We live in an exhibitionistic, self-aggrandizing, and self-indulgent society. It’s also largely an everyone for himself or herself society. It’s hard to become a conscientious, obligated, civil, and generous person in such an environment.
Social mores and customs have loosened up considerably. Folks are not as repressed as they once were. They have less unreasonable guilt and shame about relatively inconsequential things and are therefore less “neurotic.” But we’ve paid a dear price for the “whatever feels right for you” relativism that’s replaced our older respectability norms. And we don’t have as clear a sense of decency and civility as we once had.
True peace, joy, and love can only be found in the context of relationship. That’s why I’ve devoted my career to helping folks successfully navigate through our character-disordered times.
Behaving in a decent and civil manner doesn’t mean we have to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or abused. It just means we don’t have to act like we believe we’ve been treated. Rather, we should act like we would want to be treated.
Anger is a widely misunderstood emotion. Some have maligned it as an evil in itself. But it’s one of our most basic emotions. Nature put it there for good reason. We become riled to mobilize ourselves into action to remove a threat to our welfare. But just as being too frequently or intensely anxious can be problematic, being chronically or excessively angry can also cause trouble.
Manipulators are covert-aggressors. They’re out to win, dominate, and control but don’t want to be seen that way. If you knew what they were really up to, they’d run a higher risk of being resisted. And if you knew what they were really like, you’d be more wary of them. They’re the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Over the years I’ve counseled many individuals whose life became a shipwreck because they never gained mastery over their aggression. Sometimes they were overt about it. Other times, they were covert in their aggression (for manipulative purposes). Either way, they made a mess of their relationships and brought untold pain into the lives of many. For these individuals, acquiring the controls necessary to assert as opposed to aggress was truly the task of a lifetime.
Mindfully and rightly exercising our will in all the little matters builds strength of willpower. It prepares us to face life’s bigger tests successfully.
We humans are not merely products of our constitution or our environment. Yes, we have innate predispositions. And yes, things that happen to us influence us. But we’re unique among all creatures in our capacity for choice. And a variety of powerful experiences has taught me that a person’s will is capable of being nurtured, strengthened, and correctly directed.
Not all undisciplined behavior represents a genuine addiction. And while there are some rare exceptions, most true addictions don’t just develop overnight. There’s a typical pathway to getting “hooked.” And that pathway is littered with many clear warning signs. Healthy characters respect and heed those signs. But underdeveloped characters tend to ignore or disregard them. That’s why character, and mastering character’s “sixth command,” is so important.