Sunday, 26 April 2015

I am different.

Why is it that so many people still think that the normal rules of life do not apply to them? Why do they think that they will not make the same mistakes? Why do they rebel against the universal principle of sowing and reaping? Here are 5 gung-ho statements to sadly prove my point:-

1) I am different. This is the mother lode of the other 4 points below. We think we are different. We think rules of humanity do not apply. If there is any description about us that fits like a glove, it has to be this Hercules mentality. Our self-confidence is out of this world. The delusion is real deep. We think we are invulnerable. We are chosen, special even. Others may fall because they are weak, foolish and lazy but not us. Not me. We will not fall into the same trap as them because we are just different. This time, it’s different. We will somehow lick this problem. Now let me expand further below.

2) I will never get caught. If I get a dollar for every time Enron's 
founder, Ken Lay, the grand vizier of ponzi scheme, Bernie Madoff, and the dictator Saddam Hussein make this hubristic statement, I would be a millionaire by now. Now, a crook knows how to maneuver under the legal radar. That much is admitted. Some can do it for what seems like ages. That is a fact too. But even so, everyone has his bad hair day and no crook is an exception. No matter how crafty or slippery he is, he will eventually trip, slip, miss, leak, boast, break, falter, wobble and get caught. He is 
human and human does what human does best. And that is, he will overestimate, overreact, overcompensate and over-reach. When that time of reckoning comes, he will be the cause of his own unraveling; the author of his own misfortune. This is the rule rather than the exception.

3) I have enough. I know this seems unfair. I mean, what's wrong with that? Surely if a person says he has enough, he has had enough, right?
 Well, it depends on the context. Let me tell you the tale of two contexts. Many years ago I went to prison to interview an inmate for a family matter. He was convicted for having sex with his underaged student. He told me that he saw the errors of his ways. He has turned to Christianity and has been reading the Bible. He then looked at me stoically, and with tears in his eyes, muttered, "I know I am wrong. I will change." When I came out of prison that day, and everyday after that, I somehow 
believed him. I believed that he had enough and he will change. The last time I heard about him is that he has found a job and is earning his keep. Now I can't promise for how long he will stay that way. But I can tell you that I earnestly felt his remorse that day. It was deep and infectious. It was real. Here is the other context. Recently a client told me that he loved two women, his wife and his mistress, who happened to be his secretary. He said that he will change. He said he felt bad for his wife who has 
been so devoted. His wife even told him that she trusted him hundred percent. Looking into my eyes, he said that he will break off with his mistress because he has had enough. Somehow, I was not too convinced. The last time I heard, he went on an exclusive holiday with his secretary. Just the two of them. In a final breaking-off-goodbye tour? So much for having enough. I guess he had had enough of having enough? And this is my point: Oral confession not backed up by outward confirmation is nothing more than inward deception. We deceive ourselves when we promise to change but make no effort to do so. We pay lip service to it when we admit to our faults just so that we can offload our overburdened conscience. It is a feel-good confession just to placate a deep-rooted denial. So when a man says he has enough, the question in reply is this, "Does he have enough to want to change?" If not, then what he has enough of is nothing more than a sentiment arising from the inconvenience of a pricked conscience and not the 
determination coming from the conviction of a broken and repentant heart.

4) I can change if I want to. This is the ultimate Hercules mentality. This self-belief is a belief in our own invulnerability. It is hubris well preserved in a vat of formaldehyde. It is also dangerous because if to err is human, then to believe that one is unerring is inhuman. We can't escape the fact that we are sometimes not in control of our own destiny. For this reason, we should never tempt fate. I heard of a recent news about a pastor who personally took the scripture about poison snakes literally and picked one up. The snake bit him and he died. This is a sad tale of how a misguided form of  self-belief can end most tragically. And we have to remind ourselves constantly that there is more to a person's resolve than self-will. Most times, we are victim of circumstances beyond our control. This is not readily admitted I know. Many social experiments have been
done to show that seemingly obedient, respected and steely adults can go haywire when they are either placed in a hierarchical structure of authority or are given absolute power to act as they please. For isn't it said that if we want to test a man, give him power? I sincerely believe that within us, which many may not know or want to admit, is a lurking opportunist ready to exploit others to further its own purpose and at all costs. Given the perfect storm of the right place, the right time, the right victim and the right immunity, we will unleash it like a wild pack of wolves. And this is mostly beyond our control. No man is the absolute captain of his ship – there is always the tides and waves and the storm to override or overpower him. The point is that the feeling of control is mostly context-dependent. If you approach a churchgoer after a Sunday service, or even after an altar call service, and ask him whether he harbors any indecent or revengeful thoughts, the answer is obvious. He will rebuke you. But if you put him in a different place and time, away from the churchy crowd, 
and assure him of complete immunity and privacy, you may just be pleasantly (or rudely) surprised with his reply to the same question. So, the self-belief that a person can change if he wants to (just like that) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Sometimes the person may be sincere and sure about it at that time, but given a change of circumstances, it may just be less assuring.
5) I am better than them. Are we? Am I? I have come full circle from the first point of "I am different." The fact is that we are no different from all those people who have come before us and have fallen thinking that the rules do not apply. I dread that many will take this Hercules mentality to their graves. I am guilty of this too. If we conduct an honest assessment of ourselves, we will find that the only thing we are better than others is the misjudgment (or overestimation) of ourselves. And I am afraid we might not learn from history not because history did not happen but because it did not happen specifically to us. I guess learning a lesson from personal experience is much more enduring than learning from a text, lecture or some indirect sources. And this is the reason why I shared the tale of the two contexts earlier to show that unless we turn the mirror on ourselves and truly examine our motives and confront them with verve and raw honesty, our remorse may just be self-deceiving (and self-serving). Alas, history will repeat itself and we will just have to ride through our own deluded sense of invulnerability until such time when we are forced to confront its punishing end. Let's just hope that the end will not be six-feet deep. Cheerz. 

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