"Am I a terrible person?"
I am not a religious man. But something I think that we can take from Christianity is the notion that we are all sinners.
We like to look at people in terms of absolutes. Mary is generous and Kate is greedy. Simon is honest and Peter is untrustworthy.
The Power of Context, as explained by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, suggests that we are all capable of dark actions if scenarios reach a particular configuration. I think it can be helpful to view both ourselves and others from this perspective.
I like to imagine myself as a pretty decent bloke, with a good set of values.
But, despite this, I have done things of which I am ashamed. I have grown to learn that I do have what Carl Jung describes as a "shadow aspect" - what we might more commonly describe as a "dark side." On occasion, despite the fact that I have been fully aware in the moment that what I am doing is wrong, I have been unable to stop this side of me calling the shots.
Perhaps then, it is important to know this part of ourselves. To not trust ourselves implicitly. To recognise that we have a dark side, and to have principles and rules we live by that make it easier for the good side of ourselves to run the show. To avoid circumstances reaching a context whereby our "shadow" can take over.
If we tend to think quite highly of ourselves as good, moral people, we might get confused if we find ourselves acting in a way that suggests otherwise: "Am I actually a terrible person?"
But if we recognise and accept our darker side, we will not only have a better chance of controlling it, but will also be more understanding of how we work.
Similarly, we can be more forgiving of others if we lose this idea of absolutes.
It can be upsetting if, as we get to know someone, we come to the conclusion that "they're not the person I thought they were."
We might be tempted to believe that this less appealing side that we have uncovered is their true self, and all the attractive qualities that first drew us to them was just a façade. We might leave the situation feeling deflated, violated and with a lesser faith in the goodness of humanity.
But perhaps we could benefit from a little more pessimism. Perhaps we need to expect that in getting to know people better, we are likely to unearth the less appealing sides of their personality, and perhaps view this as an unavoidable downside of creating a deeper bond with them, and to remember that all their positive features may still be valid and real.
Maybe we are all sinners. But, if we can learn to accept the demon sitting on the one shoulder, and thereby learn to control it, maybe that's ok.