How to Avoid Destructive Choices
Why do we sometimes make choices that defy any shred of reason or seem void of even the slightest hint of sensibility? More times than we can count we stand in awe of the unwise choices that other people make, shaking our heads in disoriented disbelief and wondering what in the world they were thinking.
Sometimes our own choices are perplexingly confusing, defying our own logic and leaving us patently bewildered and entirely befuddled at who we are and what we just did.
Clearly, we can be our greatest puzzle and most mysterious mystery.
Yet, the most inexplicably confounding situations are those when these rather irrational decisions are made at the expense of others. Sure, we can make wildly poor choices that effect ourselves in ways slight or significant. I suppose it’s within our rights to chart spurious courses that descend to dark places as long as the only person that ends up in those dark places with us is ‘us.’ It would seem that we can “shoot ourselves in the foot” as long as it’s our foot and no one else’s. Yet, far too frequently we shoot a lot of other’s feet other than our own.
And so the pressing and rather incendiary question becomes, why would we take someone else down with us? What in the world behooves us to make choices that reach out with arms either long or short, grab someone else in whatever way we do that and drag them down? Why is it that we just can’t leave others alone? To the contrary, we find ourselves incessantly goaded by some potent force that’s sufficiently compelling to override any sense of responsibility and silence any voice of morality to the point that we pull others in and push them down with issues that aren’t even theirs? What compels us to make choices that are certain to seize the course of the life of another and set their path on some dizzying descent?
When life presses us with an unnerving intensity we are reflexively prone to revert to defensive position of self-preservation. Sure, it’s quite easy to be graciously gracious and heroically selfless when the cost of doing so isn’t all that significant. We can look quite the part when we don’t have a lot of skin in the game or when we know that we’re not likely to be skinned while we’re in the game. We live within limits that are long on self and short on others, so it doesn’t take long before we take the shortest route to the closest place of safety. If we ruthlessly strip away all the pleasantries and pretenses that we gaudily wrap ourselves in we will find that self-preservation lays seated underneath it all as the irreparably non-negotiable objective that is so core to the base side of ourselves that we will instinctively sacrifice others to insure it.
Therefore, as the cost/benefit analysis swings away from us we’re more likely to gradually or not so gradually swing the cost over onto others. We’re noble, but noble to a point. We’re generous, but only to the degree that what we’re getting sufficiently offsets what we’re giving. We will extend ourselves in ways that appear magnanimous and philanthropic as long as we don’t have to extend ourselves beyond arm’s reach of ourselves. And these points where we pull up and stop are most often based on our tolerance for sacrifice and the degree to which we’re willing to absorb pain. There comes a point where the responsibility of accountability is just a bit too revealing, where the selflessness of putting ourselves aside is pinching our egos a bit too hard, and where the concept of sacrifice and the ‘good of our fellowman’ hasn’t given us all that much in return, if it’s given us anything at all.
When the world around us doesn’t reciprocate our simple acts of simply being a ‘good person’ in the manner in which we feel it should, we begin to become toxically jaded and we take a darker turn into ourselves. When the world is perceived by us as intrinsically greedy, when it seems that every action is driven by a darkly covert agenda, and when the rampant selfishness appears wholly unrepentant and entirely irreparable we pull inward and we put up impenetrable walls. And in putting up the walls we would be quite wise to ask if the things that we find so aberrant and awful are indeed the very things we ourselves engage in. It may well be that our own greed is worse than those that we condemn because we too often demand that we dictate what we give to those around us, we demand how the they will respond to what we have given them, all the while condemning the world of the very offenses that we ourselves are equally guilty of.
If we are not aware of such caustic distortions, we will make it about us. And in making it about us we’re foolishly led to believe that all of our many cherished expenditures are never expended because they never move outside of us. It’s all about us investing all of ‘us’ back into all of ‘us.’ This self-sabotaging, self-absorbing cycle creates an ever-hardening pattern where the deepening pain that we are inflicting on others and the manner in which we are blithely diminishing their lives begins to go entirely unnoticed. Often we are on the receiving end of such behaviors, and sometimes we’re the ones dishing them out. We’d be keenly wise to recognize it in others so that we can more prudently deal with the behaviors as we cope with the impact of them. But, we’d be ever wiser to recognize such behaviors in ourselves.
We Are Too Expensive
When we make it about us, someone, somewhere is going to go down simply because the cost of being about ‘us’ is a cost that will always extend itself beyond ‘us.’ We don’t have the life currency to make it about us, so we borrow or steal that ‘currency’ from other places and other people. Despite our frequently supercilious arguments to the contrary, we simply do not have the inherent capacity to generate everything that we need. However astounding we might perceive it to be, our capacity to independently generate resources will perpetually fall short of the resources that we actually need. Therefore, as our accumulated needs swiftly exhaust our scant resources we are forced by our limitations to reach outside of ourselves to obtain those resources. And in either borrowing or stealing those resources from someone else, that ‘someone’ is going down as we attempt to push ourselves up.
Need We Dare Remember
We’ve regularly failed to realize that being a good person pays exceedingly generous dividends far beyond anything we can borrow or steal. Riches born of sacrifice fill the coffers of heaven. Yet we miss those dividends because they’re not exactly the ones that we’re looking for, or they’ve come at some cost when we’d much prefer to receive them free of charge. Often the riches generated are held until time or attitude would render the delivery of them as far more meaningful for us, yet delayed gratification feels much the same as no gratification. And so, cynicism wins the day, pessimism reigns and we’re going to take others down with us without even recognizing that we’re doing so.
It’s quite sad enough that we do things to take ourselves down and shoot ourselves in the foot. Yet, it’s infinitely more tragic that we do that to others. We cannot control the actions of others as they perpetrate such behaviors upon us. Yet, we can control ourselves. So to avoid taking others down we’d be wise to look at the state of our heart, take the temperature of our attitude, and see if our soul is still breathing because we may find that they are all in some state that we’d much prefer them not to be. And once we’ve inventories them alive again, maybe we’ll realize that to sacrifice is to fill the coffers of heaven which will spill over into the vault of our soul. When that happens we have no need to push others down because we, by virtue of our sacrifices, have pushed ourselves up without stepping on anyone in order to do it.
© 2015 Craig Lounsbrough, M.Div., Licensed Professional Counselor