Right thinking is thinking is the key to right acting. Years of counseling experience has taught me how profoundly true this is. Of course, much research solidly backs up premise, too. Moreover, it matters not only what we think but how we think. Our core beliefs and attitudes exert great influence over our behavior. That’s the heart of cognitive-behavioral paradigm. (For more on this see: A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.)
The connection between thinking and behavior couldn’t be more intimate. In fact, if you want to know what someone really believes, pay close attention to their actions. People will say anything. Talk, as they say, is “cheap.” Actions better bespeak attitudes. I addressed this strongly in In Sheep’s Clothing. Skilled manipulators know what you want to hear. And they’ll tell you anything to have their way. Moreover, they’re expert at justifying conduct that hurts. That’s why one of tools of empowerment I outline is: “Judge actions, not intentions.”
What makes for right thinking? It’s thinking guided by principle. And not just any principle. The overriding principle has to be love. True love. Not romantic infatuation or over-idealization. Not passionate desire either. And certainly not the urge to possess. Rather, the willingness to honor and serve life. (For more on the importance of willingness, read The Judas Syndrome.) Giving oneself for the very cause of life. That’s love. It’s the mark of integrity. And once we’ve come to think rightly, we better know how to love. Likewise, when we’re truly loving, we necessarily think more rightly. So, it’s not just that right thinking leads to right acting. Right acting leads to right thinking, too.
Getting it Right in the Head
I’ve worked with disturbed characters for many years. What and how they think about things can be pretty appalling. In A.A. groups they talk about “stinking thinking.” That’s the twisted ways folks tend to think when inebriated. But all disturbed characters think in distorted, problematic ways. Accordingly, their behavior often follows suit.
Folks in relationships with disturbed characters instinctively try to reason with them. They tend to believe that if they could only get their bad actor to “see” what they’re doing and the harm it’s causing, they’d stop. Sadly, as I point out in all my workshops, this is futile. Besides, it’s totally unnecessary. Most of the time, they already “see.” There isn’t a thing you can tell them they haven’t heard many times before. The problem is, they see but still disagree. That is, they understand the principle at stake. However, in their hearts, they’re at odds with it.
Most disturbed characters can grow out of their moral infancy. But that takes a lot of right thinking. More importantly, it takes a complete change of mentality. Philosophers have long called this metanoia. This Greek word means a change of heart and mind. Such a change is necessarily transformative. A person begins to act differently. And not just for show. They act differently consistently, across a wide range of situations. They’re no longer driven by impulse. Rather, they’re guided by principle. They no longer merely “see.” They’ve finally come to agree. As some 12-steppers understand, they’ve turned both their lives and their wills over to something bigger. (For more on this topic see: How to Spot a Converted Heart. ) Facilitating this process therapeutically is a true art. (See: Character Disturbance and the Art of Confrontation.) And sadly, it’s an art not widely known or practiced.
The Next Step
I’ll be summing up the “6th Commandment” next week. From there, we’ll launch into a discussion of the final steps toward solid character.