Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Are What We Repeatedly Do

Several months ago I wrote on the phenomenon of living one's life in disconnection, which means living in such a way as to not allow actions to accumulate into a sum (and therefore give reason for passing moral judgment on that sum). The main example I had cited was a time I was unjustifiably yelled at for maintaining my nutritional standards, in which the offender was confused about my consequent hostility despite his irrational behavior having happened just moments previously. I realize now that there's another aspect to this kind of mentality, one I would call filtering the negative in order to reach selectively constructed sums.

Last week while I was at work I had the uncomfortable experience of being confronted by a past associate whom I absolutely detest. He is a deplorable character, as he's slovenly and intensely driven by his emotions. At the times in which I had to deal with him I was very tense, as he was often in a very negative mood which would make him uncomfortable to deal with. On some occasions he would be openly malicious, and at one point stated out loud that he wished one of my other associates, an actual friend, would get "electrified" by a microphone he was handling, implying that he wished death on him. His estimates of various people were constantly changing due to his mood swings, so he was ultimately a very terrible person to deal with. Even when driven to act benevolently on the basis of a good mood I could not enjoy his company since my moral evaluation of his being dictated by emotions. When he disassociated from me and other people it was a wonderful thing, and the workplace atmosphere has never been better since.

When he returned for a visit, however, the tensity immediately returned. While he was driven by a benevolent mood at the moment, I again could only treat him with the barest civility considering his emotionally-driven nature. He can certainly redeem himself by introspecting, identifying, and altering his vices, but he had provided no evidence that he had done so, which leaves my negative moral evaluation intact. He was around only briefly, but it was once again satisfying to see him leave. One scene that sticks out in my mind was witnessing him speak on a very friendly basis with someone who he had mistreated in the past; the person acted like no wrong had been committed. I still think fondly of that particular associate, but this incident gave me fuel for abstracting from the case.

Humans, as a species, are value-oriented. We want to live life in a way that gives us pleasure and joy, not pain and suffering. Even people who explicitly believe otherwise are still value-oriented in some way; masochists themselves have a psychological mechanism that makes them interpret certain forms of pain as a form of pleasure. Absolutely no one wants to live on the basis of anti-values, especially when dealing with other people.

Unfortunately, I think this value-orientation could lead to a natural inclination to a coping mechanism -- one that everyone can be naturally prone to, but alter -- as a way of dealing with certain anti-values. In the incident cited above, I think some people in regards to relationships will filter out the negative aspects of people in order to maintain a positive sum in mind and therefore allow themselves to continue dealing with those that are essentially bad. If a person consists of 9/10 vice, then other people might filter this fraction so that they view the 1/10 virtue/amorality as the person's essential character and therefore be able to continue bearing them. If the 9/10 of vice were kept in mind a person would either be unable to allow themselves to continue dealing with the bad person or would have to drastically alter their behavior towards them.

I think this is more along the lines of a common innocent error rather than vicious evasion. Humans naturally want to eliminate or minimize anti-values to the best extent that they can, so this psychological maneuver is but one way of doing that. It is not a healthy thing to do, however. Regardless of however intensely a person concentrates on the 1/10 virtue/amorality that they see in a person, it is the 9/10 that will compose the essence of the relationship and will dictate the overwhelming majority of the experiences one has with such a bad person.

I've seen some rather pathetic cases where this mentality has led to some rather sad results. I once had a friend who had an emotionally deficient and potentially abusive boyfriend. His emotional needs consistently dictated the essence of their relationship, and she was consistently stressed by it. However, on occasion did she enjoy his company, so it was on those rare moments that she concentrated on and used to derive the sum of the relationship, despite the fact that the sum was quite to the contrary. As a result she maintained a relationship that was objectively harmful for longer than it was worth. In another case I know this parent who has a child who has been incredibly malicious and self-destructive throughout his life and has caused little else but grief to the parent. The evil elements in the child way over dominate the slightly bearable elements, and so has been overwhelmingly frustrating to deal with. However, in rare moments does the child achieve a state of indifference and short-term amorality, so on this basis the parent has derived the essence of his relationship to the child and has continued dealing with him. Pathetically, the parent has maintained this mentality towards the child for several decades and has spent a virtual lifetime of suffering the malicious outbreaks.

While this filtration mechanism may allow us to "bear" a particular person's vices it will not bring us one step closer to happiness. Despite all your concentration on the "good" it will be the vice that you will experience and suffer the majority of the time, and in the long-run that will amount to wasted time that could have been spent dealing with better people or in more worthwhile pursuits. To achieve happiness and to deal with good people, we must exert ourselves to allow a person's actions to form a sum and to judge and treat him accordingly. It may be tempting at times to ignore or "forgive and forget" some negative actions, but that would be immorally dropping the context on what composes a particular person's entire character. Judge the whole person all the time.

One of my favorite sayings in this regard, one that drives both my pursuits in life and dealings with other people, is by Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Etiquette

1.) Do not use vulgar swear words that denote sexual activities or bodily excretions.

2.) Employ common sense manners when addressing the author or other commenters.

Additionally, you're welcome to present contrary and challenging positions within these guidelines, but please do not assume that my lack of response, even if I commented before, is evidence of my endorsement of your position.