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Basic Instincts

Over the past decade or so, I have had the most amazing journey of knowing myself through my instincts. I have had a lifetime opportunity to bare in front of my eyes the myriad instincts that engulf me: elevating instincts, healthy instincts, harmless instincts, mediocre instincts and harmful instincts. Some of them I overuse [read abuse], others I consciously try to avoid. Needless to say, there are many others deeply embedded in my psyche of which I am yet unaware. But I am delighted when I look back upon the path - rather imperfectly treaded – and relish the multitude trials and tribulations I have confronted myself with joyously and with reducing shame.

Persevering to identify and ward off the mediocre instincts – many of them a conditionings of an imagined physiological affliction and many others a conditioning of a foolish, misplaced fear – has been fun. The most difficult part of the process of accepting something. Once accepted it will require due commitment to self-accountability and sustainable living to ward off the urge to take-up a convenient route. Mediocre and unhealthy instincts like slothfulness, inertia, unhealthy daily routines and taking shortcuts are the easiest to identify. Instincts which conflict a core value but apparently further a ‘hygiene need’ [real or imagined, like surviving, eating, living well] can be fairly easy too to identify.  

However, identifying and accepting harmful instincts that have operated under a vicious cover of a widely accepted positive value or principle has been more challenging. Interestingly, in this category I also include instincts that are healthy in isolation, but which can potentially become harmful because of ‘abuse’. They have a compelling logical reasoning and principle to fall back upon. A simple example being under the cover of finishing a work in time, I might be forwarding a document to someone without self-reviewing it diligently. Normally such an act [powered by the negative instinct to be hasty] is associated with a strong self-justification [covered by the principle to be timely] even though the gaffe maybe easily noticed by others and contradicts a larger principle or value [to give a good/nice experience to the reader and to be associated with high quality deliverables].

We face this instinct every day. Like overdoing something good [like working, social service, praying] and converting a sweet spot into a comfort zone [this is when we overuse a healthy instinct and make it harmful] or when we run away from a discomfort zone [raising a touchy issue and resolving it, avoiding a emotionally challenging situation, exercising that bit extra longer, keeping one’s mouth shut etc.] under the cover of a saleable value / principle [viz. rectitude, a discussion may hurt the other person, exercising will cut time away from helping at home, talking will help someone etc.]. While the principle in isolation is valuable and potent –relative to the context, the principle is plainly acting as a cover. At best that cover is preventing the person from realizing a larger goal and at worst it can plunge the person deeper in mediocrity.

I feel ‘shame’ [as a translation of the term ‘lajja’] is such an instinct – though not necessarily the most potent of such instincts. There is a positive social value associated with shame [at least is some societies] and there under the cover of shame we live in comfort zones for a lifetime. Values like being discrete and respectful also are regular culprits in covering up harmful instincts of not challenging oneself - to connect, to stick one’s neck out, to explain – fearing a reprisal

But normally, subjecting myself to a third assessment has helped immensely. The principle of expecting the same from myself as I would expect from someone responsible and dignified: Would I have justified and let off another person with a similar behavior in the same situation? Or better still which behavior of other persons in awkward situations I respect most and is there an opportunity for me to change? An affirmative answer to such questions have given a reason to look deeper and find a hidden sup-optimal instinct, fed by an under- cover ‘principle’. I have loved this journey to develop self-awareness to develop the necessary insights to watch out for the subtleties of the mind and the games we play with ourselves.

June 30, 2012


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