Behavioral awareness and change

Alan. By Chez Worldwide, Manchester

Photography: Chez Worldwide, Manchester

There’s a man I’ve known for a number of years who, despite his intelligence and sensitivity, has a behavioural problem he’s quite unaware of. This man is by no means unique in that regard; many of us are blinded to aspects of ourselves which in others we may well regard as failings. It’s a known phenomenon; we quite often take exception to the character traits of others that are prominent in ourselves too, though which we deny or remain ignorant of. It’s quite likely that you too may recognise this phenomenon in someone you know quite well.

When sub-consciously we recognise in ourselves a very similar characteristic to that which we disapprove of in others, there’s often a strong emotional response that appears as if out of nowhere. All the while, we deny access in awareness to this very same characteristic that we too abundantly possess. Whilst those around us may often see through the lack of self-awareness, we assiduously maintain our self-deception. So this is what the man I’m referring to does, and I thought it would be useful to write about how it’s affected him throughout life.

As I was saying, this fellow is intelligent; he’s a lecturer in the humanities department of a state-run college. He reads quite widely on the environment and politics, through evolutionary biology and anthropology, to current affairs and social trends. And like I said, he’s sensitive too; he recognises inequality and injustice in their many forms, and responds emotionally to any act of compassion he may witness or hear of. So you would think that most of the pieces are in place for him to be a reflective and self-aware man – someone who knows himself.

What this chap fails to see in his persona is an arrogance borne of impatience. In other words, his compulsively impatient nature leads him into making snap judgements in which he assumes he knows best. In a sense, these conclusions are logical, because if we resist understanding the position of the other, then what remains is only our own position or world view. And of course, we all assume our own views and opinions are best – if we thought they weren’t we wouldn’t hold them. So the impatient mind tends to limit its capacity to be informed by others.

Now of course, in his chosen reading, this man takes on board the views of others – he doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Yet this reading conforms to his world-view in that it’s self-selected; he reads what broadly endorses, or expands upon, his own set of beliefs. When it comes to the views of his social and familial contacts however, the shutters come down. His impatience impels him into snap judgements which invariably fail to grant any validity to the other. To him, it’s just a waste of time to listen to what is borne of the others’ life experience; to him it has no validity.

Naturally, this results in a tangibly felt transmission of high-handedness. There’s a palpable air of exclusion, a heavily qualified acceptance in which the other knows and feels what’s implied – that ultimately they don’t count for much. And all of this rebounds upon our man because he cares for his friends and family of course. And like him, his friends and family have sensitivities too; they know what they feel even though they may not extend those feelings into any analysis. They don’t need to; they know their feelings are true, and know how and when they arise.

So this chap I’m discussing who could know himself and yet doesn’t, unwittingly creates a distance between himself and those around him. He stifles his siblings and parents with his arrogant assumptions, which he regards as reasonable but which are solely self-validations. And he oppresses those who would be close to him in denying the validity of their experience. He’s blinded to all this, even though his culpability is quite apparent to others. Retrenched into self-validating views which he protects at the cost of his relationships; he in effect denies himself too.

If he were able to resist his impulse to judge prematurely, for once to be unconcerned about wasting time and the terrible possibility of suffering a little boredom, he’d learn much about himself through others. He’d see that each individual has a uniqueness of experience no less valid than his own, so having a valuable capacity to inform. Progressively gaining insight into his wilfully ignored and damaging past behavioural traits, his self-validating existence would gradually be supplanted with a new sense of engagement in which all around him would happily participate.

Instead though, this otherwise intelligent man remains intolerant of any whose views are unaligned to his own. Ungraciously rebuffing those who wilfully resist or simply ignore his own perceived correctness, he dismisses them with a passive aggression – sarcasm or hostile humour. Yet the others’ discounting of his stance was akin to his own behaviour reflecting back at him, and which sub-consciously he recognises as such. So he responds curtly, spurning the very thing he perpetuates in his own persona. He rejects this trait, though in others only – it’s hypocrisy.

