Posted On 17 Jun 2012
Is the justice obstruction blocking your generosity and wealth-creation?
What is it? It’s an emotional roadblock that seeks to prevent us from being unfair to ourselves.
It reminds me of one of my father’s warnings. When he learned of a forthcoming divorce, he cautioned me to be fair to myself by not giving too much away to my soon-to-be ex-wife. In such cases, someone may remind you not to be too generous.
Automatic, stereotyped behavioral habits are shortcuts that smooth our paths through similar kinds of situations. Even when they are not necessary, they certainly help to make daily life easier. It’s difficult even to imagine functioning effectively without them.
Usually, there’s a specific feature that triggers one of these fixed-action patterns.
According to psychologists like Robert B. Cialdini, human fixed-action patterns are similar to those in other kinds of animals except that more of ours are learned (rather than innate) and ours are generally more flexible and responsive to a larger number of triggers.
Modern life is notoriously fast-paced and hectic. It can seem sometimes as if we are lurching through the day from one intense situation to the next. This blocks calm, cool reflection on what we are really doing.
This may be why we miss phenomena such as the justice obstruction.
Because the justice obstruction is an emotional roadblock, we automatically tend to act in accordance with it. We often fail to pay attention to automatic behaviors.
Emotions are powerful motivators. In fact, they may be the most powerful motivators.
Although we like to think of ourselves as rational agents wholly in charge of our behaviors, at least since the time of Hume some thinkers have argued that the primary employment of our reason is to rationalize emotionally-based decisions.
In the section in his Enquiry that concerns “Custom or Habit,” Hume argues that “All inferences from experience . . . are effects of custom, not of reasoning. / Custom, then, is the great guide of human life.”
Hume uses the word ‘passions’ to denote what we mean by ‘emotions.’ In the Treatise, he famously declares that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
Hume goes too far in reducing moral judgments to expressions of passions, but he certainly succeeds in drawing attention to a common deficiency in our self understanding.
The justice obstruction is one of a number of usually invisible emotional roadblocks that can motivate behavior. Why not test its emotional force for yourself?
Here’s the test that Eben Pagan recommends for those who want to increase their wealth: write down the 10 best money-making ideas you have ever had and each day, for the next 10 days, freely give one away to someone and help that person use it. Simple.
Do that and you’ll soon feel its emotional power! It will feel as if you are being unfair to yourself. However, if you keep forcing yourself to do it anyway, you will dissolve the emotional blockage of the justice obstruction – thus freeing yourself from that emotional bondage.
As Mr. Pagan says, this is very counter-intuitive. Initially, it won’t seem right. However, don’t let that stop you: just keep doing it.
Eventually, you’ll reprogram your brain and it will feel right. Procedures like this force us to notice what we are doing and enable us to improve.
Why let the justice obstruction prevent you from being as generous as possible?
If you deliberately undermine the justice obstruction in this way, you may expose an important secret. As Mike Rayburn put it: “It is impossible to give more than you receive.”
We think of justice as fairness, as a balance between self and other. It’s the self/other distinction that generates the justice obstruction in the first place.
As I argue in How to Survive College Emotionally, there’s a self-centered evaluation at the heart of every emotion: “’This is bad for me’ is the core of every negative emotion. ‘This is good for me’ is the core of every positive emotion.”
Without self-centered evaluations, there would be no emotions.
The justice obstruction depends upon the self/other distinction. Without the judgment that I am unjustly favoring the other at the expense of my self, there would be no justice obstruction. If there were no justice obstruction, there would be no governor on generosity.
This is why, if there are any, fully enlightened sages, who have genuinely identified with everything else, are so peaceful and so generous (giving, loving).
The more a spiritual practice grinds away at egocentricity, the less emotional we become.
If we were not at all egocentric and stuck on our self concepts, we would never experience the justice obstruction. There would be no limit to our generosity.
Notice how this dovetails with the practice of many spiritual traditions of not attaching to material possessions (by, for example, taking a vow of poverty).
I am not a sage, much less a fully enlightened sage. I am able to report from my own experience, however, that years of daily spiritual practice do result is greater emotional tranquility. I also like to think that they result in less egocentricity.
With respect to the justice obstruction, I hope that I have aroused your curiosity about how much it affects your generosity.
Furthermore, I encourage you to practice generosity daily.
(In fact, that’s a primary motivation for this blog!
I am deliberately attempting to give away all my best ideas.
Of course, not many people may be interested in my best ideas, so many may not read it. Some, however, do read it regularly.
Actually, that’s a blessing. There’d be no value to anyone else if I merely tried to give away something unwanted.
It’s good that there’s no pressure on anyone ever to consider them.
My best ideas may have little intrinsic value – or not. I don’t know. What I do know is that they are my best ideas and I feel good about giving them away.
The same is true for my giving away time with my latest book. [Click here for details.])
If you experience the justice obstruction and deliberately try to master it, I would appreciate your sharing your experience in the comment section. It just might be giving something of value to others (as well as me), too.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please forward it.
Related resources: Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence (4th ed), my How to Survive College Emotionally, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, and Eben Pagan’s “Self-Made Wealth” course.