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  • Robert Farago

Confessions of an Asshole

Wherein the author (not shown) confronts his subconscious mind

In Ted Lasso, former footballer Roy Kent is as an asshole. In the last episode, he asks his homies if a person can change. “I don’t think we change,” reporter Trent Crimm replies. “We just learn to accept who we’ve always been.” God I hope not.

I’ve been an asshole for a good part of my 64 years. My main fault: I say things I shouldn’t. I’m too blunt and confrontational and, thus, aggressive and insensitive. It’s the same unrelentingly critical blather I bring to my writing, both the craft and the subject matter.

In my defense, I don’t mean to be an asshole. I don’t set out to hurt or offend anyone. The damage I’ve done is down to blind ambition and a lack of empathy. The former is a result of low self-esteem (thanks Mom). The latter is the result of low self-esteem (thanks Bro’s).

While I’m learning to recognize and take responsibility for my behavior, I am not my behavior. No one is. Like Pavlov’s dogs, most if not all human reactions to any given situation/person are conditioned. They’re subconscious.

We think we choose our behavior. In fact, our behavior chooses us. Hypnosis proves the point.

Let’s say someone has a phobia of public speaking. They experience sweating, dry mouth, heart palpitations, etc. No matter how this subconscious stimulus → response pattern was embedded (e.g., a second grade spelling bee), if they can be hypnotized, they can be hypnotized to be calm, confident and relaxed whilst speaking in public.

Extrapolate that to any behavior. Any preference. Any interpersonal interaction. If our thoughts, feelings and actions are subconscious reactions to external stimuli, how much choice do we actually have? Can someone (i.e., me) choose not to be an asshole?

Western society believes in free will. Nazi Germany could never happen here! We’re not sheep! (How ironic is that?) Behaviorist B.F. Skinner’s seminal work Beyond Freedom and Dignity put paid to that supposition.

Skinner examined genetic/parental/societal influences on the individual and decided “The achievements for which a person himself is to be given credit seem to approach zero.” By the same token, B.F. waved bye-bye to blame.

I understand Skinner’s perspective. But humans are not immutable. Their subconscious patterns can be “re-programmed” by authority figures, peer pressure and the environment. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

On the negative side, the mass media uses repetition and evocative imagery to strengthen or weaken preferences (i.e., opinions). Cults use “brainwashing” (e.g., sleep and nutritional deprivation, isolation) to take total control of their converts’ minds. Abusers manipulate money to degrade their victims’ will power.

All these groups know where their bread is buttered: the subject’s subconscious mind. As do poets, support groups and therapists/healers.

Aside from avoiding or seeking out these subconscious artisans, how does an individual effect change on themselves? Like, say, not being an asshole.

The first step is, of course, recognizing that something needs to change. That can be a slow, painful process – a gradual conscious realization that a reflexive behavior, thought or feeling is a bad, bad thing. It can also be a rapid realization triggered by trauma.

Addressing negative patterns on a rational basis is a helpful catalyst, but I don’t consider it an adequate answer.

The trick to change? Access the subconscious!

Meditation. Prayer. Fasting. Self-hypnosis. A soul-bearing heart-to-heart with your BFF. Manifestation mantras. Travel. A motorcycle journey. Communing with nature. Drugs (properly administered). Taking hallucinogenic drugs on an empty stomach while praying in nature after a motorcycle ride. That kind of thing.

Then what you tell yourself – what you command your subconscious to do – may effect change.

That’s assuming you’ve correctly identified the problem, devised a suitable solution and tested your new stimulus → response pattern in the “real world” (positive feedback loops are always a good thing).

\For my part, I’ve identified ambition as my main driver. The insatiable desire for achievement pushed me to excellence – and trapped me in no-win hell.

To those I’ve hurt, my sincerest apologies. If there’s anything I can do to make amends, I’m ready. To others who struggle with their “personality disorder,” remember Aristotle’s admonition: “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

To which I’ll add, knowing how your subconscious works is the beginning of knowing yourself. Exactly the kind of thing a pretentious asshole might say. To quote Roy Kent, fuuuuuuuuck.

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