Monday, January 16, 2006

Intemperate Rant

Locked into combat with the concept of “nice.” With the concept of “kindness.”

What is the correct response to that nice, sensitive, vulnerable person sitting opposite me, drinking ink-bitter restaurant coffee and pouring out the initimate details of their personal problems? (Again? Is this happening again? Can I go home now?)

Two of me respond.

Person One’s automatic first reaction is, What can I do to help? Person One, as an astrologer friend aptly said, “will hand over her heart on a plate and then be surprised when somebody eats it.” Person One is identified as me upon occasion and the adjective “kind” comes into play. Erroneously and to my eternal horror.

We, my various personalities and me, are sitting in this cheesy restaurant, by the way, with Vlad the Impaler. Vlad is a nice person, but he needs to consume me. He will call at midnight with another tale of woe, and he will arrive, hang-dog and sad-eyed to ask me to lunch. Lunch will be his problems with a side order of anguish. Vlad has no intention of seeking actual help or changing his behavior. Vlad is in a bad marriage he won’t leave, working a job he hates, suffocated by a mother who is crippling him, his children are on the Ten Most Wanted List and he has a crippling psychological condition that Prozac can’t touch. He is an artist, really, and suffers.

Person Two is aware that Vlad is in the room. Her system is ringing five alarms and she’s poking and prodding at Person One’s solar plexus to make herself heard. As Person One is misting over with empathy, Person Two is shrieking, “Trap, Trap, Trap! Bail out now! Don’t….” just as…

Person One says, “Call me anytime. No. Really. Call if you need to talk. Come over.”

Person Two flails in helpless fury. You dumb f-ck! she screams, Who died and made you Joan of Arc?

And what is this “kindness” other than a whoosy, weak desire to be The Nice One. To be the one who fixes it all and makes it right? A Good Person.

And what does it accomplish? Vlad goes on sucking energy from anyone who will hand it over. He – or she – will keep cycling through the same self-defeating, self-abusive patterns over and over again because…well, it works, doesn’t it? It’s easier to be a victim than change. It’s easier to be the wronged one than to stand up on our hind legs and accept that, much of the time, we make decisions that have consequences.

That bears repeating.

We make decisions. And the decisions have consequences.

And much as kindness is a virtue, it cannot even touch the ability to look squarely at the decisions we’ve made (especially the ones that make us look bad) – and accept that these have had outcomes.

And that’s the sin. It’s not about blame or unworthiness or looking bad. Everyone screws up. I know this from vast personal experience and a lifetime of screwing up. Big deal.

The sin is not having the courage to make a more life-affirming decision.

(She scribbles a note to her friends, "This is not about you. Then she climbs down from her soap box and pigeons flutter down to reclaim the square.)

4 comments:

Koru's Daughter said...

It is not about me? Well, it should be. I need to hear it from time to time. OK, I need to hear it constantly.

Last night in class, a student mentioned the phrase, "No good deed goes unpunished." Everyone over the age of 35 nodded their heads in recognition. The twenty-something counseling students froze like deer in the headlights. I tried to explain that it was about boundries but no go. Time and experience are the best teachers here.

They also don't yet know that transforming into Glinda the Good Witch will not save their clients (or the world) from suffering. That's going to be a hard lesson - Ouch!

No comments here, yet? Reply here LJ and I will write back.

LJ said...

The note to my friends was an afterthought. Who wouldn't wince (including me)and think, "It is not about me? Well it should be."\
All of us do a pretty good Vlad once in a while.

I've been thinking about the difference between listening to the problems of a real friend (or telling them mine) and our buddy, Vlad. And it's this: With the real friend, it's an exchange of energy. You take turns as time goes on. Vlad, on the other hand, starts looking for the exit signs or first opportunity to swing the conversation back to where it belongs (to his/her problems) should you have the poor judgment to interject with any of your own stuff. Two: The change factor. My real friends and me go through some pretty high drama. Most of us are not what you'd call "laid back." Most of us are stubborn, willful, thorny and difficult. And over-sensitive. (Are you glowing with pride yet? I know I am.)

HOWever, most of us are constantly questioning our behavior and motives. Now it might take a wrecking ball to the forehead to bring us to resolution or to breaking our patterns - but the point is, we're looking for a way. We are not content to blame everything on someone else. Because even when blame might be appropriate or deserved - it's a useless strategy. You can only change yourself. So get on with it.

Boundaries. Yes indeed. Ours and other people's. I recently had the brilliant insight that equal exchange of energy(emotional, material, physical, mental, financial etc.)is not an ethical concept, but rather a universal law. You don't HELP anyone, as you say, KD, by being Glinda. That's the real kicker. You don't help anyone by doling out ten times the energy you take in. Not only does it hurt you to do it, it hurts the very person you're trying to help.

And it isn't, in the end, actual kindness. And it isn't coming from pure motives either.

And KD, I'm not sure it's completely related to age - this realization that good deeds never go unpunished. Although a long experience of good deeds you've been punished for go a long way towards learning the lesson. I do know people under 30 who are pretty sharp about this stuff.

So how do we know when real kindness is appropriate? When there is no resentment or self-congratulation attached to it. And you don't go home feeling like you've spent lunch being deboned like a piece of supermarket chicken. That's my guess.

(And PS - I wrote this entry BEFORE I read your latest article on Tyger Tyger on the guy calling himself Vlad the Impaler! How's that for weird? I was looking for something less trite than Dracula or Vampire and Vlad had such a dandy ring!)

Marigoldie said...

I sure know this person and hope hope hope I've never BEEN this person. (Negative, never, but I've certainly gone years stupidly repeating mistakes.)

And your writing just dazzles the shit out of me.

LJ said...

Oh, I'm pretty sure we've ALL been Vlad for a moment or hour or so. I think I might have had year long stretches, myself. Ugh. Yuck.

Still, as I told a student assistant who brought me a yard of silk today by way of apology for pissing me off - "Never buy a gift for someone who's been irritable and crappy & self-obsessing. In my case, say to me: GET OVER YOURSELF."
She demures. She's a sweetheart. "I could never say that," she tells me.
"You need to learn. Come on, try it out!"
She doesn't but at least that was my stab at beating down the Vlad moment.

I'm pretty dazzled by your writing, too, by the way, Marigoldie.