Random (but not really)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Denial and the Human Psyche

The article on ScienceBlogs, Sharyn Ainscough dies tragically because she followed the example of her daughter, The Wellness Warrior is a fascinating and well-written read. I recommend you wander over and read it yourself.

But I was struck particularly by the closing paragraph, and what it means in a much broader context.

You might think that, seeing her mother die might have been a wake-up call that leads her to change the course she’s on, but I know human nature. She won’t. After all, if she admits that Gerson therapy is useless, even harmful, quackery that failed to save her mother, then she would be forced to acknowledge her role in the death of her mother. She would also be forced to accept that Gerson therapy can’t save her, either. These are both conclusions that Ainscough would likely find too painful to accept.

Those seem like conclusions that almost anyone would find too painful to accept.

How much tragedy and horror in the world are due simply to our inability as individuals to look at our past actions and see wrongdoing because that would be to recognize the cost of our mistakes?

The southerner who flies the confederate flag and claims the Civil War was only over states rights.

The spouse who claims their partner “didn’t really meant it”.

The parent who claims, “it didn’t hurt me any when I was growing up.”

It’s a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism that I truly understand. Admitting that you are wrong, especially if that caused another harm, is a very hard and very painful thing to do. It’s far easier to bend and twist facts to fit your belief system than it is to take a step back and truly consider the facts. To consider what it means if your beliefs and actions caused damage. Caused harm. Caused death.

No one wants that kind of pain, and I think our brains do everything they can to keep us from it. How many people are truly capable of honestly owning up to their mistakes, and the harm they caused?

How often do you hear someone say, “I was wrong” and truly mean it? Not very damned often.

Maybe Jack Nicholson had it right. Maybe we really can’t handle the truth–at least the truth we hide from ourselves.

When was the last time you changed your mind about an important subject? Really considered both sides of the topic? When was the last time you truly considered a view opposite of your own?

I sometimes think about Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and I believe they have the right of it. The barriers to admitting the truth are high–higher than most people can reach. It seems to me that only by setting aside the fear of retribution can we truly do the work required to come to terms with our actions.

And only by coming to terms with our actions and stripping away our justifications can we begin to heal ourselves and those around us, and keep others from coming to harm in the future.

(NOTE: Believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with the current political situation. It’s just something that I’ve been mulling over.)

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