Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Learning to act right (14)… Trusting Judgement

Learning to act right (14)… Trusting Judgement

Torrey Orton
July 21, 2010

Collecting individuals' learning stories is a constant source of wonder. This is not the exception. Rather it is almost a model. It would be a model but for the fact these wondrous works are always models of individual perspicacity and so what is modelled is the effort rather than the form of an action. It is a model perhaps of some problems of our times, seen through the eyes of a youthful participant in them.

Trusting Judgement
by Troy

Let me begin with a story…

Here's a situation: you're out fishing in a speed boat. Your line trails in the wake as the boat speeds along. All of a sudden it gives a mighty tug. You are pulled in to the deep water. The boat continues to speed on. As you flail around under water you see that you have hooked something big, but your eyes are blurry in the water, you're not sure whether it's a dolphin or a shark. You're scared. Either way, you're always hearing that more people die from bee stings than shark attacks, surely you will be fine. You come to the surface spluttering and see the fin break the surface, yet you still cannot tell what it is. The creature gives no indication that it is dangerous. In fact it's playful, you see its shadow swimming around under you, doing loop the loops and all sorts of tricks. Underwater you feel it brush against you; there are scars on its skin. This scares you; however it still seems to be just swimming around, friendly… You start having lots of fun playing. Yet every time you feel those scars, your stomach drops. The boat returns and is bobbing nearby- you have the means to immediately extract yourself from the water… And now you have a dilemma. You're scared, but it seems fun. Can something with so many scars be safe? Your friends and family in the boat don't understand your fear; they can't see the scars and your descriptions can't quite capture what you feel as the creature brushes against you. Some are jealous and marvel at how lucky you are, and you feel guilty that you cannot fully appreciate it. The fear makes you tired. You start to worry that you will just drown…

This is a discussion on judgement. The above situation represents my experiences of being thrown straight in the deep end of the relationship game and provides an emotional context for my discussion…

We live in a postmodern society where relativism is highly prized for its ability to give one the freedom and excuse to do whatever one wants, providing you are not directly, or presently hurting anyone. The apparently archaic saying "Judge not lest ye be judged" has been embraced in wider and wider circumstances. People just shrug and say "Whatever floats your boat…" Morals are considered archaic, which is probably fair enough given their destructive use in the past to isolate, persecute and denigrate individuals.

Partner: "How many would you expect?"
Myself: "Well, I'd expect you to be able to count them on your hands…?"

A discussion with my then-partner about his sexual history yielded to me a surprising, and unsettling result- an apparently lengthy history of casual sexual encounters with a high number of different individuals (I say 'apparently' because only after the breakdown of the relationship, months down the track, would I be informed that he was insecure about a lack of sexual encounters and thought to up the number, despite my virginal status. So for all intents and purposes this was the number.) I was unsettled, even repulsed. Yet I was not sure whether I had the right to be:

Friend: "So he didn't actually do anything to you? So what's the problem?"

Good question. What does one do when you make an intuitive value judgement against the behaviour of another? Or, more specifically, the past behaviour of another? Is one allowed to act on it?

Society has tried to condition me to espouse the extreme, almost childish view of freedom- the ability to satiate the id within us. Yet somehow I managed to acquire a different ideal through my family upbringing. This one has a greater awareness of people as family, community, social beings, rather than as George Bernard Shaw says; "feverish, selfish little clot[s] of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." There is a value structure in my upbringing that upholds respect and care of others as well as the self. Somewhere along the way this value structure began to much more resemble a moral stance. Behaviours that I considered self-destructive or disrespectful became 'wrong.' Engaging in numerous random sexual encounters fell in to this category. This left me floundering. I was already in the water, I'd been having fun, and I was committed. Yet I was confused at my feelings of revulsion. He hadn't done anything to me. It was all 'before my time.' Yet I couldn't shake it.

We discussed it. Over and over. For months. Discussions where we tried to gain an understanding of each other's feelings and positions. Circular discussions, often escalating to tears as we realised we were getting nowhere. Over and over. Tears escalated to convulsions of panic on my behalf. Fear cut at me, as real and as physical as a knife in my gut. The days turned gloomy. All the amazing trips, parties and nights out could never quite distract from the darkness lingering in the back of my head - a darkness that just seemed to take a life of its own, make the future hopeless.
This is the nature of depression. I was not able to recognise it at the time. I knew little about it. But after I got treatment and started psychotherapy, I gained an empowerment. I ended the relationship, a decision that was very difficult at the time, because I still didn't trust my judgement. The action was, however, validated by a confession of deceit by him the day after.

It became immediately apparent to me, the difference in my hope for the future. It really was like the sun had come out. I had a new honours course starting that I could be passionate about. Putting effort into self care, like cooking great food or having a bath with candles and quiet music, these kinds of things assumed an inherent value to me that lifted my esteem. I surrounded myself with friendly people and learnt to be thrilled with life.

Here is what I have learnt. We all make judgements. They are intuitive. They are evolutionarily required for the survival of the species. If a man runs at you in the street with a knife, you need to make the judgement that you are probably not safe, and should flee. Judgement is intrinsic, so we must recognise and listen to it. To not listen can have very damaging consequences. I hope this doesn't come across as me advocating the discrimination of people who have different values to our own. It's about self care and recognition. Likewise people also need to take responsibility for their actions and realise that a consequence of them may be that they will be judged by another in the future.

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