“If Human Nature is Flawed … What Does that Say About Me?”

A DrHurd.com reader writes:

In a recent Facebook rant, a friend used the phrase “please fix yourself”’ This is a rich, short statement. Should we be looking to fix ourselves;
adjusting our values, virtues, and morality; our perceived flaws?

Or, does “fixing ourselves” imply we are broken and need fixing?

I prefer to take the approach that I am a work in progress, living the best I can and looking to strengthen my virtues and improve where I can.

Should we even bother to address our weaknesses? Or should we look to cultivate our strengths? Do we really need to fix ourselves? Why is this the prevalent position these days? Are we not good “enough”?

Dr. Hurd replies:

A lot of this goes back to the doctrine of original sin. The idea behind original sin is that man, by nature, is basically flawed, or of a “fallen” nature.

The myth is familiar to most people. Adam and Eve of Biblical lore lived an effortless existence. They lived in a fictitious Garden of Eden, a place where no thought or effort was ever required. It was only when Adam and Eve defied blind allegiance to the word of Authority – God – that they “fell” to the level of having to toil, think, reason and work to attain survival and success.

The parable infiltrates a child’s mind: “You’re basically flawed by nature, and you have to atone for that flaw.” The story goes on to point to reason, and thought—our greatest strength — as our greatest weakness. And we wonder why depression, anxiety and low self-esteem are often the norm of human emotional states?

With such mythology at work in human society, is it any wonder so many of us look to others to toil for us, and so many of us feel that work, thought or effort are somehow beneath us? It’s the subconscious, but entirely logical, consequence of holding the Garden of Eden premise that in a better, ideal world, we would achieve everything automatically and effortlessly.

Not everyone is all that religious, and not everyone knows the origin of this belief. But it’s a widespread belief throughout every sector of our society.

I don’t care whether you’re a fundamentalist Baptist living in a trailer in the middle of Mississippi, or a wealthy, culturally sophisticated and agnostic Obama supporter living in a penthouse in Manhattan. You both agree on one thing: Man is, by nature, flawed and requires correction or fixing. Whether that correction is to happen through the superstition of prayer or the very real (and brutal) hand of government is only secondary to the basic issue.

Like all widespread beliefs, it has a way of creeping into everyday life, everyday habits and typical, even ordinary comments.

A lot of people feel like their reasoning is not enough to survive and cope in life. They feel that they, personally, are somehow flawed because “all I have is my reasoning and thinking, and that’s not enough.”

Some turn to supernatural or religious beliefs to guide them. But this doesn’t always solve the problem. In fact, based on my experience as a psychotherapist, it usually leads to a sense that, “Others are blessed by God, and have more than their reasoning, but I got left out.”

Because so many people go through life with a vague sense that they’re somehow not adequate, they’re prone to fall into the belief that they should or must somehow “be fixed.”

In a lot of cases, people who would rather not “fix” themselves become obsessed with fixing others. They do this in their personal or family relationships, or (in the case of do-gooder busybodies) transfer this motivation to their town, community, society, nation or even the entire planet.

It all stems from the same basic error that humanity is, by nature, flawed.

What to do? Before getting caught up in what’s actually or allegedly wrong with yourself, it’s better to first focus on what’s right. For example, try this exercise in self-talk:

“I am a human being with the capacity to think. Thinking is all that any human being has. However, human beings have come a long way because of thinking. Look at all the modern conveniences that make life more sustainable and easier. Think of the contrast between today and a primitive village, or the caveman first trying to figure out what the heck sun, rain and fire are. All of this advancement came about because of human reason.”

Human reason is certainly fallible, but in the end it’s always a strength, and it’s responsible for everything good that happens in life. Because you possess this capacity, you have this strength as well.

Once you learn to not see yourself as basically flawed, but instead as full of potential, you’re on your way. It’s at this point, but only at this point, where you can examine your strengths and weaknesses rationally, concretely; making any improvements you find necessary on a case-by-case basis. In this psychological context, you’re fixing specific things rather than trying to fix your basic nature.

As an exercise, I suggest the following: Stop asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me?” When you find yourself thinking or feeling that way, take the time to stop and challenge it. “There’s nothing ever wrong with me. There can, potentially, be an error in my reasoning or thinking. It’s even possible that I exhibit weakness in applying what I know. But all errors and weaknesses are correctable if I stop and think about them.”

This is the sense in which it’s wise and healthy to view yourself as a work in progress.

I advise against the idea of “fixing yourself.” Sometimes people go to a psychotherapist and ask to “be fixed,” or at least to gain help at “fixing myself.”

From the start, that’s a red flag that the “original sin” idea may be operating in a person’s subconscious. And may be an indication of psychological trouble.

There’s never anything wrong with you that can’t be fixed by what’s fundamentally right about you: Your capacity to think, reason and take constructive action based on that thinking.

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