The importance of Disclosure for me, of pressing matters in my personal and “work” life, of commitments and engagements all pale before the impact of this insight. And what anyone else feels about it becomes inconsequential before what I feel about it.
I believe there are times in a person’s life when they come upon an insight or principle that organizes large bodies of their own and other’s knowledge and creates a revolutionary breakthrough in their understanding of personal or social life. I can point to five such paradigmatic breakthroughs that I’m aware.
They are the notions of linguistic relativity for Benjamin Lee Whorf, conditioning for Erving Goffman, temporocentrism and paradigm shift for Thomas Kuhn, enlightenment for John Enright, and record and context for Werner Erhard.
The principle of linguistic relativity emerged for anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf in his earlier years as a fire investigator. He noticed that the way people described situations determined how they would orient towards them. Describing a drum as “empty” when it had explosive vapors in it and throwing a match into the “empty” drum which then exploded showed that people oriented towards a situation as they described it and not as it was. He then applied that principle to people and the world generally.
Although Erving Goffman may never have used the word “conditioning,” still what he stumbled upon was that people oriented towards the world out of their own conditioning rather than to the way the world actually was.
Thomas Kuhn saw that every generation of scientists oriented towards science as if their own generation was at the pinnacle of it even though their own science was regularly superseded by the next generation’s paradigmatic breakthroughs. What they were unaware of was the process of dissonance and paradigm shift that made one’s generations science obsolete and carried science itself forward.
John Enright studied the Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls and could not understand Perls’ secret until he realized that his secret was enlightenment. John himself became enlightened and found his own understanding of people’s behavior took off from there.
And Werner Erhard penetrated human behavior to the point where he saw that the mind operated according to multidimensional records of now which had the characteristics he went on to describe. He too became enlightened and saw the difference between the mind’s content and the being’s context.
I’m on the verge of my own paradigmatic breakthrough and am simply incubating it, waiting for the penny to drop.
I can perhaps describe some of it but I haven’t yet realized the whole of it or realized it wholly.
A question I’ve had all my life is: “Why is it so hard to do the right thing?” And the paradigmatic breakthrough that I’m in the middle of is that I now see why it is.
I see that the feelings associated with “doing the wrong thing” are pleasurable and the pleasure we derive from doing them is what keeps us doing them, time after time. And because we won’t admit to ourselves that doing the wrong thing is pleasurable and because we won’t acknowledge the pleasure we get from doing them – that is because we resist these aspects of the situation – our willingness to do them time after time persists.
The answer is simple. It’s just the fact that I’ve rejected that answer over and over again that keeps me blind to it year after year.
As a result of watching and observing my own shadow side, I now see that feelings like arrogance, self-righteousness, and vengefulness are in fact pleasurable. If you watch a TV program like Dallas, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch more than a minute or two of it I confess, you’ll see people engage in what we judge as the worst possible lines of behavior and yet they derive pleasure from them.
Until someone exposes that they’re not behaving according to the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments or some other standard of virtuous behavior and shame asserts itself, they continue doing them. When we’re reminded of the fact that society does not permit us to do these behaviors, we stop. But we still enjoy them even if we’ve temporarily stopped. On Dallas, people soon resume their resort to them. But until that moment of being “called” on their “bad behavior,” the actors appear to be enjoying themselves.
When I got past my aversion to these lines of bad behavior and could simply rest in observation of how I felt as Jesus recommended in his message called “The Third Way,” (2) I could see that the factor that kept my “bad behavior” locked in place in my life and the factor that I was never admitting to myself was that I enjoyed feeling arrogant, self-righteous, and vengeful.
It was this enjoyment of those feelings that kept me coming back to them and not letting them go. And if I take that enjoyment one step further and look at what lies below it, what I find is a very enjoyable feeling of power.
This feeling of powerfulness is simply a feeling. It doesn’t translate into actual power, although I could allow it to motivate me and become a Hitler or a Mussolini, I suppose. But it in itself is not power. It is just the feeling of being powerful.
The Wizard of Oz felt powerful until Dorothy drew back the curtain and forced the Wizard to enter the real world. He had to acknowledge that a feeling of power did not translate into actual power and he awakened from the dream. But I’ve remained in the dream all these years because I enjoyed the feeling of power and never had my curtain drawn back.
Most of us never do have our curtains drawn back. Most of us keep doing the same bad things over and over again because we reside in our dream world with the curtain in place, enjoying the feelings of power, vengefulness, arrogance, etc.
I could allow the feeling to advance and become a love of power, a hankering for or desiring of power. I could become power-hungry. People might call me demented in that case and everyone who did so I’d then create as an “enemy” and, if I was Hitler or Mussolini, I would then eliminate them.
I’d walk further and further down a destructive path. Doing the wrong thing would become easier and easier and the chaos around me would grow and grow until a force opposed me powerful enough to overturn me and my destructive career would come to an end.
What I’m describing is the wellspring of my shadow side – my love of the feeling of power which itself derives from the pleasurableness of certain destructive and ego-enhancing feelings.
I’m now, at this moment, allowing myself to observe and experience these destructive feelings, all of which lie at the base of, and result in, a love of power.
This love of power is at the base of the ego. I might find tomorrow that the love of a pleasurable feeling like orgasm is also at its base as well, or the love of the enabling ability of money. I don’t know. But for now I’m going to restrict myself to these pleasurable feelings and the love of power that enables them and brings me to value them and to do the wrong thing.
Werner Erhard, John Enright, Erving Goffman, Thomas Kuhn, and Benjamin Lee Whorf all described an aspect of the way the mind and ego, and directly or indirectly the Self, operated.
What I’m looking at at this moment is again another aspect of the way the ego and the Self operate. It’s an aspect which we don’t generally look at or, if we do, we don’t generally acknowledge.
Why it’s so difficult to do the right thing is that doing “the wrong thing” feels so pleasurable and yet enjoying the pleasure of the wrong thing is taboo in our society. Until I allow myself to experience completely the pleasurable feelings associated with doing the wrong thing, without actually doing them of course, the willingness to do them will persist.
Put another way, as long as I resist feeling the pleasurableness of doing the wrong thing – I didn’t say actually do the wrong thing, but simply experience the pleasurableness associated with thinking of them – then the support I give to doing the wrong thing persists in my mind.
Until such a time as I’m willing to experience through these pleasurable feelings, I believe my shadow side will persist.
This remains fro me just an hypothesis this moment, but I intend to test it out by experiencing through these feelings of pleasurableness that I’ve just become aware of and the love of power that lies underneath them.
I intend to plumb the depths of this hidden cistern of emotion from the observer standpoint to see if I can complete my shadow side thereby – or at least a part of it.