One of my favorite professors at University of Denver, Bob Melvin, gave his conflict theory students an excellent reading list. I immediately purchased all of his recommendations, but only recently began to read one of them: Henry Fairlie’s The Seven Deadly Sins Today. My interest was piqued by my son who, over dinner, rattled off all seven without a blink. I was unfamiliar with the list. I went home and immediately plunged in to the book. Here is a little trivia: Can you name the seven deadly sins?
The study is particularly interesting to me as a mediator; my work allows me to see dynamics unfold and develop between the parties in conflict during the hours we work together to solve business or family problems. Often the various mediation participants showcase a specific deadly sin with particular effectiveness.
While it is relatively easy to peg another’s offense, the difficult work is looking through the menu of unsavory characteristics and owning those that seem primary in my own life. When listening to the list as my son stated them, I immediately identified my two “big offenders”, and over the course of the next week I asked some friends which ones they saw as their own biggest challenges. Two of my friends stated in good humor, “All of Them…!” Progressing through the book’s descriptions, it is easy to identify with more of them than I was originally willing to claim; I now find myself going down the list and saying: check, check, check…
Is it important to build capacity for life’s challenges, and if so, how does one improve if not through brutal honesty with oneself? To correct errors in one’s own thinking is necessary to become succinct and effective with others (hopefully with a healthy dose of graciousness along the way!) It is a difficult task to examine one’s own mind and heart, for much the same reason that mediators are necessary; it may be difficult or impossible to be objective when one is so close to the problem. An unbiased person, one who doesn’t have a dog in the fight, can see clearer because of their position as observer rather than player.
Fairlie states that “all seven sins are demonstrations of love that has gone wrong” followed by the thought that “if one wishes to love the human race, one should not make the mistake of expecting too much of it.” Conversely, Fairlie also states with accuracy, “People who expect and ask little of others will usually be found to expect and ask little of themselves.” My sister, Laura, gave some great advice years ago when she said plainly, “Love people, but trust God.” Maybe the goal is holding the tension between expecting growth over time from those we love (including ourselves), and not expecting perfection.
Some History: The seven sins were identified during the Eastern Monastic Movement and classified as those vices which made monastic life impossible. Gregory the Great later ordered the list as follows: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony, Lust. The antithesis of the Seven Deadly Sins exists in the Seven Virtues: Humility, Kindness, Patience, Diligence, Charity, Temperance, Chastity.
Seven Deadly Sins: Pride,Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Lust