Who Has Got The Problem?

I suppose I am going to go to great lengths to bore you this week. I seem predestined to go over material I have already given you. You might criticise me for insulting your intelligence!

But I am moved to talk again about the cowardly tactic of taking offense and the demeaning practice of acting like a victim! It seems that in today’s politically correct world the best way of avoiding confronting divergent views is to take offense.

There seems to be a prevailing attitude among many of us that we should be shielded from all adversity whether real, or more worrying, imagined.

M Scott Peck began his great little book “The Road Less Travelled” in this way:

“Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Buddhism has come to a similar conclusion. This is embedded in The Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth states that:

“Life entails suffering.”
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
Consequently we must expect adversity. But if suffering is inevitable there are two things we must learn:

1. Our greatest defence is in increasing our resilience, and
2. We should not increase the burden of our suffering by allowing our egos to concoct spurious psychological defence mechanisms.

Most of those who take affront when confronted with ideas and opinions that are contrary to their own are indulging in the latter error.

In my role as an executive coach I try to teach managers methodology to be able to determine in a corporate environment “who owns the problem”. Many managers are diverted from their proper roles by trying to solve problems that are not real or problems that really belong to someone else.

It is difficult for us to accept (again because of the clever defence mechanisms of the egoic mind) that we might actually be the source of the problem and not others. How many of us can accept that truly insightful statement by the author and diarist Anais Nin that “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

This implies that oftimes our suffering is augmented by our inappropriate sense of self and that our perceived suffering is not due to any external cause but due to the fact that it has successfully repelled unwanted challenges to the narrative that sustains our ego.

Let us look at some dramatic examples.

Just recently two NATO personnel allegedly incinerated some copies of the Koran in a landfill site near the Bagram airbase. It is reported that this was not an intentional act but simply occurred because NATO personnel were simply disposing of old documents and waste products and were unaware that copies of Islam’s holy book were among the rubbish.

Some Afghan labourers came across the site and rescued the mutilated Korans and used this as evidence the NATO personnel had been profaning their religion. The American president apologised for these inadvertent activities. NATO promised that within ten days every one of its soldiers in Afghanistan would receive training in how to handle the religious sensitivities of the Muslim population.

If you go back to the question of where the problem lies here, I think this is a disproportionate response. I would maintain that the problem lies with those with the exaggerated sensitivities (read fragile sense of ego and inappropriate worldviews) rather than those who inadvertently burnt the Korans. In the meantime, to assuage their delusion, militant Muslims have killed many NATO personnel seeking vengeance for this supposed affront. Again I ask, “Who has got the problem?”

Let me state clearly that I have no particular brook against Islam. I have read extensively about the world religions (which of course many religious believers haven’t) and I find it no better or worse than other mainstream religions. My criticism is not against the adherents of Islam but the behaviour of those who have been so easily provoked. They would assert that their actions demonstrate their faith. I would assert their actions demonstrate their insecurity.

I suppose the major arenas of victimhood and offence are religion, race, and sexuality.

It is easy to find confirming evidence from each of these arenas. But for brevity let me choose an example relating to the issue of race.

The West Australian Police Commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan released crime statistics that showed high levels of involvement by Aboriginal youth. He was subsequently accused by the head of the Aboriginal Legal Service of inciting racial hatred.

These are facts that are indisputable. Surely they should be allowed into the public arena.

I have done significant work in trying to improve the lot of indigenous Australians. I feel for them and am supportive of any reasonable intervention that might improve their lot. But I fail to see how resiling from the facts helps in any way at all.

There are many other examples I could give you where people choose to take offense rather than have their dysfunctional world views confronted. I don’t think it is helpful when we choose silly notions of political correctness over robust debate and disclosure of indisputable fact. As I suggested before, it is more appropriate to ask, “Who has got the problem?”

8 Replies to “Who Has Got The Problem?”

  1. Here here! and Hear hear!

    The Koran burning incident was particularly frustrating for the response of both sides.

    I’m currently reading Christopher Hitchens autobiography and he recounts the saga of Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses. I was amazed at the time how regular people and leaders refused to speak out about the reaction to the perceived hurt from a man who wrote a book of fiction which most people had not read. (I have, by the way and it’s a great book).

    “I find that offensive”…..Well so what.

  2. In my dealings with parents in schools, the blame seems to be aimed at the teachers performance rather than their parenting styles – and the ones who have the most oppositional, defiant children believe they are the victims of the school system, yet they verbally abuse administration and seem to to me to be the biggest bullies of all.

  3. Another very insightful observation Ted. I have no problem at all with you covering the same ground again and again. This sort of stuff seems so obvious when you say it but in many ways it is contrary to human nature (learned or other wise) and with out regular reminders it is easy to slip back into over reactive defensive behaviours. I like your blogs because the remind me of the truth and keep my ego perhaps just a little more under control.

    The statement “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” has got to be one of the most profound in describing human psychology. We really can get a very skewed view of the world if our filters are all primed up to protect a fragile ego and we all are guilty of this at some time in our lives.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. It gives me encouragement to keep on writing about such things (even when I think I have been banging on in a boring way)!

    We can’t allow the protestations of those who are easily offended (whether contrived or not) prevent us from confronting the issues of the world

  5. Ted, thanks for publishing and please do continue. I’ve often thought that many of the things that seem to go off the rails are a matter of poor problem definition – as in what really is the problem, as a society we seem to spend time disproportionate time on arranging the deckchairs while the ship sails towards the icebergs..

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