Feeling Self-righteous

When I recently read the book Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs, and got to the following description of his state of mind during the twelfth month in his quest for health, I managed more than just the occasional chortle he elicits, I snorted with laughter.

“My current state of mind: self-righteous. I feared this would happen. I try to fight it, but I can feel it taking hold: I’m becoming a health fundamentalist. . . here I am, healthier than thou. I spend way too much time judging others. I know it’s obnoxious, and probably unhealthy, but in my defence, I’m surrounded by some massive transgressions against the gods of health.”

Comedy is built around human follies and foibles, and when we recognise these in ourselves we cannot help but laugh. Yes, I know about self-righteousness. I catch myself occasionally acting out a “holier-than-thou” scenario. Most of the time it is just in my head, but sometimes it spills out in the form of criticisms or judgements. I am not entirely sure why I have this urge, but I have noticed that it is mostly triggered by whatever I feel particularly passionate about. It is when I get gripped by passion that my emotions tend to spiral out of control and I lose all objectivity, and hence control of careful thoughts and words. In these moments I can still hear my mother’s voice as she so often cautioned me as a teenager: “Put a guard in front of your mouth.”

The premise of my argument is not necessarily flawed, but why would I have this need towards self-righteousness? Why can’t I just make a statement or articulate my viewpoint without thinking that it is better than that of others? I am always a bit shocked and, truth be told, disappointed in myself whenever I get caught up in a self-righteous mind-set. Surely I know better?

And that is just the point. Knowing better is simply not enough. It is only when we start to apply what we know to what we think, feel and say that we start changing our behaviour patterns. Behaviour is after all not something we are born with, but what we acquire and learn, and as such, can be changed. If only it was not such hard work! Ugh! Well, I guess that the more opportunities I have to practise the better I’ll get at shedding this debilitating cloak of self-righteousness that sometimes wraps itself around my shoulders.


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