’s enough to say that on this occasion everything worked well. I felt I knew with an inner knowledge (as they say) that if it was up to the general administrator, the job was mine.

    So far, so terrific.

    I sat back, confidently expecting a confirmation that I’d got the job to arrive in the post.

    Instead, I got a letter asking me to attend a second interview with the orchestra’s board. Oops! I was still optimistic, however, as I imagined my new friend the general administrator would have enough influence with the board to sway his colleagues and carry them with him.

    Unfortunately, I presumed wrongly.

    Over-confident

    Looking back, I’m sure I made the mistake of being over-confident. But after the interview I thought I had a reasonable chance. If enough members of the board happened to like me-and if the general administrator hadn’t changed him mind about me since our first meeting-I believed I was still quite likely to emerge as the chosen applicant.

    Sadly, this obviously wasn’t the case. A few days later, I got another letter delivering the bullet.

    “I am very sorry,” ran the words of doom, “but you were not the successful candidate.

    “We had great difficulty in making up our minds but in the end decided that there was one candidate who was a little better suited to the post than you were. With every good wish… ”

    It felt like a dagger in the heart, although, looking back at it now, it was as tactfully worded as could have been hoped for. However, the shock was terrible. I’d really convinced myself that the job was mine.

    Kinetic

    I fell into black despair for a time. I felt I had blown my one opportunity to get into PR with an arts organization, which I had now decided was my mission in life.

    Then one day, for whatever reason, I decided to pick myself up and do something positive. I started my recovery campaign by phoning and writing people I thought might be able to suggest possible alternative work in the arts field. One of my letters was to the general administrator with whom I had gotten on so well.

    And sure enough, as soon as you apply kinetic activity to anything you want to achieve, things start happening.

    Out of the blue, I got an invitation to apply for a job with a ballet company. This was totally unexpected. I felt I knew quite a bit about orchestras, but next to nothing about ballet.

    Nonetheless, it was quite exciting. The letter enclosed an attractive brochure which opened my eyes to interesting new possibilities-and there is no doubt that ballet companies present lots of ideas for promotion that orchestras don’t.

    Photogenic

    I telephoned right away and arranged an appointment for later the same week.

    This time everything went incredibly well, most likely because I was determined that nothing-pay, working conditions, whatever-was going to stand in the way of getting this job. This, by the way, is a pretty good mindset to adopt for any interview.

    I flew through both this and the inevitable second interview and it was confirmed shortly afterwards that the job was mine.

    That was just the start of the good news. What it boils down to is that with no disrespect whatsoever to orchestral players, ballet is infinitely more promotable than an orchestra ever could be. The key difference is that dancers-and ballets-are photogenic and orchestral musicians, irrespective of how talented they may be, are not.

    Also, an important point: dancers perform in theaters, which are places of magic, whereas orchestras are consigned to concert halls, where magic is hard to find.

    Stimulating

    I found no difficulty in marketing picture and story ideas to newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Judging by the results I was able to achieve, the right choice had been made for me.

    The four years I spent with the ballet company were some of the most interesting and stimulating of my entire career in arts public relations.

    So the moral of the story is, in the often-repeated words of the inventor of the telephone, when one door closes, another opens. And often it’s a door leading to infinite possibilities which you couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

    There’s an ironical twist to this story. Several years later, I found myself in the odd position of being approached and offered the job of press officer with the orchestra which had turned me down. By that time I had established myself a freelance operator with my own consultancy. Going back to being an in-house employee didn’t appeal.

    So this time it was my turn to say “no”.

    P. S. “When one door closes, another door opens” is a quotation by Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who invented the first practical telephone.

    The complete quote is: “When one door closes, another door opens; but

    we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not