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Cunobaros

Attitude problems

In the article Find five faults, I wrote about habits, behavioural patterns and attitudes. It might be a good idea to explain these a bit more.

For what is a person? A collection of habits. Prejudices, opinions, taste and preferences are habits, showing how we're used to think, used to feel, used to react. And we tend to follow the tracks laid down by our habits.

A habit is ... er ... a habit. It's something you habitually do. I've got the habit of checking The Register first thing in the morning when I log on to the computer at work. I've got the habit of having a cigarette after dinner.

Behavioural patterns are like habits, but come from a different source. Habits you can break, if you want to, as long as you are aware of them. A habit is just a matter of going on like before, to do what one is used to doing. Not because you need to, but because it's more comfortable that way, so you know what to expect and don't have to change anything. A habit is self-contained.

But behavioural patterns aren't. They're reflections, manifestations, symptoms of attitudes. Attitudes? Again, a habit, or a prejudice. An attitude is how you think and feel about something, and the behavioural patterns are how this manifests.

We'll need an example here, I think. Where it's possible I prefer to take examples from myself, but it's often very hard to spot your own attitudes and behavioural patterns. So let's invent an example person,based on people I know. Call her Emma.

Emma tries to improve herself, both in matters she discovers herself and such as are pointed out to her by others. Like everybody else, Emma is a complex individual, with contradicting sides. Like everybody else, she has many attitudes that gives her behavioural patterns. Like everybody else, she has attitudes and behavioural patterns that contradicts each other. When that happens, Emma feel lousy. Like everybody else.

Emma is reliable and helpful. When you ask if she can help you move house, or babysit, or proofread a paper, she almost always says yes. And she works hard, very hard, so that the person asking her will be pleased. Often, you don't even have to ask. She might come and tell you that she's found you a new job or flat, or she might disappear for a while when she's visiting you and return to tell you that she's done the dishes. Emma always asks "Is it convenient for you or should I come back another time?" the first thing she does when she calls or comes to visit unannounced.

Emma doesn't say no. That's a behavioural pattern. Emma does things to make other people happy. That's another. Emma makes excuses when she's intruding. That's a third.

And she could change, could break a behavioural pattern. She could stop excuse herself, for instance. One day she does, because all her friends have got tired of it and told her to stop, saying "If you're intruding I'll tell you, otherwise you're welcome."

Emma done good.

Good? No. Emma hasn't broken that pattern. She has given herself a habit, at first consciously but as it takes hold it will feel natural. She makes a habit of surpressing that question, to not ask it it's convenient. She wants to, but people have complained, and she wants to make them happy, so she swallows that phrase, every time. After a while she doesn't have to think about it; it has become a habit.

The people around her thinks that Emma has listened and changed, but she has only painted a bit of the facade. She continues to say yes when people ask her for a favour, she continues to do things unasked, to make people happy. And nobody's complaining about that.

You see, Emma has an attitude that tells her that people will only like her if she can do something for them. That attitude also says that she doesn't do enough, that she's not good enough. So she works hard, she is there for you, she's afraid to intrude, to be in the way. Those behavioural patterns are the manifestations of that attitude.

Say Emma has a close friend who tells her to stop being so damn unselfish, and to start thinking of herself a bit. To say no, to not let herself be used. Emma listens and tries to change herself. After some years of attempts to change herself, Emma has a very unstable and self-conflicting mess of surpressed behaviours and habits adopted to cover them. Since she knows that she hasn't changed her behaviour, but just done things to hide it, Emma feels bad about it.

If, however, she could get rid of that attitude instead, she wouldn't have to do anything about her behavioural patterns, since they wouldn't have anything to manifest from. It doesn't matter how many she surpresses, as there will always be new ways for her attitude to manifest itself.

So if someone explained this to Emma, and explained that she is liked and loved for who she is, not what she does... It would require a lot of work, because attitudes are habits of thinking and feeling that often have very deep roots.

It's hard, very hard to uproot an attitude. It's so much easier to add another layer of make-up, another mask. To consciously try surpress the attitude and its manifestations, to hide it...

To hide, in effect, who you are. How balanced and comfortable do you think you'd feel if you keep doing that?

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