Summary: Try as you might, our God-given conscience simply won’t tolerate any attempt to see ourselves as better than we are without squelching deep inside us.
I remember being disappointed when I heard about Bing Crosby’s troubled relationships with his children. In 1983 his son Gary published a book “Going My Own Way” with shocking disclosures about Bing’s abusive forms of discipline.
I dropped my pants, pulled down my undershorts and bent over. Then he went at it with the belt dotted with metal studs he kept reserved for the occasion. Quite dispassionately, without the least display of emotion or loss of self-control, he whacked away until he drew the first drop of blood, and then he stopped. It normally took between twelve and fifteen strokes. I counted them off one by one and hoped I would bleed early. To keep my mind off the hurt, I would conjure up different schemes to get back at him, ways to murder him.
Apparently Bing was not the expressive, warm person he appeared to be in the movies. He was loathe to express affection or compliment. One time he credited his child-rearing methods to an Italian proverb: "Never kiss a baby unless he's asleep."
Bing Crosby represents a problem that plagues all human beings: The way we appear to others, even when we are being nice or doing significant things, may not reflect what’s going on in private.
When that happens we know it. Others might not. But we do. That leads to a deep sense of frustration within ourselves.
We don’t like that. We like to see ourselves as right, as good, as significant. There’s nothing wrong with this; indeed we were created to be right, good and significant. But when we aren’t, when bad things are going on inside of us, we don’t feel good about ourselves. So we try to make up for it with rationalization, or we unconsciously expect other people to make us feel better about ourselves.
But let me show you what that is like. Let me show you what happens when you try to make yourself feel better about yourself. This is a smoke detector. [Show detector.] What happens when it detects smoke? [Demonstrate.] It makes one of the most annoying sounds imaginable!
Did you know that you have something like a smoke detector inside of you that tells you any time you are “blowing smoke.” That’s a modern colloquialism for trying to fool someone.
Try as you might, our God-given conscience simply won’t tolerate any attempt to see ourselves as better than we are without squelching deep inside us. Oh, you won’t hear it with your physical ears. But it is a psychological squelch, a spiritually disturbing noise that never let’s you rest.
Even when you have people around you trying to tell you how wonderful you are, their voices cannot overcome the sound of this internal detector, because you know what their saying about you just isn’t true.
Years ago, famous child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott wrote an essay called “The Case of the Flying Ashtray.” In it he told the story of a young five-year-old boy sitting by himself in the back seat of his of the family’s car. His mommy and daddy were in the front seat with his baby brother snuggled between them.
The trip was long, but the young boy had been impressively quiet and well-behaved the whole time. Periodically the mom would turn around and compliment him enthusiastically, “Johnny, you are such a good boy! Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you!”
They were nearing the end of their journey and entering the dark Lincoln Tunnel, where little Johnny was fascinated by the sudden bright lights of the oncoming traffic. Mom had just complimented him again when all of the sudden he pulled out the ashtray in the arm rest and hurled it against the windshield, filling the car with a choking cloud of ashes, and two very confused parents.
That prompted them to bring Johnny to the eminent psychologist to ask him to diagnose Johnny’s behavior. Did he have some kind of behavioral disorder? They were very worried.
After spending just a little time with Johnny privately, Dr. Ginott got to the root of the issue. It seems little Johnny was very jealous of his baby brother’s new position as the apparent favorite child.
He was stewing over that issue when his mommy was complimenting him. She had just finished another round of compliments—You’re such a good boy—when they headed into the tunnel, and Johnny’s little mind imagined the oncoming traffic crashing into their car right in the center, doing away with baby brother but leaving mommy and daddy alive and him the only child again.
Dr. Ginott explained to the parents, “Human beings seem to be hardwired to be able to accept praise only if they perceive it to be true. If they know something about themselves that makes the praise impossible to accept, they will often act out in such a way as to disprove the praise.”