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Defining ourselves through daily interactions

We can all think of personal examples of hiding the truth from ourselves through persistently telling ourselves a story that lets us off the hook.

Defining ourselves through daily interactions

“Do not sell your soul in exchange of anything. This is the only thing you have brought into this world. And the only thing you can take back.”


During the past weeks I have been in the midst of selling and buying property.  I am selling my gorgeous little house (part of my pension set up) in Tamworth to fund an apartment in Sydney with the purpose of supporting my youngest to have stable accommodation.

I thought the tenant in Tamworth had been treated very well.  During Covid, there had been times of very little rent (he paid only what he could afford) and there were no rent increases.  Yet he left the place with lots of damage and lots of rubbish for us to clean up.  And refused to hand the keys back.  It was surprising and saddening due to my expectations.

The apartment in Waterloo was sold by a man called Jihab (he calls himself Joseph).  Much of the information he provided about the apartment turned out to be lies.  None of the appliances worked – they had not been installed properly and some were damaged beyond repair.  It became clear that his insistence that the place had been rented out was to cover up for the faulty appliances.

Two experiences, and both of them unpleasant.  Yet one played much more on my mind than the other.

During the same week I attended the Sydney Writers Festival with a friend.  The first talk was by Robyn Davidson.  She was so impressive.  She described how challenging it is to write a memoir as you have to – sentence by sentence – keep your ego in check as its tendency is to make the self look a little kinder, more generous and cleverer than is warranted.

After the talk we both looked at each other and both had the same thought: how moral she seemed.

This made me think about the word ‘moral’.  It seemed I had two immoral behaviours to deal with and it was reassuring to hear an example of the opposite.

I had experienced frustration with our Tamworth man, but not anger, perhaps because he was my first source of frustration along a similar theme.  With Jihad, the anger was intense, perhaps because his behaviour was premeditated, it was deliberate.  I had written emails (which he had ignored) and the final one appealed to him to do the right thing for the sake of his life trajectory.  I had just finished that email when my son looked up the meaning of the name ‘Jihad’.  It comes from the Arabic jihād, literally ‘effort’, expressing, in Muslim thought, struggle on behalf of God and Islam.  Struggle between good and wrong.  I thought it was a very appropriate name for Joseph, fighting a moral battle that he seemed to be losing.

From one perspective you can be curious about why someone would choose to sell his soul, to become fraudulent for less than 0.08% of a deal. Perhaps he doesn’t realise what he is selling, giving up?  He has now committed an act of deception, harming others for his own gain.  But he might not see it like that.

Interestingly, in spite of the written statements from trades people, Jihad kept insisting that all appliances had worked perfectly, a lie that seems insane up against facts.  But he might have kept insisting on this lie in order not to see himself as a fraud.  If he could keep telling himself that all the appliances were working and I was just a difficult woman, then he could walk along feeling good about himself.  No change was required.  Delusion is a powerful force when it comes to camouflaging our immoral behaviour from ourselves. 

We can all think of personal examples of hiding the truth from ourselves through persistently telling ourselves a story that lets us off the hook.

Another source of my anger towards Jihab was the feeling that the behavior was not right, it causes harm and spreads mistrust in our society – and that is not ok.  We all need to try not to spread misery, but rather trust, goodwill and kindness.

This was Robyn Davidson’s point: be vigilant with your ego, do not let it run away from you, do not let it dictate how you show up.  That is hard at times and we will all fail, but the world does not need perfection, it needs our dedication to being decent and moral, doing the right thing.

Being moral is then about keeping our self-interest at bay and continuing to be committed to the big picture.  What is my behaviour giving to the world?  What is my attention giving to the world?

As always, the principle that applies to the macro also applies to the micro. The nonsense billboard that I drive past on the way to town says: ‘Put yourself first’.  We all do that all the time – that is not the issue – but we are not good at putting the big picture first.  We all lack impulse control, sacrificing the delight or avoidance of the moment for the big picture.  Commitment to our health is every day sacrificed for the comfort of the bed or the couch. The commitment to reading more is sacrificed for the phone, the commitment to losing weight is sacrificed for a second piece of cake.  So it is not about putting self first, rather it is about managing your impulses for the sake of the big picture, be that your life, our town, our society or the world.

We all put in, all the time.  Every interaction has the butterfly effect on the total soup that we live in.  It is our responsibility to work on managing our self-interest because self-interest pulls us away from the glorious inputs into the soup that we are all otherwise able to contribute.

If you are needing assistance with mindfulness, start with our free resources on our website: https://themindfulnessclinic.com.au/resources/

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