LIPS

Have you ever heard of the Limited Image Performance Syndrome? Probably not, because it was I who invented the phrase many years ago. It boils down to the convenient acronym: LIPS. I have written about it in more than one book, and I have lectured on it at many business conferences.

Put simply, it means that we all have an internal image of the level at which we can perform various enterprises. We have a strong motivation to live up to our standard, and, by the same token, not to exceed it.

I first observed it when I had the responsibility of directing training for one of the largest and most skilled sales forces in the country. It was divided into about 50 local branches, which gave me an opportunity to study how each branch manager set about motivating his team. Rewards of various kinds were important, but they were not the key. The difference in performance was much more directly linked to whether the manager had inculcated a sense of pride and high self-image among his sales people.

Self-image is formed in different ways. A recent study has shown that there is a genetic element, and that this inherited attitude is a good predictor of future performance – at least as good as intelligence scores. A second factor enters in the first few years of a child’s life. At this stage the child is discovering what sort of person he or she is. If the child experiences consistent love and caring over this time of crucial plastic formation, a good self-image is likely to become hard-wired. Recent work suggests that peer group experience at school is also very important.

These factors are innate but we are also aware that the level of our self-image can wax and wane. A good experience gives us confidence, which we then express in confident behaviour; conversely, a failure or a setback can cause our confidence to leak away. If you were watching Wimbledon tennis this year you may have noticed how confidence levels frequently changed, and how these were reflected in dexterity of performance.

But we are equally uncomfortable when we exceed the level of our self-image. A recent study, carried out by Northwestern University, provides evidence that, if we are particularly virtuous in one area of our lives, we may compensate by behaving badly in another, or at least refraining from the good we would otherwise do. Thus, it suggests, we regain the comfort of our own LIPS level.

So a fraudulent investment manager may undertake great and good public works and thereby restore his appropriate moral level. His vice and virtue cancel out. But, more relevantly, it indicates how those of high religious standing, even members of the priesthood, can indulge in evil practices. They do not do so in spite of their high calling but because of it. They are restoring their LIPS level.

There is much to think about here. We immediately face an apparent contradiction. We are taught to be humble, that we are miserable sinners, that any good we may achieve must be attributed to the grace of God. Our LIPS level should be rock-bottom. Then we remember that Christ declared himself to be humble and that he received everything from his Father. Yet he spoke as one with authority and emphasised that no one could approach the Father except through him. The claim: “I and the Father are one” does not suggest a low LIPS level to me.

I would approach this first by remembering that we are called to be perfect. Thus there is no upper limit for, no matter what we do, we will fall short. Next, we have to remember that we are always worthwhile because, however unsatisfactory and sinful we may be, God loves us and continues to search us out. So that is the basis for high self-esteem.

Then I look at the paradox of grace. Every movement we make towards God is wholly achieved through grace, yet our choices are truly ours and we truly become holy people. Grace is not a whitewash; it works not from outside us but from within us. Solve that, if you can, or – like me – just accept it. Thus whatever spiritual progress we make should be a source of self-esteem. In this way we are able to achieve a high self-esteem, while remaining humble in our acknowledgement that it comes from God. And there in no upper limit.

How would such theological reflection express itself in practice? I maintain that the traditional daily examination of conscience (which does not appear to have been updated since the Middle Ages) is fundamentally flawed. Rightly, we search out our faults, are contrite, and resolve to do better. But we can omit reflection on the good things we have done, the small advances in virtue we have made.

This reflection is important because, although we must thank God for the grace we needed, we have actually become holier thereby. Our all important LIPS can rise to a higher level, inspiring us to live up to our higher standards. John Paul II taught that virtuous behaviour leads in turn to greater virtue, but surely this is more difficult if we do not reflect on such progress as we have made.

