Mind, Virtue

We Choose Behaviour that Benefits Us

“You are honest enough by nature to be able to see and judge your own self clearly – and that is a great thing. Never lose that honesty- always be honest with yourself, know your own motives for what they are, good or bad, make your own decisions firmly and justly – and you will be a fine, strong character, of some real use in this muddled world of ours!”

Enid Blyton, 1943, Summer Term at St. Clare’s

We all have our weaknesses, shortcomings and vices.

From day to day, we wear our insecurities, neurosis and all the other dents and cracks in our personality. You often hear people say things like ‘I’ve just always been a passive person’, or ‘I’m always short-tempered, it’s just who I am’. All these things brand us, we own them and to an extent we become the chinks in our armour. We speak of these things as if they are completely imposed upon us, as though we are prisoners, forced to live with them. But what if, even if unbeknown to ourselves on a conscious level, we are actively contributing to and encouraging these behaviours?

Let’s consider the following statement- we always behave in a way that benefits us.

That is saying that all of our behaviour benefits us in one way or another. This might be hard to believe at first. For example, we might feel like being passive isn’t a choice and that it really hinders us. Our voice isn’t heard, our wants and needs get passed over and we’re never at the centre of the story. But take a look at the other side- we never have to risk our opinions being criticised, we don’t have to participate in difficult conversations and we shoulder very little responsibility for the direction our life takes. So, to say that being passive doesn’t serve or benefit us in any way, is not true. If we find it hard to break free from a behaviour it is useful to ask how is it benefiting us. Then we can really see where our motives lie, rather than believing ourselves to be unwilling bystanders to our own behaviour.

People are calculated for the most part, so it wouldn’t be consistent if we constantly indulged in behaviours that didn’t benefit us in the slightest.

We may have to suffer some adverse effects, but in some ultimate way it benefits us to an end. A short temper, for example, may cause us a lot of hassle and hardship. All our relationships suffer, we may lose family and friends, and our ability to communicate is subpar to say the least. But if it means that we can avoid people broaching difficult subjects with us, avoid having to address any of our own problems and can ultimately avoid any change, well then maybe it’s worth it to us. There is always a reason why we hang on to something and consistently revert back to it. With any negative or inadequate behaviour, we must ask ourselves that difficult question-how is it benefiting me? Once we ask this question, so much will come to light.

“I tell lies somewhere else, but not here, not in front of myself.”

Robert Walser, 1909, Jakob von Gunten
Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Prisoners’ Round
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