Wednesday, 10 December 2014


There’s this conundrum. I can never work it out.

Suppose Person A was a selfish, scheming, manipulative, subtly aggressive sinful monster, living among balanced, reasonable, kind but honest people. Suppose people in A’s social group let A know how selfish and inappropriate A’s behavior had become, and Person A saw the light and began to reform, curbing selfishness and nurturing humility, behaving in ways more acceptable within the community so everyone was happier and A began to fit in and life got more harmonious and God was pleased. That would be good, right?

But then suppose a few miles along the road there was a different social group, full of selfish, scheming, manipulative, subtly aggressive sinful people, and the only balanced, reasonable, kind but honest individual among them was Person B. Suppose B’s social group got on B’s case incessantly, outraged if B ever spoke up in self-defence, expecting B to comply and acquiesce all the time, calling B selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful every time B tried to remonstrate or reach out for something good. Suppose the only way B could achieve harmony was by giving in all the time and making the others happy and being pushed around. That would be bad, right?

But what I don’t understand is how would you actually know if you were Person A or Person B? How could you possibly tell if you were in actual fact selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful, and had needed others to bring it to your attention – or if you were in fact balanced, reasonable, kind but honest, but been sucked into a guilt trip by the selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful people in your social group?

How could you arrive at an accurate evaluation?


Ganeida said...

I find those I would label The rude selfish lot are the *go~getters*; them what makes the world go round. My selfishness goes the other way. I rarely find there is a happy camping ground between the 2 sorts of people & each group lambasts the other for their perceived faults when the truth is we are all sinners in our own way.

Anne Booth said...

This is really interesting. I was wondering if Ignatian discernment helps in this? So that in the 1st group, the selfish person feels, over time with the group, more peace-full and more and more fundamentally loved and accepted and their behaviour changes in response to this love, whereas in the 2nd group the good person feels less and less at Peace & less and less fundamentally loveable the more they change their behaviour to conform. Does that make sense?

Pen Wilcock said...

Interesting - thank you!

Paula said...

That's quite a poser. The problem is that neither of these societies lives in a vacuum. Having been in a group that was like group 2, I can tell you that there was plenty of evidence from the rest of the world that group 2 was a broken, sick group. The only choice is to leave or become sick too. Or perhaps be a hermit. In group 1, the selfish person is surrounded by people who are loving and good, and can be diluted and also tolerated and even met with some humor. It puts me to mind of a little town in Texas that I saw while traveling. There was a sign on the edge of town saying something like "population 390, and 1 grump."

SylvanHome said...

It's a cold, blustery evening here. If you were here wouldn't that be a great bone to gnaw on together, wrapped up in front of the fire with some warm beverage cupped in our hands to sip in the quiet spaces between the thoughts.

Sandra Ann said...

I love Anne's interpretation! I hope you are not embroiled in a difficult scenario.

Hugs San xx

Bean said...

I have know idea, but I suspect that all of us are Person A sometimes and Person B at other times and the rest of the time perhaps a mix of both so becoming Person X?

Anonymous said...

It's late at night and I am tired and maybe not thinking well, but are we to suppose that in each case there are no reference points outside the group? In other words, that Person A and Person B have no other influences in their lives to check against? I think if one moves almost entirely in circles one is at odds with one might begin to doubt one's own judgement. Equally, knowing even one or two people of the same kind can make such a difference to one's ability to stand one's ground (and, blessedly, in these internet days, those people might be virtual friends half a world away.) Helen

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, my goodness, I just love this blogging family! I wake up in the morning and, while it is still dark, turn on my laptop to see if there are any comments on my blog - and what an interesting, thoughtful diversity of insights! Wherever you all come from, I'm so glad you're here!
And now I want to know more.
What did you do, Paula? Did leaving that group involve letting people down? Did you have to lay down obligations?
SylvanHome - so many times in these last days, thinking of you and Sky and a dear little corgi, I have visited your home in my imagination. It was a year ago I was with you!
San - your nose has found a trail!
Bean - I like the idea of morphing into Person X - maybe that's always a necessity - or inevitable, anyway.
Helen - "knowing even one or two people of the same kind can make such a difference to one's ability to stand one's ground" - indeed so.

Thank you for being, not only in the world, but in *my* world, friends. xxx

DaisyAnon said...

Very interesting Pen. I don't know is the short answer!

For me, I was person B (I felt) in a Church which was group 2. Not every individual in the Church was person A type, but the institution as a whole was for me.

