Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who Am I to Judge? Nice Thought, But Impossible

A guy walks  into a bar and orders a beer.  He takes a sip and tosses the rest in the bartender's face.  Sobbing, he says, "I'm so sorry!  I can't help doing that.  It's so embarrassing!"  The bartender sees his sincerity and suggests he sees a psychiatrist. Six months later, the guy is back.  "Are you seeing a psychiatrist?"  With a smile the guy says, "Yep--twice a week.  He's great!"and then throws his beer into the bartender's face.  "Great?? You just threw another beer in my face."  "True, but now it's doesn't embarrass me."

At first I laughed at the joke, but then I began thinking about its ramifications and I suggest that it is a commentary on our culture in general, and a significant segment of the therapeutic community, in particular.  There is a pervasive belief that  there is no objective truth, no absolutes; rather, it is all subjective.  It's all about "what is true for you."  It's all about your own personal truth, which will vary from person to person, so you are neither sensitive nor politically correct if you disagree with or challenge someone's attitude or behavior.  It's all about your "personal preference."  If  I disagree with someone's personal preference I am regarded as imposing my values on them.  

The prevailing sentiment is "There is no moral or ethical absolutes or standards, and therefore who are you to question or challenge or my actions?"  It seems as though the goal is to rid ourselves, free ourselves from this prudish Victorian remnant which we call a conscience.  Tossing his beer in the bartender's face was not wrong or inappropriate. The beer-toss was his personal preference; who are we to judge?  The therapeutic goal was to get over the embarrassment.  The embarrassment is the problem.  Feeling guilty for his actions is antiquated; it interferes with his self-actualization.  

The problem with this predominant worldview is this--we cannot live consistently with that view.  It collapses on itself.  Sure, I'm fine tossing a beer in your face and who are you to judge me--are you going to judge me for exercising my personal preference?  But the minute you toss a beer in my face, how dare you!?! How insensitive and thoughtless can you be!?!  You're such a jerk.  What right did you have to do that to me?

Do you understand the inadequacy of the prevailing worldview?

If you don't, wait til  a guy tosses a beer in your face.


Tim said...

Steve, I am a bit, not totally, but nevertheless a bit confused. I do therapy and would never consider throwing a beer in someone's face as someone's journey to self actualization or their right to their personal preference. It doesn't meet Maslow's definition for sure. I teach my client's that personal responsibility is incumbent upon them if they really want to progress. My main mode of counseling is REBT. The basic tenant says, If it (belief and resultant behavior) makes your life better and it doesn't hurt you or anyone else, then it is rational and you will be happier and saner. If it makes your life worse and you keep doing it you won't progress. The definition of "makes your life better" is crucial.
I am not sure what you are saying though. Are you asserting that therapists are "allowing" too much poor behavior because they consider it to be one's right to act on their personal beliefs or preferences? Interesting topic, thanks.
My best, Tim

ToscaSac said...

Thankfully I do not have this senseless bottomless thought on the world.

I believe in truth and absolutes. I believe in morality that is universal and other such radical things.

I totally get what you are saying using the story. Instead of learning that drink tossing is rude and perhaps to use his words or other wise excise his pain the man went to therapy and learned to release his fear and shame about behavior that was clearly not helpful.

Faith is not a crutch. It is a mental frame work...

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Tim, thanks for your reflective reply. I'm sorry I confused you. Maybe I can concisely explain. I know you wouldn't advocate that course of behavior to a client. One of my points was that if all morality and ethics are relative, i.e. a matter of mere personal preference then why or how could you or I disapprove of his behavior? He was simply acting on what was his personal preference. Thus my belief that one cannot live consistently with a relativistic/personal preference mindset. At some juncture, we all acknoweddge some valid-for all absolute that says to all of us, "THAT behavior is wrong." But I have no right, no basis to say that if I claim to be all about personal preference/subjective truth. Am i making more sense--or--creating more confusion?

Steve said...

ToscaSac, I hope your faith continues to deepen and anchor you. thanks for reading my blog.

Tim said...

I like how you explore things the way you do. I don't come across many who are willing to discuss it. I think I understand what you are saying but not totally sure. I knew that you knew I would not advocate that behavior in a client. I would not agree with them that they were on the path to self actualization if they behaved that way however. I never engage in discussion of right and wrong, with clients or myself. I, along with Al Ellis, look at it this way- If it makes your life better, it's good for you. Throwing a beer in a bartender's face will never make one's life better. Well, unless his beard is on fire and the drink does not have a high alcohol content. :-) I hope I am making sense. ~~Tim

Tim said...

I feel compelled to stress how important the definition of "makes your life better" is in regards to what I was saying.

Steve said...

Tim, now I'm the one's who's confused. :>)
you state that you "never engage in discussion with clients Or MYSELF." (my emphasis) Am I to understand that as signifying you do not acknowledge or believe that there are any moral absolutes and that "right" and "wrong" are merely subjective, or do es that signify that there is nothing that is "right" or "wrong" but that all behavior is only utilitarian. Either way, I am perplexed that you then also say that "if it makes your life better then it is good for you." Isn't what is "good" a moral/ethical term and, if so, you seem to be contradicting yourself.
WOW!! I'm exhausted from writing this, and I imagine that not only you, Tim, but many others will be depleted having read this. I apologize to you all; i have great difficulty being concise. I'll shutup now.

Ramit Hooda said...

Really interesting. Really appreciating.

Tim said...

You are funny and I hope you are okay. I reread what I wrote and I left the word "I" out of "(I) look at it this way.... The way is appears now, it looks like I am telling you to look at it "this way". Okay, now that I (hope) I have cleared that up I'll attempt to unconfuse you about what I said. (Don't hold me to proper grammar.)
I do believe the concepts of good, bad, right and wrong are totally subjective and relative. But remember, you come from a Christian vantage point and I don't, so I am sure that colors it. Having said that however, I do believe that people have an innate feeling of goodness garnered from selfishness. e.g. I don't want to be killed so I won't kill anyone else. I also believe that people learn values and beliefs from their families and societies (including their religious faith). Let's face it, if you grew up in Iraq you would probably be a different religion. I don't believe that's important. If you believe in God, your God is what is good for you. When I say if it makes your life better then it is good for you, here is what I mean. If it does not cause you to feel depressed, empty, hopeless, guilty, etc. then it is good. And of course there are times when those feelings are appropriate. The really relative part is, those feelings are often based totally on beliefs. eg I SHOULD (fill in the blank with anything you think you should) and if I don't (fill in the blank of something bad that will happen.. feel depressed, get lost, etc..) After working in Forensics, one of the interesting things I have learned is that some people really appear to not care about anyone but themselves. I always thought that meant a person was "bad". I have learned it doesn't mean that at all. Their behavior is (usually) learned. I wish you lived down the street so we could discuss and debate these issues. I am certain we could learn from each other. When I say I don't think about good and bad, what I mean is, rather, I think about what makes things better and of course that is totally biased. I never used the words good or bad or right or wrong with my clients. I always framed it as: Does it make your life better? We spent a LOT of time discussing the definition of "makes your life better." Did this help or cause more confusion?