Hidden agendas

The hellfire and damnation preacher is expressing aggression, and fear of aberrant behaviour, not spirituality.

Our concern for others helps ward off the harm they may do us.

Politeness is the mask our self interest assumes.

Our affection hides our search for love.

Hidden agendas. We all have them. What we show is not exactly what we’ve got.

It’s the way the mind works. Not rational, direct, and informed with our ideals and moral standards. No, the mind has a place where powerful emotions hold sway, of love, resentment and fear; in another part of the mind are rational objectives and plans; in another part needs and desires that we alternatively repress and indulge. Memories and repressions act unseen and unknown. The ultimate plan is to reconcile and integrate all these divergent areas, but we most of us fail. We get part way there.

This is like the structure imagined by Freud, ego, superego, id: except that Freud’s hidden agenda prompted him to simplify the structure of the mind to enable the formulation of general principles such as the Oedipus Complex, the Pleasure Principle and so on. He was seeking a structure for the mind similar to Newton’s Laws of Motion, because he wanted his investigation to be ‘scientific’.

Our hidden agendas make us inconsistent, allow us to harm ourselves, prompt us to say one thing and do another. We don’t say what we mean. We don’t mean what we say.

Sometimes we respond to situations or other people from our emotional centre, sometimes from our rational centre, sometimes from our conventional centre, sometimes from our neurotic centre. Sometimes from a mixture of one or more of these centres. What we want is to balance them all. To do this we need to know them, and know them well.

It would be misleading though to see this tendency as hypocrisy. Nor should we be cynical about our and others’ motivations.

It’s simply that we express ourselves, and react to others, from multiple sources within the psyche. It’s a wise person who knows their own mind. Most of us broadcast mixed messages. We react to situations in a instinctive way, a neurotic way, an honest way, a conventional way. Often we do it all at the same time, with one particular way dominating and seeming to be our real response.

This is actually good and pleasant much of the time. This gives the texture, the warp and woof of personality, the mystery of the other that makes personal interaction so fulfilling.

It is possible (I speak as a male) that women are more comfortable with this overtone of responses than are men, who have a value of consistency and logic (that they rarely live up to). It’s part of the feminine mystique to change their minds, to allow glimpses into their inconsistency. This is a subject that unfortunately I can’t pursue.

An awareness of this tone and overtone broadcast from other minds, and our own, is essential if we are to navigate any kind of personal or business relationship with others. It’s also essential to those who wish to depict character in any depth in a work of fiction. Fiction survives on stereotypes/mythic prototypes, and at a therapeutic level only needs to satisfy our fantasies. But those who wish to depict human behaviour realistically must chart some of the hidden responses that accompany expressed ones.

Knowing your own mind is not the simple thing it might appear. It’s difficult to come to grips with your own neuroses for instance, though the attempt can be rewarding (it can also be neurotic, unfortunately, so we have to be careful). But around us, everywhere we look, is a surrogate to introspection. Other people. Working out other people is one of our favourite occupations. What a pity we so often cheat. How simple other people’s problems are, how obvious the solutions are, when we do. We simply leave out many of the factors we evaluate in conducting examination of our own affairs.

Assessing others can be a need for reassurance masquerading as knowledge of human nature.

The process of living is a process of learning, and learning is a very unsettling process that causes us to re-evaluate previous learning during the process of integration of new information. We are always in great need of reassurance. In fact, many people seem to prefer reassurance to knowledge. They want a structure for viewing the world with which they are comfortable. We build such structures all the time: relationships, faiths, social norms. And a battle often occurs between those who see these kinds of things as temporary makeshifts to help our growing maturity, and those who think of them as facts, more real than reality. A conflict between those who look forward and those who look back, between conservative and progressive. But it’s only a conflict for those who don’t know their own minds. For those with hidden agendas.

It’s often said that the only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well. There are no normal people, except those invented by statisticians. We’re all a little, or a great deal, eccentric.

Therefore, we shouldn’t expect people, including ourselves, to be consistent. To know someone well, you need to know their personal code, that is, the way they use concepts which are personally defined.

For example, the way some people use the concept ‘honesty’ can conflict with the way other people use the term ‘kindness’.

We need to accept and decode the behavior of those who are indirect, who may express what they don’t like rather than what they like, or make general statements when they should be particular, or vice versa.

We have to have a strategy for the passive/aggressive mode, other than violence or ridicule.

Most of all, we need to temper our drive to get our own way with the expression of affection and support for others.

The hidden agendas of others should, in many cases, help us deal with our own.

One of the clearest ways I know of in dealing with other people is to talk of myself. Not long boring rambles into my past. Explaining what I feel. That’s not easy, for often I don’t exactly know what I feel, or am confused about it. But still, a statement of how another’s actions make me feel is not critical of them, not accusative, not aggressive, and usually makes the point I need to make. Whereas a general statement about behaviour I object to merely starts an argument.