I struggled and struggled with the question of 'was it me, or them'

In the end I decided it didn't matter,the point was, I couldn't fit in. I left and have been much happier since.

I think Paula's point about how we don't live in a vacuum and mostly have choices about staying in or leaving a group.

The big conundrum is when the group 2 is a nation. How does a nation ever recognise itself and change?

Heidi said...

I once asked a psychiatrist a similar question. He said (paraphrased) that the main difference between Persons A and B, is that A doesn't ask these kinds of questions to begin with. Either because she doesn't care or because she automatically projects her faults on other people.

Sandra Ann said...

Prayers for you this day xx

Anne Booth said...

Pen - I've been thinking about a specific instance in my life. Over 20 years ago I joined a small established Christian community helping the homeless for 6 months whilst studying for a diploma in Pastoral Theology at a Christian college unconnected o the community. It's a long story, but whilst at college I felt loved and loveable, interesting and worthwhile. When I came 'home' I felt I was a v odd person. I was accused of having anger issues because I was too polite, I was told by one worker that it was obvious I loved the people we worked with, but by her boss that it was obvious I didn't - I tried to get a community meeting to discuss tensions I felt and was told I was making heavy weather of things and basically to lighten up. Finally, I went to see a counsellor myself, as I wondered if I really did have big psychological problems, and the counsellor, after listening to what I said about the community, told me that it wasn't me that had the anger issues but the community, who were denying them. I also had a good friend who told me I wasn't going mad and that i should leave. Sure enough, soon after I left the community, (as soon as I could) when my diploma course ended, it imploded dramatically. The people who had got on so well together whilst making my life a misery suddenly had major bust ups and at least three (including the priest who refused to hold community meetings because there was nothing to discuss and the nun who said I had anger issues) left v quickly. It was a lesson to me that sometimes communities are just sick and weird things can happen to individuals who walk unwittingly into such and are not part of the dynamics. Straight after that I spent my summer in a summer school teaching English to Jesuit priests and was extremely happy - I laughed lots, met wonderful people and was really healed - but it was so horrible and I have never forgotten it. If you are in such a situation get out. Listen to those who know and love you and see yourself reflected in their eyes. If this is you, Pen, lots and lots of blessings on you. Lots of blessings on you anyway!

Pen Wilcock said...

Friends, you are wise and thoughtful people, and I am very proud to know you xxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Perhaps in view of the unfolding comment thread, I should make it clear that I am not trapped in some sinister sect - though it is true I have some life issues to work through where it's hard to get an objective take on reality. xx

Deborah said...

I'd ask God and trust the Holy Spirit to show me and then act accordingly.

Pen Wilcock said...

Although if you were the selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful person, you could get some very dodgy results from that, perhaps?

Deborah said...

Not if you've been in a relationship with Jesus for a while and are becoming increasingly sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If you are working with God to become more like Jesus then you know when you are behaving like an idiot. That's what I love about the Holy Spirit...there's no room for excuses coz he shows you what's wrong. It's just up to us whether we act on it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Buuuut - when you say 'If you are working with God to become more like Jesus then you know when you are behaving like an idiot. ' - well, then the problem wouldn't apply to you, would it? Cos you'd just know. But in the interests of full disclosure I must admit I've known some Christians who think they are filled with the Holy Spirit, absolutely right and instruments of His divine Word - but still sound a lot like idiots to me!

Deborah said...

I guess that's why, ultimately, we need to work on ourselves and leave other people to God to deal with. Keep ourselves as right with God as we can and as sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we can be and recognise that everyone is on a journey and they may not be in the same place that we are.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Deb - good counsel. Please note, though, that the puzzle in the post is not about deciding what other people are, but about evaluating oneself in the face of their strong opinions - when they, like the person concerned, might also be devout Christians and therefore also feel justified in claiming they are right. It cannot be made simple.

Deborah said...

I know. that brings me back to what I said before though. The only thing that any Christian can do is rely on the Holy Spirit to prompt *us* when our behaviour is unacceptable to God. I think we need to dig in deeper with God and stay close to him regardless of what anyone else might say or think about us. We cannot judge who we are compared to other people...we can only see who we are supposed to be compared with Jesus. the more we are like him the better we will be but that doesn't mean that we will be acceptable to those around us. Jesus wasn't accepted, Jesus made loads of people mad...when he made his whip and turned over the tables in the temple they were not happy with him. Probably thought he was destructive, mental, all sorts of things but he was right before God.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a journey, we don't stay as we were when we committed ourselves to follow him and we aren't currently who we will be in the future. God deals with us in different ways and at different times...what we see in someone else as something that needs changing may be not what God is having them work on at the moment. Plus just coz they think they are right now doesn't mean they will think they are right in 6 months time. There are a lot of things I categorically *knew* were right in the past that I know know were not right...but who knows if that'll be the same in the future :-D

I'll stick with relying on the Holy Spirit to prompt me and change me into being more like Jesus and just sit back and enjoy the journey.

Hope I've explained myself and not sounded too preachy coz I don't mean it to sound that way.

Pen Wilcock said...

Not preachy at all - very inspiring. xx

Anonymous said...

A book you might find interesting is "Malignant Self Love" written and self-published by Sam Vaknin, available on Amazon, about Narcissistic Personality Disorder written by someone who has the diagnosis.

LANA said...

I think if this involved children, whose personalities are not yet formed, the nasty child might become a nice one if in a nice group. Sadly, the nice one surrounded by nasty ones would probably become nasty. As for adults, if being devious is in one's nature, one would gravitate to that kind of crowd. Nice folk would want to be with other nice folk, and if they weren't, I think gut feelings would tell you these people are not who you want to be friends with.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, friends - I'll seek that out, DMW; Lana, yes, that sounds about right.


Rebecca said...

Something to be said, too, for longevity within a community. The temptation I think is to flit from group to group seeking approval, acceptance, etc. (All legitimate longings/needs.) Relationships take time. We give up too soon. And sometimes, our expectations are SO unrealistic, making our "search" to belong almost impossible.

(Thinking out loud here.....and heavily influenced by my personal experiences)

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, yes - good point! xx

Pilgrim said...

This seemed academic to me when I first read it. However, I have a son with soecial needs I have to advocate for in the school system. This has almost always meant standing alone, in meetings of six to ten people who agree on a shared reality before you enter the room, usually underestimating your child's ability. You do have to find a way to evaluate your own behavior, especially at times when you have been ambushed and reacted poorly. Not exactly the question you are addressing, but related.

Pen Wilcock said...

But Pilgrim, that *is* exactly the kind of question I' addressing. Because as well as standing your ground, you also have to maintain awareness that you might be wrong - balance up whether you're under attack from making forces or simply paranoid!! God bless you and your son. Coming from a family where the members are neurologically atypical, I know the territory! xx

gail said...

Such an interesting topic Pen. I think that if I were honest with myself which I really try to be, I'd know deep down if I was an A. Then if I was a B, I might give in to these people for a while, hoping that they might improve, but again, truth, I feel would prevail and I would most likely step away because they would make me feel uncomfortable. So it all comes back to being honest with yourself. I can honestly say that I know my faults. I don't like them and I try to be the best that I can be but I'm not there yet. Didn't Jesus say "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" That word truth is such and amazing word. You asked "How could you arrive at an accurate evaluation?" I would search out the truth and then even though I might not like what I see in myself, at least I have place to start from. I can then choose to change or just stay were I am. I am smiling as I write this because many years ago I remember my mother used to remind me often that "you are judged by the company you keep." and therein is another truth.
Again Pen, lots to ponder in this post. Have a lovely weekend.
Blessings Gail.
p.s. Aren't we going to have such great discussions when we all get together in heaven. I'll love meeting you and all these lovely people in person. Such a great bunch and so interesting.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh! If *that's* what heaven will be like, I want to be there!

I think what you say in your comment is similar to Deborah's comments - a confidence that comes from faith, a habit of honesty and simplicity that makes a person very well-grounded. Beautiful. xx

Pilgrim said...

Thank you.

Anne said...

I would go to group c for a while and see how things went before deciding to return to group a or b.
Spending time alone would be useful too. It's like taking a break from TV, when you go back to it, you can't believe the crap you were exposing yourself to.

Pen Wilcock said...

Group C! That's a good plan!

Like this poem:

An Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the side walk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I fall in….it’s a habit…but my eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down a different street.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting dilema :-) I used this post to start off a discussion in my house group this week. Once we talked ourselves into realising our reference point ought to be what God says and not what any social group says we used an on-line bible to look up scriptures where it says "one another". It was very challenging to read what scripture says about how we should treat each other.

Pen Wilcock said...

I'm so glad you found the post a helpful discussion starter! It sounds as though you did some digging deep in your responses. xx