I once had to deal with a self-referential self-promoting “expert” in the field of professional ethics.
This person was actively promoting the use of kick-backs for referrals. When I pointed out that many codes of professional conduct related to their field of work expressly proscribe such behaviour, the response was immediate and absolute. “Nobody who knows me would ever say I am unethical”!
I marvelled at the seemingly iron-clad belief in their ethical purity. In their view they were beyond question and all of their actions were inherently ethical merely because of who they were. I momentarily envied this apparent state of bliss and self-certainty until coming to my senses and realising they were not only dangerously deluded, but also very brittle.
The complete failure to engage in any critical thinking, and the apparent belief in the perfect and its achievement belied a very insecure individual. There is strong and there is brittle. Strength is tested – sometimes to breaking point. The strong know and accept their limits and gain confidence from that knowledge. The brittle have no true sense of their strengths and no desire to find out.
Strength generally does not advertise itself, it is there when required, whereas the brittle need to hear how strong they are, and this is reflected in self-affirmations, a weakness for flattery and a tendency to be seduced by positive and optimistic messages.
The defining characteristic of brittleness is catastrophic failure, like a shattered crystal glass. We know when we are brittle, that is why we avoid any deliberate critical-self reflection, and avoid any negative feedback.
Indeed, when we are feeling brittle, it can stem from ingrained patterns of self-critical or self-flagellating talk, that has become so automatic we are barely aware of its corrosive presence. This can leave us vulnerable and avoidant.
Critical self-reflection is not an invitation to beat up on ourselves, but rather the opportunity to grow stronger by recognising that we are not and never will be perfect, which is OK, but that we can and have the capacity to grow and become better. Therein lies our true strength.
Jim Bright, FAPS is professor of career education and development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright