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The Law of Self-Deception…


Since I was a child, I have heard that when an ostrich is afraid, he buries his head in the sand to hide from the danger threatening him.  I have asked several people who know something about ostriches, and I am convinced that ostriches do not do this.  Someone has maligned the poor bird by assigning him a trait of certain human beings – but not ostriches.  When an ostrich is frightened, he either fights or runs.

However, think how the characteristic of trying to hide from our fears manifests itself in some people.  In the movies, when person is terribly frightened, they usually scream and cover their eyes with their hand so they can’t see the horror or danger by which they are threatened.  When a person is operated on, he closes his eyes so he cannot see himself get hurt.  When we see a terrible accident, we turn our faces away so we can’t see it.  We close our eyes to most unpleasant sights.  When we smell something unpleasant, we hold our noses. When we hear something unpleasant, we put our fingers in our ears. When we think something unpleasant, we take a does of sleeping pills or tranquilizers.

This trait of hiding from disagreeable facts is especially manifest when someone is trying to make suggestions to help us.  It is paradox that the recipients of advice should feel no annoyance when they ought to feel it and yet feel so much when they ought not to.  They are usually not vexed at all for having committed the fault, but very angry at being reproved for it.  On the contrary, they ought to feel grieved at the crime and glad for the correction.

One of the things that often holds us back in our success is the deliberate attempt we make to hide from the facts when the facts are unpleasant. Advice is seldom valued, though there is a great deal of advising and very little listening.  Usually we do not want advice – we want flattery.  And yet one cannot easily be our flatterer and our friend at the same time.  Some people actually owe more to bitter enemies than to pleasant friends.  The former sometimes speak the truth; the latter seldom do.  An enemy is often a friend in disguise who stings us into action.  He tells us the truth about ourselves.  Cato asserted that wise men profit more from fools than fools do from wise men, for some wise men try to avoid the faults of fools, but fools seldom try to imitate the good examples of wise men.

No criminal ever calls himself a criminal.  Jesse James thought himself a benefactor to society.  Napoleon said, “I believe I will be without parallel in history, that a plain man shall have attained to such amazing power without committing a single crime.”  All this, of course, is self-deception. It is a crime to deceive other people, and it is a calamity to deceive ourselves, especially when we pass the point of no return.

If you REALLY wish to improve yourself, you need someone on the sidelines to coach you and to observe your mistakes and warn you against repetition. Without someone to tell you the truth about your annoying mannerisms and bad habits and inexcusable mistakes, you may fall into the pit of self-delusion where disaster lurks.

Criticism is the hardest medicine to take, but it keeps us awake, while the kindness of a courteous friend is an opiate that puts us to sleep. Everyone ought to have a person who can cut into the tissues of his attitudes and habits occasionally, not to kill him but to bring him back to life.  It’s easy to see faults from the sidelines, but everyone has a blind spot where he himself is concerned.  If we are so fortunate as to have someone who will occasionally give us the facts about our problems, we shouldn’t get angry at them.  We should listen and keep our heads out of the sand and our eyes and ears open.

We should never deceive our friends, but even more important, we should not deceive ourselves.

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