The remedy entails receptivity and a willingness to listen, to set aside our impatient self-interestedness and participate in shared moments without pre-judging. In not indulging impatience, its opposite arises and we engage with others rather than being dismissive of them. If boredom or conflict arises in our mind, we accept this is self-generated – it’s our problem, not the others’. Rather than enslaving ourselves to impulse and alienating those around us through our behaviour, we put our house in order. We can change at any time in life; all it takes is the will to do so.

38 thoughts on “Behavioral awareness and change

  1. I hope the man you know reads this. I recognise traits of myself in this man – it’s an eye-opener and I will try to be more aware of that now. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your interest in this article Wonderer; I appreciate you giving of your time to read it. Impatience is something I learned to deal with in myself through contemplative practices, and is I think, something all of us possess in some degree. As I suggest in the article, it can have damaging and long-lasting consequences if left unchecked. When I look back at my own life, I recognise so many occasions when impatience got the better of me. Invariably though, I was the one who lost out in the final analysis, even though the impatience was intended to serve my best interests at the time – just as it always is whenever it’s indulged.

      With gratitude and respect.

      Hariod.

  2. Very astute observations, and of course, I too see myself in your description of this man’s behaviour. This impatience seems to be like Japanese Knotweed: pervasive, destructive and difficult to root out. With gratitude, Liz.

  3. There is an unfortunate plague of this sort of intolerance being inflicted by many of the world’s lawmakers and commentators in the media. This trait seems to be one aspect of inate egoism run amok.

    • Thank you very much for reading this article and for commenting upon it. I certainly share your disdain for the mainstream media and what you call ‘the world’s lawmakers’. Of course, the two are very much in each other’s embrace, as are most major corporates with government. I like Chris Hedges take on all this, though his vision of the future is bleakly dystopian. Still, he may be correct.

      Many thanks once again; your interest is greatly appreciated.

      Hariod.

  4. I am reading a book at this time by Ana Louise Keating called Towards a Post Oppositional Politics of Change. In it, she talks about how our world (academic/legal/institutions etc.) is grounded in an oppositional consciousness. I can’t help but think that is a projection of our subject/object conditioning. Bringing awareness to this is the way to promote change. We are more than this subject/object consciousness. Good to see a blog that is focused on this quality of awareness.

    • Thank you very much Gord for reading this article and for taking a moment to comment here; I greatly appreciate it.

      It appears that your interests include consciousness/ontology amongst other things; may I ask how it is that you approach the subject e.g. experientially via contemplative practices say, or, through intellectual understandings gained in academic study?

      I took a brief look at the book you mention on Amazon before backing away, very, very slowly for fear of injuring my poor little brain. I think it’s rather too academic for my own tastes and capacities I’m afraid. And the price! My goodness, $28 for a Kindle version!

      If you would like to get a quick handle on my own position on what I think you are pointing to when you refer to a ‘subject/object conditioning’, then the following two pages give some sort of overview:

      ‘What is selfhood’ – http://wp.me/P4wkZJ-1K
      ‘The illusion of separation’ – http://wp.me/P4wkZJ-1X

      Once again, many thanks for your presence and for contributing a comment Gord.

      Hariod.

  5. Familiarity breeds contempt one might say in terms of his relationship with his close friends and family, and that happens so very often. Time should always be taken to appreciate those close to us, and consider the feelings of those around us too. As age progresses people seem to become more aware, of who they are, what they are, and how to be, as your very fine blog here centres on, content, and how they can best improve both their own experience here on this plane, and those whose paths they cross. Many, many become fixed to core beliefs that are negative and actually make them actively far more unhappy than needs be. Arrogance plays a large part in this of course as stated. Self examination is not always easy, one has to take a deep breath and see the faults we posses along with the talents. It is always worth the effort.

    As to the man you describe – I just want to slap him with a giant fish. But the fish doesn’t deserve it. *smiles*

    Another fine post to chew over H.

    – Sonmi looking within upon the Cloud

    • Many thanks for reading this offering Sonmi; I greatly appreciate your presence as you know well by now I hope, though the appreciation does not diminish and your familiarity will never breed any contempt in my mind. That unfortunate state, though, seems to be induced quite often amongst those bound together by any proximity or familial ties that are not optional, just as you rightly identify. And yes, age so often brings a certain softening effect, an equanimity, though the converse can be true too, perhaps more so within males, wherein the ‘grumpy old man’ syndrome is familiar to most of us. Of course, women can become bitter with the world too as they age, though one likes to think that on the whole you are right, and that advancing years draw us nearer to accepting the state of affairs in reasonable even-temperedness and with some sangfroid.

