Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You are your secrets

O. Hobart Mowrer, the psychologist, set himself to understand more deeply our hollowed-out emotional lives. He noted that, commonly, when we perform a good deed, we advertise it, display it, draw attention to it, hoping to collect on the emotional credit of it then and there. But when we do something cheap, evil or stupid, we hide it, deny it, minimize it. And the discredit from that stays with us and even accumulates with each further sin. So we make ourselves chronically bankrupt in conscience and heart. Our lives are required of us, and we are found wanting. No felt "net worth." Lost confidence, pizzazz. Our positive energies are depleted by concealing, pretending, brooding.

Then Mowrer wondered, what if we reversed our strategy? What if we spent our lives admitting our weaknesses, owning up to our failures, naming our idiot-moments, confessing our follies, errors and debts, while also hiding away from everyone's view our smart ideas, heroic sacrifices, kind deeds, charities and virtues? What if, instead of throwing back at the other guy his worst failure while trotting out our best moment, we put up our worst against his best? And so forth. What would happen? Our hearts might start filling up.

He entitled his essay "You are your secrets." It is in his book The New Group Therapy, pages 65-71.

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . Your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:1, 4).