Saturday, December 02, 2006

Context: The Sequel

This morning on the hour-plus trek to Central Park to run the 7th of 9 NYRR qualifying races I need to complete this year for guaranteed entry to next year's NYC marathon, I flipped through the NYTimes Magazine, and almost skipped an article entitled, "The New, Soft Paternalism." (The Magazine section on isn't updated to this week yet; I'll add a link tomorrow.) On first glance, the article appeared to be about gambling self-blacklisting. However, I turned the page to the following highlighted text:

According to Hume, the self that inhabits your body today is only similar to, not identical with, the self that will inhabit your body tomorrow.

That's kind of not what I surmised yesterday.

The article goes on to say that "the self that will inhabit your body decades hence [will be] a virtual stranger."

This got me thinking about my own convictions; the ideas, opinions, and *values* that I consider to be so strong that they are unchangeable and define who I am.

About 6 weeks ago, I attended a workshop entitled "Managing Difficult Conversations" (based on the book "Difficult Conversations"). My biggest takeaway from the workshop was the concept of an "identity quake." The book surmises that
three identity issues seem particularly common, and often underlie what concerns us most during difficult conversations: Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?
When any of these issues are challenged, we can be knocked off-balance, or have an identity quake.

Now, about those convictions. When a challenge to one of these convictions involves an identity quake - that is, my belief that I am competent, a good person, or am worthy of love is questioned - it becomes much more difficult for me to change my mind, because I believe it (the idea, opinion, value, or belief) defines who I am. Although it doesn't happen all the time, I've certainly caught myself sticking by something I've said simply because I said it with such certainty that changing my mind would be second-guessing my very self.

That is, no matter how much I value someone's opinion, if I'm in a state in which I believe my identity is challenged, I'm less likely to objectively consider a different angle. On the other hand, if I'm confident in Who I Am, it becomes OK for me to change my mind about something, even something I once believed absolutely-and-without-a-doubt. Aha! There's that context again.

It seems to me that it takes a good deal of self-confidence to change what one holds as a firm belief, and that it might even be a sign of strength to change a fundamental conviction.

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