The Shrink’s Links: How to Understand Yourself

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A very smart man once came to me and said he wanted to understand himself.

“Have you read Freud?” I asked.

“No.”

“Jung?”

“No.”

“Lacan? Winnicott? Bion? Kline?”

“Never heard of any of them.”

“Did you ever take psychology?”

“I took a course or two. I graduated from Stanford summa cum laude, with a double major in biology and engineering, then I went to medical school at John Hopkins and got an MBA from Harvard.”

“In that case, I don’t think you’ll ever understand yourself. All that schoolwork has rendered you incapable. I could be wrong. If you want, I’ll give you a test, and if you pass, I’ll teach you to understand yourself.”

“Good. I can pass tests.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“The burglar with the dirty face, of course.”

“Wrong. The one with the clean face. Think about it. The burglar with a dirty face looks at the one with a clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with a clean face looks at the burglar with a dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes.”

“I get it. Next question.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“You told me. The burglar with the clean face washes his face.”

“Wrong. They both wash. Think about it. The one with a dirty face thinks his face is clean. The one with a clean face thinks his face is dirty. So the burglar with a clean face washes. When the one with a dirty face sees him washing, he realizes his face must be dirty too. This is why they both wash.”

“I didn’t think of that. I’m ready for another.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Well, we know, both.”

“Wrong. Neither. Think about it. The one with the dirty face thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees that the one with the dirty face doesn’t bother to wash, he also doesn’t bother. They’re there to burglarize the place, not wash their face. It’s hopeless, you‘ll never understand yourself.”

“No, please, don’t give up on me. Give me one more chance.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Neither!”

“Wrong. Maybe now you’ll see why biology, business, medicine, and engineering can’t prepare you to understand yourself. Tell me, how is it possible that two men could come down the same chimney, and one comes out with a clean face, while the other has a dirty face?”

“But you’ve just given me four contradictory answers to the same question! That’s impossible!”

“Maybe, but contradiction is what you’ll have to accept if you’ll ever understand yourself.”

 

Many thanks to the Accidental Talmudist. I took his story and adapted it to my own use. Click here to go to his site.