Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Self-Awareness and Machiavelli

At a discussion group, a PH’D student in clinical psych stated:

  • Growth is about self-awareness. According to the psychoanalysts, illness is a product of failing to bring the subconscious into consciousness.
We agreed about the value of self-awareness – something we need in all areas of our lives. We need accurate data whether we are driving a car or servicing it. We need to know where to put the gas, oil and water. Any mistake can have tragic consequences. Likewise, in order to manage our lives, we need to have accurate data and understanding. I therefore asked her, “What in your training enables you to bring about self-awareness?”

I was surprised by her answer:

  • I don’t have a clue! Some people respond to psychotherapies and others don’t. I don’t know why this is. 
I agreed with her that psychotherapy often fails to bring about its desired result of self-awareness. This was my opportunity to infuse some light:

  • I could not face myself. It was just too painful to see my failings. Therefore, I hid behind denials and rationalizations and built myself up with illusory self-affirmations. It was only through Jesus’ assurances that He loves and forgives me that I began to grow in courage to engage the truth about myself. Knowing that He loves me and would never forsake me, I fearfully began the painful process of confronting my ugliness that I had. However, this confrontation eventually led to freedom. 
I then braced myself for the storm of criticism from this staunchly secular audience. One angry but articulate young man surprised me with his response:

  • When the human race isn’t busy killing off anyone who is different, it returns to its obsession of manipulating and using one another for its own benefit.

He even seemed to include himself in his dismal assessment of humanity. I wondered how he could live with himself with such self-awareness. Perhaps he had gravitated to this understanding because it gave him license to act immorally. So I asked him:

  • Why would I or anyone else be willing to invite you into their home? Perhaps you might decide to attack us?
He assured me that he didn’t need God and that he had compassion instead. I therefore grabbed the floor and fired back:

  • What then happens when you don’t feel the compassion? Will you abuse your host?
The moderator intervened and re-positioned the conversation back onto safer ground. But the question remained - What do people do when their feelings of empathy run thin, which they surely will? What then will keep them situated on moral high ground?

I still believe in the value of self-awareness. However, self-awareness without the conviction that we live under the scrutiny of a just God is useless. It’s like a Machiavellian understanding and awareness of others, only to more skillfully use and abuse them.

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