On dealing with assholes

One day a long time ago after reading a talk I had given that was dripping with hopeful optimism, my father remarked to me something along the lines of “You’re still young and growing.  It sounds like you’re still trying to find your way.  You’ll eventually realize that life will make you colder and harder.”  He was right.  Sort of.

Sometimes in our sanitized, modern Western life, we lose connection with just how dangerous and uncertain life is.  Infant mortality rates are an easy proxy to use for perspective.  Historical estimates are 200 deaths per 1000 in a good year and over 500 deaths per 1000 in years of severe drought, famine, disease or war.  By comparison, in 2006 in the U.S., the infant mortality rate was 6.7 per 1000 (right in between Slovakia and Chile).

While our harsh environment has been somewhat tamed and we have, as a result, become more “civilized” (but compare what happens when the power goes out for an extended period, and we are perhaps not so civilized after all…), we still struggle for our existence. We fight for survival or promotion in our workplaces; we fight for the best terms in our agreements; we fight for mates; we sometimes even fight for toys for our kids for Christmas, even trampling others to death to do so.  This modern manner of survival can seem just as cold and hard emotionally as a subsistence existence can be physically.

But it does not automatically follow that it makes each person cold and hard in turn.  Depending on the coldness and hardness of one’s circumstances and one’s predilections, one certainly could become colder and harder in general.  But another way to respond is to remain warm and open in general, while growing in that wisdom that permits us to navigate rocky shoals without getting bashed against the rocks. Coldness and hardness can be situationally appropriate without condemning one’s soul to a boorish existence.

I find my greatest happiness in relationships – with my wife, my children and my closest friends. These relationships all require my genuine warmth and openness and would be impossible if I were to allow myself to grow colder and harder.  At the same time, I have spent enough time in the rough and tumble world of big cities, big money and big egos that I can detect an asshole by the faintest whiff.  Sometimes you have to deal with assholes, so you do.

You first try reason, and dealing with a reasonable asshole can be bearable if not downright pleasant.  Most assholes at least have the vision to understand that not every situation calls for the same tactic, so if they see that a party cannot be bullied and insists on reasonableness as the standard, they will meet you there. Some will push the boundaries at every turn, while others have the brains to size you up and adjust accordingly to avoid wasting energy on someone who cannot be bullied.  Do not be mistaken – they will take every inch you give, and they will push for the next inch. This is particularly important if your asshole is a repeat customer. Your first interaction will likely determine the pattern for the rest of them, and a poor first performance will consign you to misery for the rest of that relationship.

Sometimes, however, the successful assholes think their asshole-ness is the sole cause of their success, so reason will not work – they just make demands as of a right and are belligerent until they get their way or get as much as they can.  At that point, you just have to strap yourself in for a shitty ride, grit the process out and wait for the day that the asshole exits your life stage left. Sometimes you’ll win; sometimes you’ll lose, but in either case, your life will NOT be the better for it. Such is the price of dealing with unreasonable assholes.

Fortunately, unreasonable assholes are few and far between, and it pays great dividends to try to marginalize them as best you can. If your livelihood or success depends on an unreasonable asshole, my advice is to GET OUT.  Get out as fast as you can. It’s just not worth it; there is always another bus. Life is too short, and if you choose to hitch your cart to an unreasonable horse’s ass…well, you’ll get what’s coming to you – a cartload of horseshit.

And the scales fell

I can’t really say how it happened or even what exactly happened.  For the first time, I think, it was as if the scales fell.

I wanted to step back, to look at her, to look in her eyes.  I saw her, as if seeing her for the first time, yet it was vastly different from a virginal view.  My sight was enhanced – I saw her beauty, how she’d grown more beautiful since the first time I’d seen her body, notwithstanding the intervening years; I saw how she responded to me, knowing that I was responsible for the sensations she was experiencing and how she expressed them; and I saw her, all of her, all of the years, all of the growth, all of the laughs and tears, all of it, all at once.

I did not feel any self-consciousness – no desire to cover, to protect, to shield. There was no shame, no embarrassment. There was no agenda, no plan, no thought, no concern. There was nothing but me.  Although I had previously experienced wonderful connection, this time I was naked, totally naked, for the first time. 

