“Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated” (September 17, 2010)

The idea that we are unfairly treated is so much a part of our lives. The world isn’t fair, is it? I just read this description of the academic world and the scientific world: “Both science and academia are organized around the same principles that structure the corporate world: success in one’s career depends a little on talent, but mostly on competition, self-promotion, and so forth.” To “science,” “academia,” and “the corporate world,” we could also add the social world. In life, you don’t get ahead mainly by talent, by doing your allotted job well. You get ahead by being good at playing the game. Hopefully, we’ve all learned that by now. For those who haven’t, especially the under-30 crowd, I’ve got some sad news for you.

Yet the Course flatly tells us: “Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated” (T-26.X.4:1). What does that mean? Is the Course saying it’s all somehow fair? God I hope not.

That line is actually part of a brilliant dissection of the whole mindset of being unfairly treated, which is found in “The End of Injustice” (T-26.X). The first idea is that when you perceive attack on you in some forms to be unfair, “It means that there must be some forms in which you think it fair” (T-26.X.2:2). This is true, isn’t it? There are certain attacks that seem gravely unfair, so that a response of anger is actually righteous. But there are some attacks we concede we deserve, which means we just have to sit there and take our licks.

So saying “that one was unfair” implies others that are fair. And that implies you possess guilt that makes you deserving of attack, and that those attacks should have effects on you, since they are your just deserts. And that gives power to the whole notion of attack on you. If you are guilty, then there should be attacks on you and those attacks should hurt. “And this,” the Course says, “denies the fact that all [attacks] are senseless, equally without a cause [your guilt] or consequence [your injury], and cannot have effects of any kind” (T-26.X.2:6).

By making the distinction, then, between the fair and unfair attacks, you’ve given power to all attacks. This power is an illusion you have conjured yourself. The attacks of others have no power on you, this section says. You are the only one with power to deprive yourself.

Here is what happens: First, you deprive yourself. Second, you feel guilty for doing so. Third, to escape this guilt, you project your act of self-deprivation onto someone else. Now he seems to be the cause of your deprivation, and you feel innocent of the blame for what you did to yourself. “Projection of the cause of sacrifice is at the root of everything perceived to be unfair and not your just deserts” (T-26.X.3:4).

The innocence you have purchased, though, is not a true innocence. For it was purchased “at the cost of someone else’s guilt” (T-26.X.4:2). This guilty-innocence, then, just reinforces the notion that some attacks on you are fair. And we are back where we started.

In the end, then, we resist the temptation to perceive ourselves as unfairly treated not by saying, “Somehow I deserved that,” but rather by saying, “This attack has no cause, but neither does it have real effects. I did this to myself, and then tried to lay it on you.”

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