Making Excuses To Strangers Is A Sign Of Self-Orientation

Earlier this week, I wrote about the critical role played in the Trust Equation by the factor of Self-Orientation.   The brief version is:

The biggest killer of trustworthiness is high self-orientation – a tendency to focus too much on ourselves.

That’s the theory. Now let’s have fun with some examples.

With a tip o’ the hat to Jeff Foxworthy, who invented this peculiarly American quasi-haiku format:

·    If you find yourself making excuses to a stranger for something a good friend would have forgotten about days ago – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you lose more than 45 minutes of sleep re-running what you should have said in that conversation – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you go from thinking you’re the greatest to thinking you are worthless – and back again – within two minutes – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you apologize more than three times for something pretty trivial – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you are pretty sure that that song really was about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you immediately lose interest in a potential customer when it appears they won’t buy this month – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If it bothers you that probably no song will ever be about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you take great pride in beating your grandmother at Scrabble (and you’re over 20, and she’s over 80) – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you are presenting to a client, and the client disagrees about an issue, and your pulse rate goes up 20 points – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you’re worried that everyone’s always talking about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If it worries you that no one is ever talking about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If someone suggests a change in something you did, and you respond by explaining why you did it — three times in a row – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you think, “wow, I just did the same thing last month” constitutes empathy – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If a potential client says, “your prices are too high,” and it makes you feel attacked or angry – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you think self-flagellation is a virtue – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you were in charge of the company picnic and it rained, and you feel guilty – you might be highly self-oriented.

Here’s a hint. Your job is to do the best you can to help others—and to give up control over the outcome. An expectation on your part is just a pre-meditated resentment.

10 replies
  1. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Great post, Charlie. We often talk about how trust is paradoxical. I think the domain of self-orientation is another example of that: the more self-aware we are, the lower our self-orientation. Thanks for holding up the mirror. I saw myself in a few of those one-liners!

    Reply
  2. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Great post, Charlie. We often talk about how trust is paradoxical. I think the domain of self-orientation is another example of that: the more self-aware we are, the lower our self-orientation. Thanks for holding up the mirror. I saw myself in a few of those one-liners!

    Reply
  3. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    I made the mistake of drinking coffee while reading the list and I’m still cleaning up the spill from laughing so hard over the one about being in charge of the company picnic.

    Thanks to Andrea for publicly admiting that she saw herself in several examples…can’t imagine a consultant/saleperson anywhere that can’t identify w/some of these, including myself! Self awareness can be so painful…and messy.

    Reply
  4. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Charlie,

    I, for one, would not consider these examples to be "stupid." Many of us rely on these orientations to our world in order to feel emotionally and psychologically safe, secure, capable, and the like. Many see some of these "excuses" more as "reasons" and support for reacting the way they do as they come from an inner feeling place of lack or deficiency. I have.

    Too, making such defensive (perhaps,  rather than stupid) statements to not only strangers but to loved ones  and close friends shows how fragile we can be when we face our own limitations. When we live in our own world of misperceptions, misconceptions, misunderstandings and assumptions, it’s often difficult for some folks to admit their vulnerability and thus they need to come up with their own "stories" to justify their behaviors and reactivity. 

    Looking in the mirror and asking "Who am I?" and "How am I" right here and right now is a great first step in raising self-awareness, as you suggest. The question, then becomes, "What do I do, if anything, as a result of my new awareness?" "Nothing" is a common response for some. Lessening self-orientation can be very threatening and scary for some folks as it speaks to giving up their "identity."

    No one gets up in the morning and says, "I’m going to be a jerk today." Ditto, many of those who use such excuses to "survive" throughout their day. 

    Wonderful posts and thank you!

    Reply
  5. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Peter, what you wrote makes a great deal of sense of me, because I find that my self-orientation is higher in situations where I feel insecure. If I feel secure, it is much easier to act with a lower self-orientation.  I also think that if I’m in a difficult situation, and I can find my way to act in low-self orientation behaviours, that can lead me to feel more secure, too.

    Reply
  6. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Good point Shaula – the proportion of safety/security to self-orientation.

    The quality of our self-awareness is a function of our level of consciousness. It’s our level of consciousness that indicates the degree to which we contribute to mutuality in trust-based relationships. The way we handle our own internal issues and challenges determines how we are as we engage in our interactions with others. When we change our consciousness, we change our behavior. If we work, internally, on our sense of insecurity or deficiency, we’re more able to live in a place of low self-orientation, which allows us to orient to the world and folks in it from a place that is more loving (in all of its flavors) and inclusive….not needing to shore our self up with defensiveness, e.g., excuses, stories and judgments of others amd the like.

