A World of Bad Actors
The world today is full of bad actors. You know, the character-impaired individuals who’ve never grown up. Toxic relationship survivors know this well. And they’ve no doubt asked themselves why. There are many reasons. However, a few stand out. Chief among them: a culture of indulgence and entitlement.
The Price of Indulgence
Research points to societies of two general types: indulgent or restrained. Indulgent societies permit, even promote the free gratification of human desires. If you want it, go for it! – that’s the motto. Restrained societies place rules over personal desires. They pressure folks to subordinate their individual wants to the greater social need. Naturally, that limits freedom. Now, in the healthiest of societies, a good balance gets struck. After all, too much restraint quashes the human spirit. But too much indulgence has its price, too. People too easily take license.
Bad actors can actually be born of either society. To much repression and containment can spark rebellion. And rebels make for the most notorious bad actors. However, too much indulgence can breed entitled, spoiled characters. Bad actors simply emerge more easily in indulgent atmospheres.
The Death of Self-Control
Several years back, an ages-old concept died: self-control. And as a result, too many came to see themselves as victims. Folks no longer thought in terms of making choices, all of which had consequences. They succumbed to a more externalized view. Our genes predispose us. Our biochemical imbalances make us do things. The environment we came out of shaped us. At least that’s what our society tells us. So, if we’re making a mess of our lives, it’s never our fault. Besides, a pill can always make things better. But mounds of research solidly point to one crucial factor for psychological health: the ability to delay gratification. You have to cultivate such an ability carefully. But in an indulgent world, just learning when and how to say “no” to oneself is difficult. And actually imposing a “no” when necessary is even more so.
Bad actors are mostly made, not born. Only the worst of them inherently lack the empathy capacity to be decent. So, to foster less character disturbance we have to focus mostly on the cultural factors promoting it.
Restoring the Balance
Folks used to having a lot and doing as they please can easily forget (or never come to know) the value of freedom or abundance. When you haven’t had to pay the price, you can’t possibly appreciate what something is worth. We have to get reconnected again to the things that matter and what they cost. Far too many people approach life and relationships with no idea of the self-management skill required to healthily enjoy either of these things.
We’ll be talking about all this in greater depth in the coming weeks. I’ll be revisiting the “10 Commandments of Character” but in a totally new light. (See also, How to Nurture Good Character.) The new series will focus on forging a life of integrity and purpose. And it will also serve as an introduction to my upcoming book.
Character Matters will feature a prerecorded program Sunday, November 26. This Sunday, November 19 will also likely feature a rebroadcast of an earlier program.
As always, thanks for recommending my books and this blog to others.