I keep finding people to blame for destroying the communities I cherish:
Those who don’t care about the right things.
Those who care too much about the wrong things.
Those who don’t vote.
Those who vote the wrong ticket.
The ones stuck in the past.
Those who abandon the past to embrace anything new.
People who demand their rights.
People who deny the rights of others.
Those new to the community.
Those who resist newcomers.
Though they seem to have nothing in common, these people are all the same, at least in one tragic way: I blame them for the breakdown of the communities I treasure.
At least I did.
Perhaps you noticed that my name didn’t make the list, though I fall into several of the categories I listed.
My name isn’t there because I absolved myself of responsibility by assigning blame to others, although I paid a high cost for doing so. I deceived myself.
And self-deception warps the world.
I learned that from a book by the Arbinger Institute called Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box. But even though I know the corruption that self-deception creates, I continue to delude myself into believing that others are responsible for whatever vexes me, including the breakdown of community that plagues me now.
But as once happened for Paul, sometimes God’s grace pulls the scales from my eyes and I see things not as I want them to be, but as they are. That’s how I’m beginning to recognize the ways my actions and attitudes contribute to the very problems that I’ve been blaming on others.
The Arbinger Institute would tell you that I’m “in the box.” By that, they mean that I am thinking of myself as the only person in the world, that I have reduced everyone else to objects that I have to endure, work around, or use. In recent days, I have realized that I view too many people around me as threats, as nuisances, as problems. And I realize they are making the same judgment about me.
And that’s why we’re stuck, and why the trust which community depends on has vanished.
The Arbinger Institute suggests that this self-deception begins with self-betrayal. When I commit an act contrary to what I believe I should do toward another person, I not only betray myself, but I also create the need to justify my action.
As for community, I believe that other people have hopes and dreams as authentic as mine, which leads to my belief that I owe them the time required to learn more about them, to listen to their struggles and desires. But when I refuse to do that, when I reach a conclusion about them without a hearing, I have acted in a way contrary to how I believe I should.
And that’s a problem. By choosing to betray my convictions, I now have to justify my behavior. I may look at myself as a victim (“They don’t listen to me. Why should I listen to them?”).
I may judge myself to be more open-minded than I am, while at the same time, judge others to be more close-minded than they are.
The more I build myself up to justify my actions, the worse the other must become in my eyes. The better I appear to myself, the worse I must make others look. In the end, this vicious cycle leaves me with an alternative world in which I corrupt the truth to justify whatever I want to believe or do.
Even more frightening, by behaving this way toward others, I leave them little choice but to act that way toward me.
But if I can remember that I’m not as virtuous as I sometimes believe that I am, maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover that others aren’t as bad as I need them to be to justify my delusions and betrayals.
And perhaps I will admit that my name belongs on the list of people responsible for the disintegration of community. That’s a damning admission, I know. But it’s also true.
And it’s the kind of truth that might just set me free.