Being there, naked, without filter, I was able to identify the change in the moment, but I was surprised when simultaneously she shielded her eyes from me and said, “I can’t look at you.  It’s too intimate.” She could tell. What I thought was just an internal release was externally observable.  It seems that scales are not one-way mirrors; in addition to preventing us from learning the truth about the external world, they also prevent the external world from learning the truth about us. 

The scales fell. Two souls, unclothed inside and out, merging.  Pure, beautiful and rare.  Cherished.

Back to the business of making my breakfast

As a connoisseur of high-brow literature, I have read “A Visitor for Bear” aloud about 10 dozen times.  In it, Bear tries to make his breakfast only to find Mouse pop up in various places in his kitchen.  Each time, he throws Mouse out and gets back to the business of making his breakfast, only to find Mouse pop up again in a new location.  This leads to frustration, followed by despair, followed by begrudging acceptance, followed, ultimately, by the warmth of joyous friendship as they share breakfast by the fire.

There happens in me a struggle between the poet and the pragmatist.  The poet in me wants to market the moon (link); read, think and see beauty; live life for love; get lost in my lover’s eyes and arms; and generally seize the day.  It despises my higher (formal) education, my day job and my parental responsibilities.  It yearns for carefree freedom, new vistas and constant change.  In short, my poet yearns for a life that is a never-ending series of ever-higher highs.

The pragmatist in me helps the kids off to school.  It goes to work every day, reading and analyzing slight variations of the same boring things.  It reads Bloomberg, the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal.  It goes to the gym.  It eats lunch.  It returns home and helps the kids with their homework and bedtime routines.  It manages some down time for itself with a book, a television program or its equally tired wife.  Imagine standing on a highway in west Texas, the same gray dullness stretched out to infinity in either direction, with nothing on the wayside to entice one’s notice.  My pragmatist appreciates the engineering and the effort required to build the flat, plain road.

“I see life’s beauty!” the poet exclaims with passion in his voice and in his eyes.  “I give life to your eyes…” the pragmatist dryly notes, not looking up from the evening paper.  Each is frustrated and pushed to the edge of despair, being chained to the other.

The poet is learning to accept the sacrifice and generosity of the pragmatist whose work makes life possible; the pragmatist is learning to accept the poet’s yearning hunger for beauty that makes life worth living.  Neither existence is possible without the other.

After the frustration and despair dissipate, begrudging acceptance can yield to joyous friendship.  And I can get back to the business of making my breakfast.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Each of the links below are recommended, but for the sake of brevity, a few take-aways to frame today’s material.

lareviewofbooks.org/essay/post-scarcity-economics
The opening line is brilliant: “We live like gods, and we don’t even know it.” The next paragraph shares a few examples of things that are fairly common for many living in the U.S., but which would have been unimaginable for even kings a scant century ago: flight, eating tropical fruit in the winter, ipods.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/how-pope-francis-misunderstands-the-world/282276/
Although styled as a critique of the Pope’s view of the state of poverty as far too myopic, for our purposes, it is sufficient to note that the article reviews some historical trends regarding GDP, crime, disease and life expectancy and notes that never before in human history have we had it so good.

http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/i_hope_my_father_dies_soon/
Scott Adams shares the plight of his father, dangling painfully to life, unable to access assisted suicide to end his life which is described as: “His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed…[he is] in this state of perpetual suffering…I’d like to end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But…for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.”

Many of those living in developed countries live in luxury unparalleled in history. Even I, so far from “the 1%” decried by the Occupy crowd, would have to rank my quality of life in the top 0.01% of all humans to ever have walked the earth. I never before thought I lived like a king, but by broadening my view to include the proper historical context, I don’t think I can now refute the assertion.

Not only is the quality of my life unparalleled in human history, the quantity of my life (and my entire cohort) is likely to be unparalleled. War is not likely to take me, given that I’ve avoided it so far and I’m not likely to be the first drafted in any future scenario requiring that. Childbirth complications, starvation, polio, bacteria, influenza, malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, tetanus, bubonic plague, measles and likely dozens of other diseases have been or can be prevented, cured or managed by modern medicine, sanitation and agriculture.  Even the new killers of the developed world, which are mainly lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, can be held at bay for long periods of time. As a result, I can expect – EXPECT! – to live for 70+ years.

Notwithstanding this abundance of life, it hasn’t made us more accepting of the inevitable. Perhaps the most famous lines capturing our instinct to recoil upon the verge of our (or a loved one’s) death are these lines penned by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This raises a serious question: just because we are repulsed at the thought of our own death and we have the tools to delay it much beyond our “natural” lifespan, is it wise to choose, as a default, to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”?  It almost seems as if the guiding assumption of medicine, and government, is to extend life. But what exactly does it mean to extend life?  Extend it compared to what?  More importantly, for what purpose? It appears that we have no purpose – we extend life merely, and thoughtlessly, because we can, on the assumption that it is the “moral” thing to do.  But what about when we’re wrong?

Puzzles

Pieces scattered
haphazardly
across life’s table.
Nothing fits.
Dullness.

Then you.
Pieces extricated from the pile.
Gently floated to their rightful place.
Pieces wrenched, spraying others wildly.
Picking up the pieces.
Together.

Then came you
A rock tumbler you.
Constant grinding.
Hard edges knocked.
Corners hewed.
Pieces gone missing.
Found
planted in the soil of your soul
sprouted.
I look to see you growing from my soul.
Two puzzles.
Interlocked.

Scales fall
Horizons expand
Soul swells
A puzzle,
extended.

Navel Gazing

I find it amusing that I have decided to start writing a blog. The reason, you see, is that I think writing a blog is a little pathetic, like a tiny little voice in the vastness of the universe desperately screaming, “I matter!”

On a certain level, the internet is like the universe, awash in data rather than matter.  And, much like the universe, most of that data matters not to the average Earth-dweller. You could literally spend every hour of your life scanning the skies or the web and still not have your eyeballs roll over every star or piece of data out there.

Of particular focus for my purposes is the data that takes the form of blogs.  People create all kinds of blogs, posting all sorts of data – expanded facebook-like blogs, amateur subject matter blogs, expert subject matter blogs, experiential blogs, etc.  Most of these hold no interest for me, and I believe they are largely, if not totally, useless.

So, why am I adding my drop to the sea of data that will likely never wash over any shores?

I enjoy thinking, and I enjoy writing.  I am experimenting with writing publicly (if pseudonymously) as a way to force myself to spend more time cultivating my thoughts and crafting my writing. Although pathetic in comparison to the universe, my writing is pleasurable and even meaningful to me, so perhaps this will only be an exercise in mental masturbation.

In addition, having been recently unmoored from others’ shoulds and s’pose’das, I am free to explore life’s nuances without trying to put my thoughts or conclusions in boxes with labels prepared by others. I also want to share this experience, not as someone who has discovered a “new” and “right” set of shoulds and s’pose’das; not as someone who seeks to impose my moorings on others; not as someone needing affirmation for my choices; but as someone who is a fellow traveller.

I want to tell you, the reader, “Here, over here, just over that ridge are hidden pockets of beauty that you just gotta see!” Having undertaken the journey, you will notice that you do not see what I see. You will see whatever it is you see, which will be influenced by your own thoughts, experiences and values, but I will have fulfilled my purpose: not to make you see what I see, but to get you to take a journey you otherwise would not have taken. It is not, after all, my duty to spoon-feed you the results of my journey. Like a lactose-intolerant baby, you cannot digest the feed I have created; you must create your own for it to be of any worth. To put it another way, as I recall reading once somewhere, of far more profit is a fact discovered than received – the impression on the mind lasts longer.

I did not and do not write for comments or followers, so I generally do not comment on comments or follow followers. If you have a thoughtful, challenging response to something I have explored in these pages, please leave a comment or send me an email at the name of this blog at gmail.com. I would love to follow your thought and to have you show me a beauty that I have not seen before.