      That which you term ‘self-examination’ is indeed “not always easy”, and what I think you mean is that it is just as I understand it to be, that is to say, challenging at best. I note at the end of this article that “all it takes is the will to do so”, and that is true enough, though what follows from that willing is often far from easy at times, and the obscuration of our traits is all too easily effected unless we have courage and, quite possibly, the support of another. The man referred to in this article now lives almost entirely apart from either any criticism or the possibility of having his own negative traits reflected back at him. I believe that change can come at any time, if we are receptive to the possibility; though in the case of that fellow, it may take something almost like a knockout blow, a giant fish slap as you say, before that desire arose within him.

  6. Yes, the older males I know almost all of them to a man would be considered ‘grumpy’. In women you have hit the nail on the head, because those females I know who are also discontented tend to be bitter, there’s a sharper edge to them than the males. I enjoy making grumpy faces crack into big smiles. It’s a hobby that I indulge myself in most of the time. When cycling along specific ‘psyclopaths’, I have it as a game – how many of those stern faces coming towards me in the opposite direction can I force to be happy for a few seconds?

    And I count them too. On a good day I will accrue at least a 99% success rate. The key is to beam a happy smile at them and shout a jolly “Good morning!” (or afternoon depending upon the obvious). Women tend to be harder nuts to crack than men, they are be more suspicious as to why some crazy lady on a bike is grinning like a maniac at them it seems. The ‘mamils’ (middle aged men in lycra) cycling brigade are grunters. That’s their reply, grunt and a nod, but often a smile. They have been at it for the long haul usually, having traversed many a mile, and the strain shows on their faces. It does on mine sometimes too, so I know they aren’t all miserable gits, just tired and persistent. I’ve strayed a bit there I think. *laughs*. You’ve posted the exact video I had in my mind when I wrote the comment! Well done that H. *winks*.

    – Sonmi, not grunting upon the Cloud

  7. These “psyclopaths” that you pedal along, do you call them that because there is something sinister about them, or are you just punning for fun? I don’t know why it is, but I sometimes find them slightly creepy places, perhaps especially where they run alongside water – canals themselves can be quite menacing of course, perhaps you would agree, for who can trust a body of water with parallel sides? o_O

  8. Listening. It truly is such a valuable and honourable trait to have acquired. I say ‘acquired’, because it is defiantly something that requires patience to learn.

    I was terrible, actually atrocious at listening. There was a point where I became so disgusted with my own self, my own voice, that I decided to learn patience. I literally said to myself “Jessie, you will now learn patience along with proper listening skills.”

    You have a wonderful understanding of the human condition.

    • You did remarkably well indeed then Jessie, to have admonished yourself in such a forthright manner; few are those who would have the presence of mind to see the necessity for the same. Most people are far more interested in listening to their own thoughts; they are, after all, so damned persistent are they not?

      And it seems that we live within a culture, and at a time, such that not only must we always have something on our little minds to distract us from our failing and dehumanising society, but that we must, largely in futility, broadcast this to an un-listening world. This, we call ‘communication’, or ‘socialising’, and don’t we just love it?

      Thank you very much for considering this offering Jessie, and also for your generous comment, which itself, encourages me greatly as I continue here with my writing efforts. I realise I am guilty of the very thing I have just been cynical about, though hope there remains room for meaningful engagement. You seem to prove the case.

      With all best wishes,

      Hariod.

  9. I enjoyed another morning reading in your bloghome Hariod.

    Sarcasm and hostile humour is rampant in our culture, and sadly that’s not anymore just in the adult world. The ego, I guess, is always right and uses myriad tools to prove so.

    We can all find examples of people/behavior you have described in your writing in our lives, and while I agree with putting our own house in order if conflict arises, I notice a certain level of struggle at a personal level in managing such conflict. I’ve found myself oscillating between, “I must be feeling so uncomfortable because my own ego is at play here” to “this is obviously out of line and needs to be addressed”. I wonder if you ever find yourself caught in such thoughts and how you respond if you do.

