With another April Fools’ Day having come and gone, I thought I’d share some thoughts about how we fool ourselves. April Fools’ Day is all about dreaming up ways to fool other people, but on every other day of the year, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re something we’re not.
About 20 years ago, while I was attending Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria, I heard a homily from a priest about how we all have a way of fooling ourselves. The priest was Fr. Marne Breckensiek, who at that time was the pastor of Sacred Heart Church.
Fr. Marne started his homily by talking about how when we drive a vehicle, we have to always make sure to check our side view mirror before we change lanes. He reminded us that when we check our mirror, there is always an area to the side and back of our vehicle that is not picked up by the mirror. That area is customarily called “the blind spot.”
After he reminded us of the blind spot, Fr. Marne pointed out that each of us has one or more blind spots (faults) that may be obvious to others, but that we are unaware of. He indicated that we have an obligation to ourselves and to the people around us to identify those faults and to work on eliminating them.
My daughter Teresa recently told me about a boy in one of her college classes who is incredibly lazy. She said that everyone in class, including the teacher, knows that he’s lazy. The problem is that the boy doesn’t realize how lazy he really is, and he isn’t aware of the fact that everyone around him has noticed how lazy he is. I expect that the boy would be horrified if he was made aware of the fact that his teacher and classmates have noticed that he has a serious problem with laziness.
Because of our fallen human nature, each of us has faults that are tied to one or more of the seven capital sins: pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, and sloth.
Our worst faults are often completely hidden from us.
While the people who know us best can usually see our faults, most of the time we fail to see our own faults because our pride has completely blinded us to them. And, of course, the people who know and love us have given up on trying to tell us what our faults are, because they know we’ll react with anger and outrage if they are pointed out.
So what should we do if we want to identify and conquer our hidden faults?
The first thing we need to do is pray every day for the grace to see ourselves as God sees us. There are no blind spots with God. He has known us for all eternity. If we pray to Him on a daily basis and ask Him to reveal our faults to us and help us eliminate them, over time He will answer our prayers.
The second thing we need to do is go to confession at least once a month. When we make a good confession, we are forced to probe, acknowledge, and make an admission that we have faults. In a sense, when we prepare for confession, we are required to strip away the false image that we have of ourselves and admit to who we really are.
The third thing we need to do was explained in a blog post by author, speaker, and life coach Martha Beck. Here’s what Beck wrote:
For a week, ask for blind-spot feedback from one person a day, never asking the same person twice. Just say it: “Is there anything about me that I don’t seem to see but is obvious to you?” You’ll probably want to start with your nearest and dearest, but don’t stop there. Surprisingly, a group of relative strangers is often the best mirror you can find. I’ve worked with many groups of people who, just minutes after meeting, could offer one another powerful insights. Like the emperor in his new clothes, we often believe that our illusions are confirmed by the silence of people who are simply too polite to mention the obvious. Breaking the courtesy barrier by asking for the truth can change your life faster than anything else I’ve ever experienced.
Beck suggested that we have a strategy in place before asking others for feedback. The strategy that she recommends is for us to be prepared to do the following three things after we receive the feedback:
1. Just say thanks. When others discuss your blind spots, you may have a violent emotional reaction. Remember: All of the upheaval is a product of your own mind. You do not have to dissuade or contradict the other person in order to feel calm. Instead of launching into an argument, just say thanks. Then imagine yourself tucking away the other person’s comments in a box. You can take them out later, examine them, and decide whether or not they’re useful.
2. Dismiss useless feedback. There’s real feedback, and then there’s the slop that’s merely a reflection of the speaker’s dysfunction. Fortunately, you can tell these things apart because they feel very different. Useless feedback is nonspecific and vague, and has no action implication. It demotivates, locking us in confusion and shame. Useful feedback is specific and focused. It can sting like the dickens, but it leads to a clear course of action; when you hear it, you feel a tiny light bulb going on upstairs.
“No one could ever love you” is useless feedback. “You project a lot of hostility, and it scares people” gives you information that you need to make healthy changes. It’s safe to assume that useless feedback is coming from people who are themselves shame-bound and blind. The best thing to do with it is dismiss it and focus on the information your gut tells you is valuable.
3. Absorb the truth. [If you’re willing to accept the truth, the newly revealed image of who you really are puts you in a confused state.] You’re not used to this new set of eyes, this novel image of self. After my first revelation of how I can be very dominant, I felt incredibly clumsy. I felt a little as if I were talking while listening on headphones: I couldn’t correctly gauge how I was coming across to others. Slowly, asking repeatedly for feedback, I began to see my own behavior more clearly. My false image of self gave way to a more accurate model, and I learned to avoid accidentally stomping on people with my conversational style.
If you follow Beck’s process for determining what your blind spots are, there will be occasions when you will feel humiliated. It’s difficult to admit that you are flawed and dysfunctional. It’s even more difficult to discover that other people have known about those flaws and dysfunctions for years.
But there’s a very powerful upside to discovering and working on eliminating your faults. In time, you will be able to develop a much deeper understanding of how God sees you, and you will find that your relationship with God and the people you love will improve dramatically.