Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Looking the other way - it's ok, dude...

Often we are forced to face bitter sides of life that we can’t wish away. We hate it, yet we’ll have to live with it. Having to put up with a foul mouthed coach, taking a long distance flight with a co-passenger having body odor or even worse, say, closer home to be around 24x7 for an aged someone that needs help even to lift a finger.
Everyone is in denial about something; just try denying it and watch friends make a list. For Freud, denial was a defense against external realities that threaten the ego, and many psychologists today would argue that it can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, like a cancer diagnosis.

You can look the other way for some time, alright. But you can’t live in denial forever. Eventually you’ll fess up and crash. In the modern vernacular, to say someone is “in denial” is to deliver a savage combination punch: one shot to the belly for the cheating or drinking or bad behavior, and another slap to the head for the cowardly self-deception of pretending it’s not a problem.

Yet according to Ben Carey in this NYT article, recent studies from fields as diverse as psychology and anthropology suggest that the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important to forming and nourishing close relationships. The psychological tricks that people use to ignore a festering problem in their own households are the same ones that they need to live with everyday human dishonesty and betrayal, their own and others’. And it is these highly evolved abilities, research suggests, that provide the foundation for that most disarming of all human invitations, forgiveness.

In this emerging view, social scientists see denial on a broader spectrum — from benign inattention to passive acknowledgment to full-blown, willful blindness — on the part of couples, social groups and organizations, as well as individuals. Seeing denial in this way, some scientists argue, helps clarify when it is wise to manage a difficult person or personal situation, and when it threatens to become a kind of infectious silent trance that can make hypocrites of otherwise forthright people.
Do you feel a bit comfortable looking the other way now...?

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