    Love how you end this piece: “We can change at any time in life; all it takes is the will to do so.” 🙂

    Thanks again, Hariod.

    • I am very grateful for your interest and reflections Precious Rhymes, and as ever, you add new angles to whatever I am able to offer – thank you. Your observations on contemporary youth culture, if we can allow ourselves to generalise so broadly, are I feel sure, accurate. The self-consciously cultivated ennui of those a little more mature – possibly the idols of the youth – is taken as a signifier of a yet to be understood sophistication, which of course, it is not. Cynicism, sarcasm and the hostile projection of a faux sense of alienation are all tools the immature use in attempts to identify with what they do not, in truth, fully understand. We see the same mannerisms slavishly projected, having been learned rote, perhaps from remotely crafted so-called ‘celebrity’ imagery. All of this, if one accepts such a simplistic analysis, will have been so down through modern times of course, although our current technological interconnectivity transmits such memes at an astonishing pace, and one can almost sense the hunger to remain at the supposed cutting edge of the current generation’s counter-style and counter-attitude. Oh dear, I am sounding appallingly fuddy-duddy, which in truth, I am.

      As to your further reflection, then managing such conflict is, I believe, always a struggle, for how could it be otherwise? I have not gone into possible techniques here because I think they must be adapted in accord with one’s own character type. In the article, the suggested remedy was one for the protagonist alone, though as with there, patience is certainly an excellent ally. I tend to take a fairly straightforward approach myself; I speak my mind, yet only once I am very certain of the situation, and after having evaluated the potential positive impact my words may have in the long run. It seems possible to remove the inclinations of the ego once patience is carried along with our deliberations, and on your specific thought, I would say that feeling uncomfortable is not at all necessarily a signifier of any egocentric impulse within us; it may just as well be a perfectly natural response of the nervous system to a combination of rejection and (passive) aggression. Once again, I think patience allows us to see the situation clearly, so as to avoid egoic reactivity and protective tendencies.

      Do please feel free to come back if you see things at all differently, because I very much sense that your own insights on all this are at least as relevant as my own, and quite possibly more so.

      With all best wishes and gratitude,

      Hariod.

  10. I have great regard for your fuddy-duddy style my friend:) Thanks for your response (and the smiles).
    I’m so glad you talked about discomfort being a “response of the nervous system to a combination of rejection and (passive) aggression” … It took a lot before I reached that understanding; like a patient teacher life had to send repeat lessons my way to help me see. Growing up in an environment where questioning any form of authority was not encouraged, ‘writing my mind’ always came easier to me than ‘speaking my mind’. It took some grinding experiences to help grow out of that.
    I agree with you and also feel that all healthy interactions need a straightforward approach, though I’ve seen that not all involved are willing to put up with that. Communicating to the right degree, with the right person at the right time they say is the key and I surely don’t profess to be the master of that, but not being honest about how I feel leads to repression which is a heavy price to pay to keep the peace. It’s easy to dismiss the casual acquaintance but for long term relationships the basis has to be respect. The behavior we are discussing defies that. I find my heart does not want to invest in those relationships, which is where I was questioning if that was an aspect of the egoic mind. Patient listening of the entire situation including my own heart is important for I cannot deny how I feel.
    Thanks again Hariod and I close, sending the same gratitude and warm wishes your way.

  11. I’m afraid I don’t much like the sound of this fellow. I did moderately well in the intelligence lottery, and I try to make the best of what I have, but I’m perfectly aware there are many people far smarter than I am. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of them over the years and to benefit from it. There have been some, however, who have had a serious arrogance problem. This type often sneer dismissively at what they think of as “false humility” in others.

    Yet isn’t a touch of humility precisely the attitude we should have as we face the world? I see nothing false in it. After all, it is perfectly possible to be extremely intelligent and at the same time to be extremely wrong. To take the clearest and most obvious example I can think of, some of the world’s most brilliant and subtle thinkers believe that there is a divine creator. Some of the world’s most brilliant and subtle thinkers believe there is not. The same division continues all the way down the intelligence scale, of course. One of my coworkers strongly believes in a divine creator. I don’t feel the same way about the question.

