The Human Condition & What Can Be Done About It

I guess it depends on what condition (as there are many).  Some things are fixable.  And others? –Well not so much.  Pretty much the only conditions that I can count on affecting much of a change in are the ones that involve me directly.  Were it not so, I’d be spending my time trying to “fix” everybody else’s problems too.  I can donate to the victims of the Haitian quake, cancer research or the the local animal shelter and will probably never know if my funds really helped anyone (except me when I go to write off the charitable donation on my taxes.)

I’ve learned some things in life (related to this issue):  1/ If I wait long enough, things have a way of resolving themselves, either to my liking…  or not (aka successful procrastination); 2/ Money (or the lack there of) can fix a whole lot of things that are caused by money (or a lack there of); 3/ There are some problems that can’t be fixed with money no matter how much I throw at it; 4/ There’s a very thin line between “helping” and “controlling;” 5/ Karma is cyclical.  What goes around really does come around –eventually (maybe not in my lifetime).  This is the extent of my faith in the cosmos; and last but not least:  6/ I can plan all I want, talk to all the experts, write lists, business plans, whatever –until my head explodes.  But try as I might, I can never predict the future.  Only one mortal was ever documented as having that ability (Nostradamus) and that is open to debate.

One of my favorite self-help books is What You Think Of Me Is None Of My Business by Terry Cole-Whittaker.  This book is based on the premise that our thoughts are private.  We never really know what others are thinking, and basically, people aren’t thinking about us (or the issues we hold dear) near as much as our egos drive us to think they are.  Mother Teresa lived to a ripe old age because she realized that in order to help others, she had to be healthy enough to do so and did what she needed to do to take care of herself.  Ever notice when you get on a plane and they’re giving you the instructions regarding what to do if the oxygen masks drop down, that they’ll tell you to put yours on first before attempting to help somebody else with theirs?  It is supposed this is a tough call for parents to do who are traveling with small children.  They have to be told… Or do they? If I suddenly found myself unable to breath, I’d really expect the “fight or flight” response would kick in.  I am certainly no Mother Teresa, but I think she would have put her mask on first too.  I guess it’s assumed that when the masks drop, there is still enough oxygen in the air for us not to panic and to make a sound decision –yeah right!

There are psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  I don’t think most people fall into those categories and truly do care about the welfare of others.  However, most people think about themselves way more than they’ll admit and are interested in self-preservation mostly.  That is not a condemnation as I believe there are more “good” people than “bad” people.  The bad ones just get more press.  It is human nature to subconsciously project our values on others.  We live what we learn.  Those who believe themselves to be thoughtful and well intentioned (and that would be most of us), tend to trust that others they encounter will be the same because (most of the time) they have been treated in kind. 

As everyone pretty much knows, bad things happen to good people and situations sometimes cause basically good people to make mistakes that ultimately hurt others.  In this economy there are businesses falling apart all around us.   Where “business as usual” meant that doing right by others was just the way business was done (without thinking too much about it) because it was easy.  Suddenly, in mid transaction, the business entities involved collapsed leaving many “holding the bag.”  People are out of work, losing their homes, have lost their life savings and are struggling just to survive.  Share holders and investors suddenly find their shares and investments are now worth less than the paper they were written on.  The very foundation of the belief systems of many are on shaky ground and pointing fingers fly!  Could it have been avoided?  Did anybody see it coming and just not say anything?  At least as far as the housing and remodeling industries are concerned, we had plenty of warning.  At the very least, we were certainly aware that nothing could last for ever.  But nobody wanted to believe it would collapse so suddenly or so devastatingly.    (See #6 above.)

There are still psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  Though they may be more difficult to differentiate from those who are just reacting and lashing out because of their losses.  Many creative solutions have evolved in the business world as a result where otherwise highly moral and well intentioned people are doing things they would never have thought of in better times.  I know of a number of individuals who have simply closed the doors of their bankrupted businesses only to reopen a new one down the street with a different name doing exactly the same thing.  Many are taking on projects that are “iffy” and clients are asking things of them that they wouldn’t normally ask knowing they’d be laughed out of the building if times were better.  I don’t even want to think about how employers are treating employees these days.  Healthcare reform? Well, so far the only thing I’ve seen reform in that respect are the premiums –they went up!

I was once lured away from a job (with pretty good pay and benefits) to work for someone who I would classify as a sociopath.  When I think of the mind games and how (I can now see) he wove this elaborate plan and seduced me into following him.  I like to think that I’m no “shmuck” but this guy was very clever.  He learned what my hot buttons were.  He even went so far as to manipulate my relationship with my employers.  He became socially involved with my family as well. 

He was very slick.  I quit my job to work in his new showroom “that was just about finished” only to discover the showroom that he was building wasn’t really his and never would be.  My business relationship with him continued as I didn’t feel I had a whole lot of options at that time.  The money was good and he eluded to an eventual partnership.  He was very charming.  Eventually he did find an office space and built a scaled-down version of the showroom he originally proposed.  As we began working together side by side, I began to see glimpses of his personality that frankly scared me.  A potential client once borrowed some sample doors and failed to return them promptly which earned him a dozen very loud and profane phone calls on a single Sunday afternoon.  Another time a client called to complain about shoddy workmanship by a drunken tile setter.  The conversation escalated to a loud crescendo and a plastic file tray went whizzing by my head, bouncing off my desk and narrowly missing my computer screen.  He didn’t even apologize but did make excuses for his behavior.  It didn’t take too much convincing from clients and others to get away from that situation as quickly as I could.  I even felt kind of sneaky when I moved my operation to my home office when I moved to another town stating that the commute to the showroom was too far to commit to more than a couple of days a week. Once I got my stuff home, I never went back.  As far as I know, he’s still in business.

I’ve chalked it up to experience.  I’ve learned to trust my gut more.  I refuse to have a victim mentality though I’m not as trusting as I once was and know things are not always what they seem.  I still have a lot of faith in people and believe that the human condition is what it is.  Neither good nor bad –it just is.

Yes, there are psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  They operate on the premise that they must “do unto others before it’s done unto them.”  Their interactions with others are game-like.  Only the playing field is always bent to their advantage –or they don’t play.  They have absolutely no concern about how anything they do or say effects anyone but themselves.  Often very intelligent, they project a false persona of interest, compassion and indulgence.  But it is only a means to an end that suits them and only them.  You might be able to discover them if you really want to, but you probably won’t because they are seductive.  (Think Dexter.) When times are good, it’s easy to be taken in by them because they are very good at their game.  They are control freaks.  When times are bad and they’ve lost control of a situation, that’s when their “normal” guise starts to fall away.  Hopefully, it won’t be too late for you to escape their web of deceit and become their next victim.

Do they mean to cause harm?  Sometimes.  They have inflated egos and creative imaginations.  They think the world is their oyster and is better off for their actions.  Most of the time, they could care less.  That is what separates us from them –we give a damn.  I count myself fortunate to know many more that wear the white hats than the “Black Barts” that don’t.  You know who you are. 

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