Tag Archives: integrity

The engineer and the diplomat

I used to think that I had poor social skills. So I worked hard to improve, and learned a lot of specific skills for interacting with people more effectively. My life is a lot better for it. I have deeper friendships, and conversations go interesting places fast. I'm frequently told that I'm an excellent listener and people seek me out for emotional support, and even insight into social conflict. But I'm told that I have poor social skills more often than before.

Not everyone means the same thing by social skills. It's important to distinguish between the social skills that are valued for their own sake – the social skills people identify themselves with – and the social skills that are a means subordinated to some other specific ends. Continue reading

My life so far: motives and morals

This is the story of my life, through the lens of motivations, of actions I took to steer myself towards long-term outcome, of the way the self that stretches out in causal links over long periods of time produced the self I have at this moment. This is only one of the many ways to tell the story of my life. Continue reading

A still small voice: a method for integrity

This is the story of how playing around with different voices let me give voice to my unconscious, and perhaps my conscience as well.

Playing with voices

A lover once told me that, during sex, I spoke with a different voice, which sounded fake. I reflected on this for a while, and realized that I sounded fake because, for once, I was speaking directly from an authentic sense of caring as I experience it.

Mostly, when I try to show caring for my friends, it’s not a direct spontaneous expression of my inner state. I don’t expect that the mode of caring I feel will be understood. Warm feelings are the kind of caring people mostly expect, but they come and go, and they don’t feel fundamental to me. The kind of caring that feels most real to me doesn’t feel like warmth. It feels hard, like there are steel cables linking my solid core to their well-being, so if they’re tugged off-center it affects me directly. It feels like my well-being is permanently tied to theirs. It feels like a sense of determination. But that’s not the emotional affect people expect from their friends, so instead I’ve learned to throw warmth at them, put on a gentle friendly mask that projects a feeling of, this is safe, I am not judging you, I want to hear how you feel and help you. It’s honest - but it’s not, in some sense, authentic. Because when I actually give people uncensored access to my internal state, they read me as fake. Continue reading

Looking at your story, looking at the world

This is a kind of prequel to Iterated Self-Improvement.

Reading Bonds That Make Us Free, it occurs to me that it, Ayn Rand, Games People Play, and The Last Psychiatrist are all talking about the same vision of evil, and proposing different alternatives to it.

Bonds That Make Us Free calls it self-betrayal, when you tell a story about how you can’t help it, how it’s really other people who are responsible for your failures and if it weren’t for them, you’d be good. It proposes as an alternative a genuine outward orientation of love towards others.

Ayn Rand calls it social psycho-epistemology, where the opinions and feelings of people are what are truly real and the material world is a social construct or matter of opinion, and contrasts it with rational selfishness where you orient yourself towards the world outside, and try to make it the way you want it without worrying about justification or conformity. Other people's thoughts shouldn’t be as real to you as the material world, and the life you want to live in it. You can only pick one - living in your own world, or living in the world of other people's intentions. Similarly, you can trade your need for their justification and vice versa - or you can trade value for value. Rereading Atlas Shrugged was able to temporarily pull me out of a days-long downwards spiral recently - because it suddenly seemed boring to present my needs as a claim check. It seemed contemptible. It seemed like a betrayal of self and integrity. So I stopped - at least for a bit. I started thinking again about how to provide value for my friends, even as it seemed nearly impossible to succeed at.

The Last Psychiatrist calls it narcissism - the desire to be seen as good, and as fitting your role, rather than the intention to be good to others, to fulfill one’s responsibilities, to discharge one’s duties.

Games People Play doesn’t really have a vision of the good, but it talks about how people set themselves up in situations where they can show that they’re justified, instead of acting towards their nominal goals, because what they care about is the justification.

I think I’ve been struggling with this problem. In mid-August I was too worried about how I was failing in one of my relationships to take responsibility for my own experiences. I’ve been too worried about being a responsible, conscientious worker to think about what kind of rhythm of life I actually want and am willing to accept. I wasted thought cycles on how the house I'd just moved into with friends wasn’t good yet and I’d been incompetent, instead of trying to make it good for myself in immediately achievable ways.

But I also seem to have something like the opposite problem more often.

Continue reading