    For the sake of the point I’m making, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether there actually is or is not a divine creator. Either way, it is clear not only that some extremely intelligent people must be absolutely wrong about particular beliefs, but also that some less intelligent people must be absolutely right about them.

    How can we not react to this these facts with a certain humility?

    • Thankyou very much, Bun, for your interest and engaging reflection; I appreciate both greatly. It’s interesting that you bring up the subject of false humility, and yes, it seems arguable that any attitude of humility can rightly be deemed false. Perhaps there’s something of a blurred line here, though, a point at which there’s a conscious dissembling in our appearance of humility (a certain falsehood to the state of affairs), but that at the same time we know it’s wise to doubt one’s seemingly assured line of reasoning? In other words, our reasoning self may have its certainties, but experience tells us that these seldom embrace the whole picture, and that the evidence is likely incomplete.

      I regard this so-called ‘false’ humility as a useful tool, as the arrogant mind can’t so easily step outside of itself. We’re acculturated to project certainties, yet as you rightly state, intelligence – as skill in thought – is no guarantee of correctness. I can’t say I possess that quality of skillful thinking, and am at times mistrustful of it in others to some degree. I’m a Relativist largely, when it comes to taking positions on things, and if I’m unable to see the counter-argument, a small voice at the back of my head urges caution, and the display of a little humility. My ape brain may not be as sharp as it sometimes believes it is, and of that, I do indeed have good evidence!

      • I’d say a ‘false’ humility of the type you mention is indeed a very useful tool, perhaps especially so for the very brilliant since they may be even more prone to over-confidence in their powers of reasoning than the rest of us. It’s almost like the genius’s version of the still, small voice of conscience. 🙂

        • I must say, the only ‘truly brilliant’ people I’ve ever met have been musicians – I knew Oscar Peterson personally, amongst others – and none of them were ever arrogant; very far from it. But I think you’re talking about intellectual genius, which is quite a different kind, and I’m not sure I have the capacity to recognise it! o_O Still, insofar as I can, then the great intellectuals who do come across as arrogant seem to me to be acting out in some way, and that combination of arrogance and dissembling makes me doubt their position in any case, and in turn reflect upon to what extent they themselves believe in their positions. There’s a parallel with the religious zealot or proselytizer, who often are driven by a fear of their beliefs being misplaced than any genuine certainty of their knowledge of God.

          • To be clear, I’m not at all claiming to be personally acquainted with many (read any) brilliant minds! I once saw Pope John Paul II being driven past in his popemobile, and that’s about the closest I’ve ever been to fame, let alone brilliance. My claim is the much more modest one that I’ve met and benefitted from meeting “many people far smarter than I am.” This is really not much of a boast. If you are only a foothill, you are likely to be surrounded by higher mountains.

            Still, it’s not hard to find examples of indisputably (intellectually) brilliant people being overconfident in their powers of reasoning and behaving in an arrogant and high-handed manner as a result. I remember reading in high school about one very famous example: Lord Kelvin’s dismissive attitude toward geologists who felt the earth must be billions of year old. As I remember, Kelvin banged on about physics having primacy over all other sciences and pointed to math to make his case for him. (He mentioned the possibility of future discoveries changing things, but I don’t count this as humility because he clearly didn’t believe it.) In fact, although his mathematical calculations were impeccable, it turned out that science did not yet understand nuclear reactions, so he was still wrong and the geologists were right.

            Actually, I vaguely remember that Lord Kelvin was also a devout Christian, so he may have been an example of what you’re talking about too, Hariod. Perhaps he secretly feared being in error and so became more belligerent in reaction to this. After all, both his scientific understanding and his religious faith were under threat. This is just wild speculation on my part, though.

            Incidentally, having known Oscar Peterson personally is way beyond cool! 😀

            • You inspired me to go to Kelvin’s Wikipedia page, Bun.

              ‘His forecast for practical aviation (i.e., heavier-than-air aircraft) was negative. In 1896 he refused an invitation to join the Aeronautical Society, writing that “I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.” And in a 1902 newspaper interview he predicted that “No balloon and no aeroplane will ever be practically successful.’