But care is needed. All examination of conscience must take place under the auspices of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we hope that our insights may be realistic and sincere. In testing them our ultimate criterion must be St Paul’s teaching that even the most extreme of good works are nothing unless they are sourced in love.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, evolution, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to LIPS

  1. G.D. says:

    Two immediate thoughts … Kipling’s lines ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same’ and your last line in the post ‘our ultimate criterion
    must be St Paul’s teaching that even the most extreme of good works are nothing unless they are
    sourced in love.’ Combined they seem to posit an explanation for me.

    Weather we fail or succeed (where we are taught to determine low or high self esteem, of which either subjective judgement can be for good or ill) are of no real import(ance) to our ability to live from love. May hamper it even?

    Grace ‘works not from outside us but from within us’ as you say; to let it work is the practical work. (To learn to ‘let go and let God’ as it were).
    Which takes nothing away from the rest of your insightful thoughts.

    Add to them that we may not be so genetically determined as we think
    ( http://www.aipro.info/drive/File/224.pdf ) and the power of love is indeed paramount. Self esteem, high or low, an impostor that detracts from it’s acceptance/activity amongst us.

    Having had, for much of my life, a low ‘self-esteem’ myself, and a compensating ‘pride’ when i do catch myself succeeding i know both are not valid criteria for evaluating self-worth.
    (As far as i can discern, with some confusion, self-esteem & self-worth, despite the dictionary definition, are not exactly the same thing. Esteem, when from self, seems to be self evaluation a judgement?? Worth seems to be value accepted, instilled and/or bestowed from elsewhere??).

  2. Horace says:

    To say that this post leaves me confused is an understatement!

    “those of high religious standing, even members of the priesthood, can indulge in evil practices…… They are restoring their LIPS level.”
    But surely they are committing serious, indeed mortal sin? [LIPS or no LIPS] Or are we no longer supposed to talk about sin anymore?

    Similarly The claim: “I and the Father are one” is simple truth!

  3. ignatius says:

    “How would such theological reflection express itself in practice? I maintain that the traditional daily examination of conscience (which does not appear to have been updated since the Middle Ages) is fundamentally flawed. Rightly, we search out our faults, are contrite, and resolve to do better. But we can omit reflection on the good things we have done, the small advances in virtue we have made…”

    In my prisoners prayer group I teach a modified examen:
    In the group we:
    1)Present ourselves before God, standing ,just as we are and without pretence. ..This is the recollection phase
    2) Then we review our day and ask for the grace to know when we were closest to God, pause for a few seconds while this reviewing process is afoot.
    3) Next we ask for the grace to know when we were far from God- pause again.
    4) Then we thank God that He was present in our day and ask that He be with us tomorrow.

    This is a form of Ignatian examen, as far as I know it is widely used.
    In my experience I have found that our faults , approached this way, expose themselves readily enough without the need to wallow in them.

  4. ignatius says:

    Quentin,
    This LIPS thing is quite interesting. I notice in my own life the tendency for sin to ‘bulge out’ somewhere unexpected just when I thought I’d got myself all pious and holy… kind of fits with your analysis:
    ” But, more relevantly, it indicates how those of high religious standing, even members of the priesthood, can indulge in evil practices. They do not do so in spite of their high calling but because of it. They are restoring their LIPS level…”
    Not so much ‘evil’ in my case thankfully more just everyday banality ..venial sin in other words. But it is an interesting fact.

  5. Martha says:

    Perhaps St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh is an example, but unlike clergy who sin greatly he used God’s grace to resist the temptation.

  6. ignatius says:

    Actually, Martha, we don’t know that. We only have his letters, not his life. 🙂

  7. galerimo says:

    Timothy Radcliffe told the story recently of the mother who calls her son so that he can go to Mass.

    Ten minutes later she goes up again to call him. He just grunts and turns over in bed.

    Finally she goes in and shakes him and he tells her he doesn’t want to go because it is so boring.

    Eventually, she shouts at him that he better go to Mass, besides, ‘you are the bishop of the diocese’.”

    Perhaps the “spiritual progress” Quentin refers to here as a possible source of self esteem could find analogy in this yarn.

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