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Self-deception – and what to do about it

Two nights ago I went to a presentation by Bruce Alton, a retired University of Toronto professor of philosophy and religion on the subject of self-deception or lying to one’s self.
We all do it, he says. He cited examples such as spouses knowing of their partners’ infidelity and not admitting it, or parents knowing their kids were using drugs and pretending it wasn’t happening. He contends that self-deception is part of the human condition and not something we will escape totally. At the same time, we can move toward greater self awareness as life unfolds.

Joan Chittister, a writer whose continuing challenge I benefit from, talks about a similar issue in her book, Becoming Fully Human. She quotes Ivan Illich, who wrote “In a consumer society, there are inevitably two kinds of slaves – the prisoners of addiction, and the prisoners of envy.”

What both Bruce and Joan have in common is their conviction that coming to know ourselves honestly is part of human responsibility. While in my book, I have used the example of ourselves and our roles, it is important to note that they are not one and the same thing. Joan Chittister reminds us not to buy things we can’t afford to enhance our sense of self importance – or to hide behind titles or degrees to fool ourselves about what we really know.

Bruce commended the benefit of finding wise listeners in our lives, who share the journey and allow us to hear ourselves work through the important questions. I have also found value in two other methods, – writing it all down in longhand or mapping the issues. All three methods can be applied to the mundane day-to-day questions at work and at home – and also to the big questions of our lives.

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