One of the best ways to clear up hidden agendas is to make a decision on what is most important to us. The choice is usually between establishing a relationship, whether it be love, hate or status, or implementing an action. In every office, every neighbourhood, there are both status seekers and workaholics, those sensitive to relationships and hierarchies and those sensitive to task completion. In order to succeed in a task/relationship, we have to know with whom we are dealing, and which category we fit into ourselves.

Another decision is between comfort and honesty. Do we talk to others about the weather, or about the practice of their faith? We’ll succeed best where we know our own priority, and that of others.

Does altruism exist? Can we act for disinterested motives, or must we be self seeking? Do we give just in order to be gratified by feeling good? Does self interest exist? Is it merely compensation for past deprivation? These questions are often asked (usually of others). The simplest answer is that everybody needs and responds positively to acknowledgment. This is known in the volunteer industry for instance.

For some people generalities are empty, for others full of meaning. Some can relate to others through their own feelings, others are obsessed by them and have no relationship with others at all.

Do you know those conversations where each party takes turns talking about themselves, and there seems no sequence to the conversation? Or ones where a person is animated in telling of what happened to them but starts yawning if you reciprocate? Or the person who keeps you on the telephone for hours then reprimands you for holding them up from their work? These are all examples of hidden agendas.

A hidden agenda can be manipulation of others. It can be not recognising your own feelings and wants and needs. Most of all it’s a sign you don’t know your own mind.

Understanding yourself and others also requires some knowledge of Games People Play, the title of a 1964 book by Eric Berne. Berne believed the primary division in groups of people was based on the family. People in groups adopt behaviours modelled on that of parent, equal or child, and take corresponding roles. A bit like the sadist and the masochist, people with corresponding needs, such as equality, dependence or dominance, seek out their complement in the group.

Based of watching primates in the wild it is easy to see we have inherited a number of functional (and dysfunctional) roles from our past as primitives. Before god bestowed the large brain on humans (something for which we have still not worked out a function, so it’s obviously not big enough) we evolved a number of roles to assume with others in our groups to enable these groups to function better. These include behaviours such as ritualised aggression, to avert actual aggression, and roles proper, such as those of leader and followers, specialists, nurturers, and dispensable victims. In any group we belong to we can see them. The one who wants to be leader, the one in charge, for the prestige, or so as to carry out a mission they believe in; the primary follower, who expresses excessive admiration (“such a wonderful President”) who may be well harbouring the belief they should have been chosen for the job; the dogsbody, who carries out most of the work (“no good getting them to do it: they’re just not as practical as I am”); the followers, who enjoy having their decisions made for them (“of course I really don’t have the time to be fully involved”); the expert, usually a technocrat these days, with their contempt for the intelligence of the non-expert and their reliance on jargon to protect the arcane nature of their field. These roles are vital to the healthy functioning of a group, and we should realise where we and others stand in the hierarchy of any group we join.

A little confusion comes into play when you try to second-guess another person. Basically this means you’re doing all the work. Trying to communicate, imagining what their response might be, coming up with a reaction/response/counter argument, and then going ahead. It’s like making a speech and fearing hostile audience reaction. In both cases you will stuff things up.

What’s needed is to listen. Or as Sherlock Holmes puts it, to both see and observe. Then to interpret. To be clear about what you want. Have an agenda, but not a hidden one.

Of course hidden agendas are not to be confused with negotiation. When a girl says (more usually implies actually) “I’ll go to bed with you if you’ll stick around for a relationship” there’s usually nothing hidden about the transaction, though there can be deceit within it.

When dealing with the human mind it is worth bearing in mind that action and change can be instantaneous. In the mind there are actually no categories (a classification of data), and in effect no time (a sequence of data), and it is easy for a hope or a fear, for example, to become a reality or a prejudice. (Both classification and sequencing are filters applied to data processed by the mind).

The best way to deal with changes that bewilder us within the mind is to expand it. A closed mind is small. A depressed mind is small and fearful of the smallness. A confused mind is seeking ways to expand. A learned mind has many comparisons and contexts to work with. A wise mind is as large as the universe that engendered it.

The way to deal with the mystery within the mind, and its hidden agendas as well, is to accept it. No amount of repression will work. It is simply that all is.

No amount of examination of functions of the mind, such as the existence of hidden agendas, can prepare us for larger vistas, for the examination of functions such as imagination (visualising something that doesn’t exist) or dreaming (creating new scenarios from experienced realities). These are both seemingly impossible functions, and point to how the mind may evolve in the future.

However, these and other states can be experienced without examination. And that is all that’s often needed. Experiencing existence is also a way of understanding it.

©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

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