    Reply
  7. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Peter, I wonder, for many of us, how much the quality of our self-awareness relates to whether we have people in our lives that make us feel like we have a self worth being aware of? In my own case, my husband and I have both remarked that we find the other to be positive and supportive, and that makes each of us feel so emotionally and psychologically secure that it becomes much easier to take risks and be generous and supportive with other people. (Yes, we do talk about these sorts of things, and yes, I am exceptionally lucky to be married to my husband.)

    Charlie, on a different note, I feel like there may be a cultural nuance to some of the examples you list above.

    For example, "If you apologize more than three times for something pretty trivial – you might be highly self-oriented." This might be excessive for an American, but when I worked in Japan, three apologies for something trivial wasn’t necessarily excessive.

    Likewise, " If you think self-flagellation is a virtue – you might be highly self-oriented." Alternatively, you might just be American, not Russian. (And here’s the study that article references: The Impact of Culture on Adaptive Versus Maladaptive Self-Reflection)

    Reply
  8. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Shaula, on a personal level, I would answer  a resounding "yes!" to your question. When we surround ourselves with positive, life-affirming people, (vs. toxic, negative folks) who value us and honor our worth (even in challenging times), that is infectious.

     

    However, it’s also important to remember our feelings of being "less than," "not ____ enough" (fill in the blank with what we heard as children ), very early on in life have created these feelings and beliefs around lack and deficiency. While surrounding ourselves with "positive" folks as adults can be supportive, often this energy is ephemeral because these early "structures" are still embedded in our cells and minds and they will leak out in our adult lives again and again. My experience says we have to work with these structures to reduce and eliminate them to really experience our True and Real Self-the Self that is OK with the world no matter what the world throws at us. Often the "strength" (or courage, or happiness) we feel as adults is a "faux strength" (or courage or happiness) which our mind generates to shore us up in the moment (of feeling "less than") as opposed to the essential soul quality of Strength (or Courage or Happiness) which arises almost automatically without having to "think" about it or "do" anything to make it happen. True inner peace and well-be-ing  reside in this deeper, inner part of our being – and it’s from here we have the capacity to live life from a place of equanimity, not efforting, struggling or excuse-making.

     

    To me, it sounds like your and your partner have a mutually respectful and supportive relationship. You’re very fortunate.

    Reply
  9. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Shaula, I find your comments extremely interesting and provocative.  I’ve been thinking about them for several days, that’s why the silence from this end.

    To the "rule of three apologies" and Japan being a counter-example, bingo.  You are exactly right.  In that society, many more gestures than three are culturally appropriate and don’t reflect anything out of the ordinary in terms of self-orientation.

    But that raises an interesting implication: in Japanese culture, is it possible to be excessively self-oriented? 

    I would think the answer is yes.  Because I think that self-orientation reflects a fundamental disturbance between oneself and others.  It is a form, not of mental illness, but of social or spiritual illness.  Excessive self-orientation, as I think of it, means we have got the balance wrong between ourselves and others.  We are not at ease with it, we are at dis-ease with it. And until we can be comfortable with the relationship between ourselves and others, we are in some sense disturbed–socially or spiritually, as I see it.

    If that makes sense, then I think there has to be some outer limit of self-orientation in Japan as well as anywhere else.  To think otherwise is to indict an entire culture as being spiritually bankrupt, and I think that would be the height of arrogance. 

    Three apologies?  You’re right–that boundary, I suspect, is culturally determined.  It’s some larger number of apologies, or perhaps apologies aren’t even the relevant behavior by which to identify self-orientation.  But I suspect something else is.

    The Russian example I think I still don’t understand–but thank you so much for sending it along.  What I take it to mean is that Russians are more introspective (‘brooding’ to me means introspection with a Dostoyevskian bent), but they don’t fall into self-orientation as much as do Americans given the same amount of introspection. 

    I recall some psychologists (David Schnarch, I think) who talk about ‘differentiation,’ which they define as the ability to empathize with others while still fully retaining their own sense of identity, rather than merging into the identity of others.  That’s what I see here.  It says to me Russians can better look into their souls and still see the search as an objective one.  Americans look into the well, and fall in.  Makes some intuitive sense to, though darned if I can say why.

    Thank you for these fascinating and insightful comments.

     

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.