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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Humility anyone?

I’ve been reflecting on self-deception. A common fault but, to avoid offence, let me be the guilty party.

This morning it was raining hard and a strong wind scoured my cheek. Yet I could have said I was enjoying myself.

Getting wet? Because I didn't care, this made me superior (less vulnerable) to those who fear getting wet. As to rain pain I bore it, didn't complain, thus emerging as a stoic; sort of brave. By combining these reactions I might have admitted to exhilaration, a sub-set of enjoyment. Yet I was wet (no merit there) and feeling raw.

There are logical flaws here although unpicking them takes a few seconds. The fact is we do not always analyse what we say. Frequently we opt for shorthand: "The weather was foul but - do you know? - I enjoyed it." If challenged and if we’re honest, we detect self-deception.

This is a simple case but the defect can crop up in complex sequences of thoughts and feelings. We need to cut the guff and in doing so we cut corners. Under examination we may appear ridiculous, as part of a cliché - not the wordy sort but the behavioural cliché. Think of Cassius in Julius Caesar: "The torrent (of the River Tiber) roar'd, and we did buffet it with lusty sinews (and) with hearts of controversy." Was it really that much fun?

What medicine do I prescribe? None. Talk is vague and inexactness  a fact of life; who would be a pedant? Mostly it doesn't matter. To say that confession shrives the soul is surely a cliché. But it’s as well to know it lurks.

5 comments:

Avus said...

I empathise, RR.
During my club cycling days there was a cosy satisfaction about cycling along in the rain (caped up in those days). It was all happening "out there" and I was warm and dry

Blonde Two said...

In my experience, and I consider myself to be an expert on rain, getting wet is a wild and releasing experience; but only when you know that getting dry again will happen before bedtime that night. The knowledge that you are likely to stay wet is a considerable dampener on precipitation appreciation (there must surely be a society for that!)

Lucy said...

Yes, what B2 said, getting back into the warm and dry clothes makes all the difference. We are so very comfortable these days in so many ways, it couldn't have been imagined once.

Sir Hugh said...

Self deception in the mountains, or other dangerous environments, is particularly dangerous. It is so tempting to keep going for the summit, or whatever is the goal, when weather, time and fatigue dictate that it would be folly. You say “in most cases it doesn’t matter” but in VERY MANY it does. Countless people have lost their lives this way.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: This is not self-deception. If the cyclist has contrived to keep himself warm and dry despite the conditions that is the reality. Deception would only enter the picture if he were secretly going through the discomforts of hell and pretending it was doing him good, making him happy, endowing him with a fallacious sense of superiority, etc. My re-comment to Sir Hugh re-states the case.

Blonde Two: Whereas "a wild and releasing experience" has all the hallmarks of self-deception. Florid phrases like that, which suggest someone is trying too hard to hypnotise themself into another state, can be a give-away.

Lucy: Self-deception needn't involve meteorological extremes. The claim "I read a lot of poetry" from someone whose way of life suggests the opposite may prove to be a fruitful hunting ground. Someone who has previously hated poetry, has taken it up because he discovers he has fallen among poetry-lovers, finds he still hates it, yet persists in the self-belief that it is "improving" could be guilty of a rather obvious form of self-deception. In fact, given that change of direction, I might find myself forced to re-examine the darker corners of my own mind. As my post states I'm just as prone to S-D as anyone else. And doing a post about S-D may prove it.

Sir Hugh: Only a tiny percentage of the population risks annihilation from a false compass bearing. When I wrote "In most cases it doesn't matter" I was attempting to speak universally, about conversation/behaviour common to the majority.

In fact it does matter, but again only in a specialised way. Once you become attuned to the symptoms of self-deception in others (and, to ensure legitimacy, oneself) it becomes a supreme irritation - eg, octogenarian gardeners, racked with rheumatism, who say they're only happy torturing theselves with a spade in their hand. Whereas when they were younger and healthier (ie, better equipped to garden) they devoted themselves almost exclusively to the sports pages of the newspaper.

I know it's a hobby-horse but it will suffice: I think the decision to become a gardener in retirement is often an act of self-deception. Evidence of a lack of imagination. Many garden because they believe that's what you do when you retire, unable to dream up an alternative. Having bought the tools, renewed the mower and secretly found themselves disenchanted, they then have to pretend to the world that they like it. In fact what really satisfies them is grumblng about aphids as a means of disguising a self-imposed obligation towards tidy flower beds. This is a far more poignant form of self-deception than an anorak toppling off a cliff; up to that point he, the anorak, (most of them - the topplers I mean - are male I guess) was happy in what he was doing. The scenario you mention is primarily an example of poor technique.