Don’t rationalize the obscene

25 Aug 2015

Don’t rationalize the obscene

Remember copying in school or college? For some people, this came hard. For some others, it was very easy. As adults today, we always hear of colleagues who claim personal expenses as business entertainment expenses. Or we hear of traffic cops who collect bribes and let defaulters off the hook. Why do some people put integrity and whole careers on the line for trivial gains?

A lot of the times it’s a result of rationalizing the obscene:

  1. The school boy who copies says if he fails his mother will be crushed. So he cheats to keep his mother happy.
  2. The employee who passes off personal expenses as business expenses tells himself, ‘I worked so hard on this tour. I deserve this.’
  3. A corrupt official continues to accept brides because he thinks, ‘This is the way the system works. I either toe the line or lose my place.’

When we are confronted with a difficult choice, it is human nature to choose the path of least resistance and then rationalize the obscene and make it more pleasant. But my theory is people aren’t born that way. They do it one too many times and suddenly, their threshold is lowered. Every year, the rationalizing voice gets more authoritative and the true inner voice gets feebler. But constant rationalizing is dangerous for growth. It means we’re going too easy on ourselves.

So the next time you’re confronted with a difficult situation and you’re tempted to take the easy way out, ask yourself:

  1. Can I explain this away on Facebook?
  2. Can I explain this away to my spouse or my parents?

If you hesitated, you were probably rationalizing your guilt.

In the award –winning series ‘House of Cards,’ Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey), a ruthless President who will do anything to stay in the White House tries to defend his actions to his rival, Heather Dunbar (played by Elizabeth Marvel). Heather tells him, ‘Is this how you live? By rationalizing the obscene and making it palatable?’ It is a chilling summation of Frank Underwood’s heart of darkness and it echoes our collective ethical amnesia.

The more you feel the need to rationalize, the more guilt there is. So net-net? Choose the path that’s easiest to explain to yourself. You’ll sleep better.

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.



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