to have a strong reaction to people who seemed to misuse their
power. When people would act superior because they had a lot
of money, I would get a tight feeling in my jaw and gut. I
would think to myself that they should not be lording it over
other people just because they had more money, especially
if they hadn't even made the money themselves; it was an inheritance
they had not earned.
Then I took two courses: one on how to live
deliberately, the other on integrity.
As I did the course exercises, I discovered that the attitudes
and behaviors I was criticizing in others were actually
ones that I had exhibited but had not wanted to admit to
myself. I started to realize that, although I considered
myself a good person and had done many good things in my
life, I sometimes acted from self-serving intentions.
Specifically, I realized that I, too, had
lorded things over people; I had acted just like those people
I was reacting to. My technique, however, was a little different.
I used talents that I had inherited, instead of money, to
justify my acting superior-but the result was the same.
I made people feel small so that I could feel bigger.
Sometimes making myself feel bigger took
subtle forms. A professor in medical school had warned us
about the "I'm a wonderful doctor syndrome" and I began
to see that one form it took for me was in a kind of "nobility
complex." I would do this good work for people, but then,
secretly, I would think it removed me from obligations that
an everyday person would have, like taking out the trash
or responding to emails and phone calls or being patient
with my wife. Secretly, I would think, "I shouldn't have
to do those things because I'm contributing so much in other
areas. I'm too busy to be bothered with common concerns."
Similarly, when I gave to others, especially through committees
and boards I was on, my good work in the world became an
excuse not to live up to standards of average human decency.
It was initially a bit horrifying to realize
that I had put people down to build my own ego, and that
I had deceived myself that my giving was serving others
when it was really serving myself. After all, I was a psychiatrist
and medical school faculty member who was supposed to be
helping people, and here I was discovering that I had used
my power to make myself feel better at the expense of others.
This was not exactly the image I had of myself!
However, seeing my ill intentions with awareness
turned out to be incredibly freeing for me. I had had no
idea how much time, energy, and attention had gone into
keeping those bad intentions under wraps. I had had no idea
how separate it had made me feel from others.
It may seem simplistic to say, but as I
have become more aware of my intentions -discovering where
they have been altruistic and where they have been selfserving
-I've gained a surprising sense of wholeness and freedom.
I can feel how, in the past, I divided my power. I used
part of it to create things in the world and part of it
to keep my bad intentions in check. It was as if I had been
keeping an eye on myself to make sure I didn't do anything
wrong. Once I began to be honest with myself about my intentions,
I found that I could connect with other people more easily
because I didn't need to hide anything. As I began to shift
from self-serving intentions to service to others, I could
trust myself more freely- and it seemed that others could
put their trust in me as well.
Now, most times, when I see others who are
acting superior and self-serving, I don't have the strong
emotional reaction that I used to. Instead, I often feel
a sense of compassion because I know what it is like to
be on my high horse, and I'm able to respond more effectively
because I feel more centered and comfortable with others.
This has made me a more effective leader-and a happier person.
If I do have a strong reaction to somebody
or something, I ask myself:
What haven't I taken ownership
for in my own life? What haven't I assumed responsibility
for? Where might I be doing the same thing?
I use personal
integrity exercises [from the Integrity Mini-Course, see
sidebar] to initiate a process of selfexamination and to
realign with my best intentions.
These days I recommend to others, including
my patients, medical students, friends, and colleagues,
that they undertake some action to serve others with awareness;
and I recommend some work on the integrity of their own
intentions. In doing so, my hope is that others can experience
what Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian
poet, was alluding to in these lines:
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
Personal Integrity Mini-Course is
for free on the Internet
, along with the Basic Attention
Management Course and the Basic Will Course.
The Avatar® course and the Personal Integrity Mini-Course,
developed by Harry Palmer. Avatar®, Living Deliberately®,
and Star's Edge International® are registered trademarks of
Star's Edge International. All rights reserved.
S. Thompson, M.D., is associate professor and director of
the residency training program in the department of psychiatry
at the University of Missouri- Kansas City School of Medicine.
He also teaches the Avatar® course in the U.S. and abroad.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved