I will admit it…my wife and I like “reality TV”. Specifically we watch Survivor and Big Brother. I’m sure the amount of “reality” is minimal, nonetheless they are a guilty pleasure. A few nights ago we were watching an episode of Big Brother. One of the contestants on the show has a trend we have noticed. Anytime something in the game doesn’t go her way, she gets emotional and starts crying. Then, almost involuntarily, she will say, “I just miss my family.”
Just so you get the sequence…
Everything is fine. She is smiling and happy.
Something doesn’t go her way.
She walks away and starts crying.
She tells someone, “I just miss my family”.
She demonstrates a defense mechanism that fascinates me. It is one most of us (myself included) have employed at one time or another, and one I have watched in others on many, many occasions. Instead of being truthful and admitting I am mad and upset that things didn’t go my way…I am salty…I am being self-centered and I don’t like it when people don’t do what I want them to do. The Big Brother contestant found something more noble to be upset about…I am a mother and I miss my kids.
What is the lesson? People don’t always tell the real reason why they are angry, upset, offended, sad or hurt. Why? Because we all like the moral high ground. No one wants to come across as being petty, self-centered, overly sensitive, soft, weak or wrong. So the safest way to avoid that appearance is to create an alternate reason for how we feel. A reason that seems more noble or understandable…one that garners more sympathy or keeps people from questioning us more deeply…one that garners us a presumed position of superiority…
This sounds harsh, but that is dishonest…on some level it is a lie.
Ironically, we do the same thing with God, probably more than we realize. We shape our prayerful interaction with God…
“Lord, I’m not mad at them, I am just disappointed in them.”
“Lord, I’m not offended, I am just concerned.”
“Lord, they didn’t hurt MYfeelings, I just don’t want them to continue doing this to others.”
My advice is, when someone in your world is offended, upset, sad, hurt, disappointed, etc. don’t just take them at their first word. Ask questions, explore, probe a little deeper because addressing the “more noble” reason for what they are feeling gets you and them no where. The “noble reason” is typically leveraged to maintain the advantage in the relationship. Unfortunately, relationships in which there is a struggle for the advantage are rarely beneficial over the long haul.
On the other hand, when we are feeling these emotions, we would be wise to explore why we really feel the way we feel and not look for the cheapest way out…not try to shape the narrative to make ourselves look less culpable…not try to convince ourselves (and unfairly convince those around us) that our emotions are actually based on something more noble. Honesty is the only path to true reconciliation and healing. Honesty typically requires us to willingly vacate our fabricated moral high ground in order to meet with everyone else in the valley.