Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Reflections on the Subject of Self Reflection

There’s an old saying, “You can fool the fans, but you can’t fool the players.” Self reflection, as a stand-alone exercise, can be either worthless or beneficial, and it all depends on whether a person sees oneself as a fan or a player. This helps explain why true and honest self reflection is extraordinarily difficult, in fact it’s so difficult that maybe the only way a person can achieve it is by living the monastic life of a monk or a hermit or an ascetic. For more than a thousand years, this was seen as the appropriate path to self reflection, and God knows, that path hasn’t become any easier in modern America with our admit-no-wrongdoing, take-no-responsibility culture of spin and deception.

My personal belief is that most of what passes today for self reflection is actually more of a self deception, and it’s driven by a multi-billion-dollar self-help and image-makeover industry where modern shamans and gurus push the philosophy of optimism and happy talk. We all know the modern mantras: “Failure is not an option” and “Life rewards the risk takers” and “Success is just a matter of managing the expectations of others.” If we have a thousand dollars to invest in a weekend-long “workshop,” we can hear someone like Tony Robbins tell us about our own boundless potential, and after a brainwashing like that there isn’t much room in our soul for self reflection.

If the non-religious, commercial message is that we can achieve superior results in anything we do just by believing in a positive final outcome of our efforts, then this unbridled optimism is balanced by the Christian religions, particularly Catholicism, where we are taught that we were branded with original sin from the moment of our birth and will remain in a state of sin until we die unless we repent. Are we worthless sinners? Or are we potential supermen? I guess it all depends on who gets our money. If we give our money to a church, some clergyman who speaks for God will help us understand what to do about our worthless life of sin. If we give our money to Tony Robbins, we’re already well on the way to a super life of achievement. But here’s the thing. If we don’t give our money to anybody for their advice about our life, then we might possibly be well on the way to self reflection.

I don’t claim to have all the answers about self reflection, but I do know that the first step in the process is to ignore the advice about life that comes from other people.

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