Why We Need Others to Be a Problem

Key Ideas from Leadership and Self-Deception

We all have a problem. That problem is our inability to see that we have a problem. In the business parable Leadership and Self-Deception the Arbinger Institute defines this as “self-deception.” And at the core of self-deception is self-betrayal.

Self-betrayal is acting contrary to our sense of what is appropriate, and in doing so betraying our sense of how we should be towards others. In effect we focus on ourselves, and not the results, our team, or organization. Furthermore, we’re resistant to any suggestion otherwise.

When we go against what our sense tells us is appropriate towards others, even in the slightest, we begin to see people as objects and not as people. In justifying this behavior, we artificially inflate their faults while minimizing our own. We place blame, not to help others but to help ourselves. And done often enough, we will distort our view of reality and let these unfair qualities become characteristics of ourselves.

We need others to be a problem in order to feel justified in always seeing them as a problem.

It’s a vicious trap that makes us ineffective and destructive. We invite mistreatment to feel justified and we provoke people to resist us. Ignoring our sense of what’s appropriate therefore causes tremendous problems.

The good news is, we’re entirely capable of fixing this. We begin by not acting in contrary to what our sense tells us is appropriate towards others. We recognize we have a problem, that of of self-betrayal and who we’re unfairly accusing. Most importantly though, we begin to see others, all others, as people and not objects.

Leadership and Self-Deception goes into far greater detail on self-betrayal and the causes, effects, and resolutions than I have here. It’s quick read, one of my favorites, and I highly recommend it.

What Really Hit Me

The idea of self-betrayal and all that comes with it resonated with me. It’s a problem I know I personally struggle with everyday. What hit home, though, was understanding just how much of this is my fault and brought on by myself. I play a much bigger role in my own problems than I often lead myself to believe. I’m caught in the problem of not knowing I have a problem, self-deceived if you will.

Furthermore, if I try to change or attempt to cope with others I won’t succeed. I’ll be acting in own self-interest. I’ll be caring more about what I stand to gain from them than how I can actually help them, and that is fundamentally wrong.

Instead I need to focus on and see people as they are, people. I need to embrace that no matter what I’m doing on the outside people will primarily respond to how I feel about them on the inside. That said, how I feel about them will depend on whether I’m truly interested in them as a person. For starters here, a good litmus test as provided by Leadership and Self-Deception is…

If you’re not interested in knowing a person’s name, you’re probably not really interested in the person as a person.

It’s not easy though. I must focus on what I can do right to help others rather than focusing on what others are doing wrong. I must cease resisting others and apologize when I do. I must hold myself accountable and not wait on someone else to hold me accountable. And I must continually improve, realizing that I’m the largest part of my own problems and that’ll never change.

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