Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015--Rationalizations

"What would we do," John asked, "if we didn't have our rationalizations?"

I had never thought much about this, though I'm as good as the next person when it comes to floating them.

"I mean," he said, "wouldn't it be difficult getting through life without them?"

"Probably," I said slowly, not sure just what I was agreeing to.

"Look, how much truth do we need? I mean truth about ourselves."

"I always assumed as much as possible," I said, without much conviction.

"Really? You want to be held accountable for every thought you have--I mean particularly the negative ones--or to things that are unflattering to admit about oneself."

"I'm still not fully tracking you," I said, now half-truthfully, since I was beginning to tune in to what he was acknowledging about himself and which I too am prone.

"It may be one of those 'you-can't-handle-the-truth' kind of things. For these kinds of truth don't rationalizations take you off the hook?"

"I like to think about myself as not that type of person. I like to believe I can not only handle the truth but actually welcome it."

"I won't dispute that, though to tell you the truth, about that, I'm skeptical."

"Skeptical about what?" I was beginning to feel defensive.

"I think I know how you're approaching this."

"I'm listening."

"That there are some truths about yourself that on the one hand you don't want to acknowledge and so the temptation is to rationalize. Am I right that it is this kind of rationalization you want to avoid? That you'd rather deal with the truth whatever it is, however unpleasant it might be?"

"Probably, yes. I do know, though, that many times I rationalize and don't deal with things all that directly or honestly. I admit rationalizing in those circumstances can be useful. But, and this is important to me, I try not to do it. At least, not too often."

"I respect that," John said, "So let me try a different tack."

"Go on."

"I agree about using rationalizations too often as a version of excuse-making. But what about rationalizing as a way to confirm and solidify your core beliefs?"

"You're losing me again."

"Beliefs, which are important to all of us since they guide a lot of our behavior, beliefs are just that--beliefs. They may include evidence and facts and have some basis in reason, but that sort of basis is limited and reason is not always useful when it comes to beliefs. Religious beliefs, for example, are for the most part, if we're honest, not based on much evidence or reason. We, for various reasons, are comfortable just believing them."

"I'm with you regarding these kinds of beliefs but about others I'm not so sure. And then what does any of this have to do with rationalization?"

"For beliefs rationalizations are very useful, maybe even essential. It's a way to reconcile you to beliefs which you know are really not reason-based, but more faith- or emotion-based. And here I'm not talking just about religious beliefs.'

I nodded.

"For example, don't you believe in the importance of behaving ethically? Isn't that a belief and not something you derived from reason? I know there is a reasonable case for ethical behavior, but isn't a decision to act ethically, even when not in your best interest, derived from a body of beliefs? For these, it's my view that rationalizations are important."

"As long as we're not just talking about excuse-making . . ."

"You're right," John interrupted, "I began with that but think what we're talking about now is much more complicate and important."

"About this," I said, "I need to do a little more thinking."

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