I don't know about you, but I find that when I make some harsh judgment about another person, I find it useful to remind myself that my judgment usually has more to say about me than about its recipient. If I look at my friend, for example, and judge him to be self-important, uncaring, unfocused... I have much to gain by looking into the mirror and asking myself to what extent I'm being offered the opportunity to learn an uncomfortable truth about myself. This is a perhaps overly simplistic way to understand what is referred to by psychologists as "projection," but it works for me.
In this light, I found myself watching yesterday's public roasting of BP and its CEO, Tony Hayward ("the most hated man in America," the media keep insisting!) by the congressional subcommittee with a certain skepticism. There were hot, indignant accusations of negligence, of dereliction, of deliberate carelessness, of putting corporate profits and cost-cutting ahead of the well-being of those to whom the company owes responsibility. Now I have little sympathy for BP and am as determined as the next person to hold it accountable for its actions, but listening to these irate congressional representatives, I could not but see BP's CEO as a lightning rod for their own projections. Who, I wanted to ask, has been negligent in their responsibilities; who has been ranting about cutting costs at the expense of those they serve; who has allowed the concern for corporate profits to dominate decisions that affect the lives of people?
By extension, are we not now, as a nation, dangerously projecting all our anger and frustration on the current president and his administration? As Jon Stewart inconveniently reminded us in an excellent piece on last night's episode of The Daily Show, "Day 59--Judgment Day," no fewer than eight presidents over the past forty years, including Obama, have held forth to the nation on the need for energy independence--and the need to protect the environment--and we have to this late date permitted our leaders and representatives to do virtually nothing. Who, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves, has been furiously penny-pinching at every opportunity? Who has been putting their own interests ahead of those of the country as a whole? Who has been refusing adamantly to change their profligate ways?
Projection is a wonderfully convenient way to sidestep my own responsibility, whether in the small scale of my personal life or the global scale of the welfare of humanity. We like to say: It's them! It's those incompetent and unconscionable rascals we mistakenly elected to solve our problems for us. They're the ones who are greedy, lazy, incapable of action, self-interested, and mired in partisanship. No, friends. Sorry. It's not them. Let's use that mirror to find the real culprits. It's us.