Friday, December 09, 2005

Additional Thoughts
From (and About) Dr. Phil

In a prior blog entry, I quoted Dr. Phil McGraw (the popular TV shrink) on the subject of New Year's resolutions --- and, in a broader sense, on the topic of what it takes to be a success in life. I took notes during some of his other shows, too. Other noteworthy quotes from Dr. Phil, followed by my comments (as indicated by the initials MP):

Dr. Phil: "You can't change what you don't acknowledge."

MP: That certainly seems applicable to people with problems of any kind. Living in "da' Nile" is good if you're a crocodile or a hippo. Living in denial is unwise. One could even argue that it's sinful, since lying is a sin, and "living in denial" is just another way of lying to yourself.

Dr. Phil: "People who have nothing to hide hide nothing."

MP: Well, usually that's true. Sometimes people are forced by circumstances to hide things for which they have no legitimate reason to be ashamed. To paraphrase Al Pacino, some people can't handle the truth.

For example, in the course of a job interview, most people say that it's unwise to say bad things about your former employer, even if that person deserves it. Hence, euphemisms abound in many job interviews.

A job applicant is often asked, "Why did you leave your last job?" In response, the applicant may say, "My boss and I had incompatible personalities," when what that person really wants to say is, "My boss was an egomaniacal jerk who treated me like garbage for no apparent reason."

It's sad, but nevertheless true, that survival in this world can sometimes be a matter of whether or not you're willing to play the game, even if that means being less than completely forthcoming in some situations.

Nevertheless, it's always better if you can find some way to tell the truth, even if it's just a partial truth. Some people call this "spinning the truth" or "focusing on the positive" or "diplomacy", but whatever you call it, it's sometimes necessary if you don't want to be forever handicapped by past circumstances over which you had no control.

Dr. Phil: "You teach people how to treat you."

MP: Here, Phil's saying that if you put up with all kinds of garbage from people, don't be surprised when they continue to unload their trash cans on your front lawn. Amen to that! I believe in the need for forgiveness, but unlike a lot of Christians, I also believe in holding people accountable for their actions. If you don't stand up for your right to be treated fairly, then you bear part of the blame for any subsequent abuse you may receive from that same person.

More importantly you may also bear part of the blame when such people go on to abuse others, as they almost certainly will if no one forces them to deal with the consequences of their actions. Even if you're a completely selfless person, that's something to take into consideration.

Dr. Phil: "Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior."

MP: This is related to the quote about teaching people how to treat you. Again, forgiveness is an important component in the life of every Christian, but I don't think God expects us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that people who have proven through their acts that they aren't trustworthy can be trusted. Lying to yourself isn't any more admirable than any other kind of lying. People who genuinely want to turn over a new leaf should always be given the chance to do so, but those who refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing should understand that there will be consequences for their refusal to repent.

Dr. Phil: "You'd care less about what other people thought of you if you knew how seldom they do."

MP: That's supposed to make a person feel good? But, no, Phil's right. Besides, people think all kinds of things, and what may impress one person in a positive way may impress someone else with different values in a completely different way. One person may think that the fact that you're a virgin (as I am) is a testimony to your ability to resist the temptation to sin sexually. Another person with different values may think that all virgins are losers. No matter who you are, you'll never please everyone, so you need to worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what God thinks of you. Ultimately, his opinion trumps all other opinions anyway.

Dr. Phil: "Money problems can't be solved with money."

MP: That's pretty simplistic, I think. It depends on how one defines a money problem. Even the hardest-working person with the best money management skills sometimes comes up short due to circumstances beyond his or her control.

Consider the victims of Hurricane Katrina! Telling them that their money problems couldn't be solved by money would have sounded like a lame excuse to abstain from helping them to rebuild their lives in the wake of that crisis, for which most of them were not to blame.

Even in cases where people get into financial trouble on account of unwise personal choices, that's still no excuse for treating them with calloused indifference. We all make bad decisions sometimes, and since that's the case, we ought to treat others as we would want to be treated in similar circumstances.

Besides, even if it's true that a person with bad money management skills will eventually get into financial trouble again, a temporary solution is better than no solution at all, since it buys time in which the person may conceivably be able to assess past mistakes in order to learn from them.

So, O.K., Dr. Phil isn't perfect. Who is? Nevertheless, I think that the vast majority of the quotes listed above (and in the preceding blog post) are useful, particularly to people who are struggling with various issues and challenges in their lives.

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