Privileged access

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Peg O’Connor offers an interesting perspective on self-trust in addiction.

Complicating the matter is the belief that each person knows herself better than others can know her. In philosophy we call this “privileged access.” On this view, each person has an access to her beliefs, desires, thoughts, emotions that no one else can have. Each of us can turn a light to even the darkest, most remote corners of our mind; no one else can see those corners and what lurks there.  On that basis of privileged access, each person can say, “I have the best perspective on Who I Am.”

However, the relationship between privileged access and perspective is muddy, and confounds the question of how much trust to have in myself.

I found myself experiencing a little ambivalence reading this. Reflecting on my own behavior and those of clients, so many decisions look and sound like acts of self trust. Running our lives into the ground, asking for help and then disregarding other’s experience and advice looks like hubris

In truth, when I disregarded suggestions given by others, it wasn’t that I had so much trust in myself. Rather, I had less trust that others fully appreciated my circumstances, options, needs, goals, motives, etc. On a scale of 1 to 10 my self-trust may have only been a 2, but my trust in your accurate understanding was only a 1.5.

However, it looks like there isn’t an way around the matter.

So, given all these complications, how can one end this vicious cycle of unreliability–>lack of self-trust –>untrustworthiness –>unreliability…? It involves embracing something of a paradox. Sometimes one has to trust others before she can trust herself. In a sense, one may have to borrow the trust someone else has in her until she can begin to generate it for herself.

The person who sees herself as untrustworthy may need to grant that someone else may have a useful perspective on her. Another has some distance and hence perspective on us. This is the equivalent of holding the printed page further away from the face.

That reminded me of two things:

First, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s observation, “I don’t think faith is given in sufficient quantity to individuals necessarily. I think it’s given in sufficient quantity to communities.”

Second, Bill White talking about the recovery coaches of Project Safe and their process of developing “hope-engendering relationships”.

It strikes me that we’re asking these very scared and frightened people to grant us “privileged access.” This is an honor and a gift. Helpers who treat it as an honor and a gift are much more likely to earn that trust.

O’Connor tosses in a little folk-wisdom from Aristotle:

More concretely, Aristotle has some useful suggestions. If we become who we are by what we do, we should act in different ways if we want to become different people. Aristotle instructs us to act as a virtuous good person does even if we do not yet have the same character. By mimicking, we can begin to act in ways that can become virtuous as we begin to develop a virtuous character. This is the philosophical forerunner of “fake it until you can make it.”

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One response to “Privileged access

  1. Mark Wenzel

    Thank you, I enjoy your posts!