Dr. Hurd vs. Dr. Phil (part 2 of 2)

Conclusion of Wednesday’s column.

Dr .Phil.: ‘If you want confidence, you have to take on a confident posture. This can be as simple as putting more confidence in your walk and in your demeanor.’

Dr.Hurd.: Confidence comes from something much deeper than changing your walking style. You can’t fake confidence. Confidence comes from a sense that your mind is effective and capable; and that you deserve to experience good things by using your mind effectively and capably, and from living a rational, self-responsible existence. If you haven’t been feeling, thinking and acting this way, then walking straight and proud isn’t going to do it.

D.P.: ‘You teach people how to treat you.’

D.H.: Very good point! I wouldn’t say that any of us are ever responsible for another’s behavior. But if we treat someone a certain way, we have to take responsibility for the fact that we’re creating a certain kind of psychological climate where it might make ’emotional sense’ for a person to respond back in a way we don’t like. We’re not always victims. If we change the psychological climate we’re creating, then we might expect different results from other people.

D.P.: ‘[My} dad used to say, ‘You wouldn’t worry so much about what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did.’ Stop wearing yourself out with issues that no one else cares about.

D.H.: Very good! To which I’ll add: It’s what you think of yourself that matters. If you think well of yourself, and know you have earned this respect, then those with the same values and beliefs as you will think the same. Others’ negative opinions can never hurt you. You can only hurt yourself by acting in self-defeating ways.

D.P.: ‘Do what works for the marriage, not what works just for you.’

D.H.: Dangerous idea, Dr. Phil! First of all, if you’re properly matched with your partner, then, on the whole, what’s good for the marriage will likewise be good for yourself. I realize (from your earlier comments), that you believe romantic compatibility is impossible; so it’s little wonder you give out this sad, uninspiring advice. Creating a dichotomy between self and ‘the marriage’ sets up a psychological environment where one or the other has to be continually sacrificed. This flies in the face of the fact that a romantic relationship is supposed to add  something significant to the life of each partner. It either adds to your life or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be there. If it does, then there will be no need to follow Dr. Phil’s advice and sacrifice yourself for ‘the sake of the relationship.’

D.P.: ‘Arguments should be temporary, so don’t let them get out of hand. Don’t allow the ugliness of an argument to stretch on indefinitely.’

D.H.: This is an important, often overlooked point. People lose rational perspective in their arguments, especially with their spouses. They lose sight of the fact that the person they’re arguing with, ultimately, plays for the same team and has the same basic interests. Yes, you’re having a disagreement right now. The disagreement might or might not be resolved; even if it’s resolved, it might take a while to resolve it. It might not ever be resolved. So long as you’re still playing for the same team, it doesn’t matter. If the disagreement is a genuine deal breaker, then the team will have to split up. Only reasoning, and talking about objective facts, calmly and with respect, will allow the team to stay together. If this doesn’t work, then nothing else will, either.

D.P.: ‘There is no reality, only perception. What seems real and true to you isn’t necessarily the same for your partner.’

D.H.: So if your partner is caught having an affair, and you confront him with this fact, then it’s still OK to say, ‘There is no reality; only perception.’ If so, then you have to accept it when your cheating spouse tells you this. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule but the exceptions are never specified. Why? Because it’s a totally flawed rule! Reality exists. Facts are facts. ‘A is A,’ as the philosopher Aristotle observed long ago, and it’s no less true today. There are different perspectives and feelings that people can have about different facts, and it’s wise to keep this in mind when trying to form personal relationships with people.

But none of this changes the fact that there are facts, that there is an objective reality, and that you, Dr. Phil, in particular, spend a lot of time forming conclusions about this same objective reality so that your listeners and readers will have a set of principles to guide their lives and relationships.

D.P.:’We all view the world through individual filters’Filters are made up of fixed beliefs, negative ideas that have become entrenched in your thinking. They are dangerous because if you treat them as fact, you will not seek, receive or process new information, which undermines your plans for change”

D.H.: But how can there be facts if there is no reality, only perception? The answer is clear. There is both reality and perception. Dr. Phil is entirely right that we have beliefs, many of them fixed and many of them incorrect, skewed or irrational. Identifying them and seeing how they affect us is profoundly important to the outcome and progress of our lives. Yet there’s no basis for evaluating those fixed beliefs unless you utilize reason, and reason is impossible without reference to objective reality. Dr. Phil’s huge error in this regard undercuts the good things he has to say. He relies on facts to draw his conclusions; yet he denies that there is a reality. With your partner, you’re supposed to pretend there is no reality, but when Dr. Phil speaks, there evidently is. It sounds like a subtle form of hypocritical authoritarianism to me. I think I just figured out why I don’t like Dr. Phil, even though many of my readers say I should like him because, like me, he’s direct, open and ‘tells it like it is.’

D.P.: ‘The only way to rise above the negatives of a relationship in which you were hurt is to take the moral high ground, and forgive the person who hurt you.’

D.H.: Nonsense! The only way to rise above the negatives is to walk away from the person who hurts you, if what he did was unforgivable. There are unforgivable things. I’ll never forgive the people who planned 9/11 and those who openly cheered its execution. I’ll never forgive someone who lies to me or manipulates me. I’ll treat their irrationality as ultimately less important, metaphysically, than the goodness seen in rationality, integrity, productivity and love of life, but I’ll never shrink from calling a spade a spade. It’s interesting how Dr. Phil is valued by his fans—at least the ones I hear from—for being willing to call a spade a spade. I know he does this a lot. Yet what’s the basis for doing so, when you subscribe to so much of the philosophical claptrap that he endorses, that there is no reality, only perception, and that forgiveness of everything is the only way to rise above it all? I think I’ve had enough of Dr. Phil for today. Change the channel, please.