              I think we can rest our case. 🙂

  12. Clarissa Galliano’s artwork resulting from her reactions to light in the Canary Islands are illuminating. Yellow sun and sand and temple doorways are visual awakenings into our own self-awareness. I love this first set of posts from 2014 and have read all of them a few times as I explore my own evolving definition of contentedness. (I also enjoyed Bun’s comment and sought to find out more on Kelvin.) As for intellectual brilliance, I am often reminded of Chauncy Gardiner in Being There. He couldn’t read nor write and was simple to the extreme. Everyone thought he was brilliant.

    • Thankyou Clare, for noticing Clarissa’s paintings. I’ve known her for some 25 years or so, and am only too pleased to display some of her work here. I used an image of hers on the front of my book, too, and which seemed to strike the right note. I love this sort of abstract work, and was introduced to it when living with a professional artist who worked in that genre. ‘Being There’ – what a marvellous film; yet another I should get ’round to watching again. “I like watching”. *wink*

      • You’re welcome, Hariod. I appreciate all of the artists you’ve chosen to feature. But I felt Clarissa was much in tune with the themes of self-searching and contentment in these first blog selections. As you can see, I am now on my second and third readings of your posts and have become brave enough to add a comment or two. The comments following your posts are an education in themselves. My additions tend toward the more mundane – and I am being truthful here, not humble.

        Your mention of her cover art work has reminded me to purchase your book. I have other blogger friends whose books are on my list. Charley and I exchange book wish lists just before Christmas and therefore, are guaranteed a nice supply of reading material during the cold winter months indoors – much like the Christmas Tradition in Iceland.

        Like you and Chance [Chauncey] I too like to watch, and this is a film I will revisit. I remember the night I first saw it. Peter Sellers had died that day and it seemed to make the movie more poignant. Clare

        • Dear Clare,

          You’re very kind to consider reading my book, but would make two observations. Firstly, it’s a secular book on contemplative practices – a sort of meditation manual, if you will. It incorporates a representationalist theory of mind as a means of gleaning an initial comprehension of what we’re dealing with in introspective practises such as these. I suspect you may find it rather dryly prosaic if your intent and interest is not within the sphere of the subject matter.

          That caveat having been made, and if you still wish to take the plunge, then I should say I’m really not a fan of eBooks, and only make mine available as such because I don’t have international distribution for the physical version. So, whilst I don’t wish to discourage you from downloading the eBook, because another sale will help my cause numbers-wise, I would ask that you not read it and instead consider allowing me to post you a gratis copy of the physical book.

          With very best wishes and thanks,

          Hariod.

          P.S. I could send the book to any neutral address in order to maintain your privacy – a local store perhaps?

          • Dear Hariod. You are the kindest person. I learn so much in reading your posts and know I have so much more to learn in the area of contemplation. Controlling my constantly shifting thoughts has always been a challenge. Charley explains it away as an over-active imagination. He’s a kind man, too. I would be honored to receive your book. I’ll send you a copy of my mystery when it is published in the Springtime. And I will definitely send you a copy of Carnivore Conundrum when it is completed. I think it will bring a smile to your face. My address is: Claremary Sweeney, PO Box XX, XX XX, XX USA. I will have your return address when I receive your book. Thank you, this is quite generous and I appreciate the kindness. Clare

    • Thankyou for your interest Daal, and I cannot argue with your proposition. Sadly though, those two qualities can be absent in some for much of the time, and when allied to an unawareness of others’ feelings, it is not a helpful cocktail for social interaction and familial harmony. I have not seen a post from you for months; may I ask, are you still blogging?

      • Hi Hariod – indeed I am still blogging – my latest post was last Saturday. It was called, “Happy 10 Years Cancer-Free to Me! Plus 10 Hints for if a Dear One has Cancer.”

        • You know Daal, I’ve had this occur several times in the last three years — blogs I’ve subscribed to get ignored in terms of notifications; and I check my WP Reader as well as receiving email notifications. I know I’m not alone in this. Anyway, I’ll re-subscribe, naturally.

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