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August 2014 - La Vie est Belle

We live in troubled times. Some of these troubles have been self-produced, others manufactured by people willing to feed off of the fears and foibles of mere mortals living in a world that is far from perfect, but which is also far from imperfect. It is that distance -- between the perfect and the imperfect -- that the manipulators and the users of this world seek to obfuscate from so many of us. The world of reality is located within that distance.

There are days when the world of reality feels like a state of disbelief! My friends, believe it! Only then can you begin to find your dream! That search -- of finding your dream -- is much more difficult than knowing what your dream is and going after it. Even then, one can be deterred or waylaid or simply frustrated, but, be patient. Victor Hugo sagely stated: “Perserverance, secret of all triumphs.”

The search to achieve a dream is part of a journey, but that search is often fraught with fears and feelings both confused and uncertain. Being used because you are searching for your dream is often a part of living in troubled times. With freedom, comes choice; and with choice, there is the necessity for responsibility. Some folks take to it well; others never quite get the hang of it, partly because they won’t ‘fess up to anything!

A person can become very susceptible to being used by another person during phases of loneliness, fear, unhappiness, and that catch-all of feeling bad: low self-esteem. This type of manipulation happens when a person unknowingly surrenders dignity (or power) to another person. The “used” person does not experience any amount of caring or sympathy or even “love,” but undergoes a forfeit of “love” because the user is not, at that point, capable of loving or even feeling empathy.

I have often wondered if the user wanted to care but simply could not risk being hurt or allowing vulnerable feelings to surface. At some point, the user must have wanted to care about another person, but chose instead to use another human being for “self-gain,” although nothing is ever truly gained. It was during that choice that the capacity to love began to dwindle, perhaps even ultimately coming to a very low ebb.

The vulnerable person is often the last to know that he or she has been used because this person feels a heady sense of euphoria in the “connection” to the user who has chosen him or her to “love” above all others. In the olden days, it was called an ego trip. I’ve no idea what it is called now. Regardless of the label, it is a hard lesson for anyone to learn. The extent of using and being used is not known until a great deal of hurt and harm has occurred.

On some level, however, the person being used is also using the other person, albeit to a lesser degree and with an ostensibly more noble intention, perhaps even unwittingly. That commonality of expediency (some might say “opportunity”) joins these two people together for a while, until the well runs dry for the low-minded user and then the high-minded user is left “in the lurch,” “holding the bag,” or any of a number of other phrases that I did not take the time to look up. (I am notoriously bad at clichés and idioms.)

We are all needy at various junctures in our lives. The point is not to avoid being needy; that goal would obviate living! The point is to maintain one’s dignity while being needy and when attempting to meet one’s needs. It is how one goes about getting needs filled that determines -- and reveals -- character, or lack thereof. There is a whole lot wrong with being needy and using another person to get your needs met.

That sort of character flaw runs the gamut from someone who needs a swift kick in the pants to someone who lives on the edge of morality. (I shudder to consider assigning a technical label from any of the tens of thousands of labels of “disorders” within the modern bibles of disorders and diseases. Novelists would do well to steer clear of such “literature.”)

The lowest level of needs focuses on physiology and security; then there are the needs for social recognition and esteem. Those needs are due to deprivation and are termed “deficiency” needs. A person who lacks those levels of fulfillment will try to satisfy those needs simply to avoid feeling bad or facing unpleasant consequences. Very often, someone acting to fill a deficiency need will use another person to attempt filling that need.

The user can also use a group, company, or even an organization to get his or her deficiency needs met. Witness the bottom-feeder low achiever who can’t stay long at a good job; when the structure (or the people within it) does not fulfill the lower level needs of this person, a blast-off usually occurs! Observe, preferably from a great distance, the con artiste high achiever who climbs his way up the ladder of success, only to jump off of it in a self-destruct mode because deficiency needs can never be met by external forces, only from forces within and from Above.

In the Office World, the user usually wreaks so much mayhem that the Personnel Office (which has morphed into the Orwellian “Dept. of Human Resources”) has a full-time job just trying to contain the madness created by an employee intent on evening the score, exacting revenge, exacerbating an already bad situation, and just plain exuding execrable behavior, all because he or she has “issues,” or emotional baggage from Wherever which has been hauled into the workplace, sometimes in a hidden U-Haul truck.

This type of conniving person seems incapable of failing on his own; he needs someone else to blame for his incompetence, laziness, stupidity, malevolence, or just sheer bad luck. The thought of taking responsibility for his actions and decisions strikes the user as an unfair attempt to force him to grow up and live in the real world! He will pull the victim routine and head straight for the Grievance Bureaucracy that he feels was established just for him! Avoid this type of person at all costs.

(In the previous paragraph, I used the male pronoun but persons of the female sex are equally if not more applicable. And I do not use the ridiculous word, “gender,” as if we are Victorians who must say “chicken bosom” instead of “breast.” The use of the neutered term tells me we have not come a long way, baby.)

In the world of Private Relationships (or personal drama), the “temporary escape mechanism” is a common one for the user. If you have ever been used as the human can opener to help anyone out of where they no longer want to be (job, marriage, relationship, family home, ramshackle rental, crushing mortgage, disastrous debt), then, bingo! You’ve won first prize in the sweepstakes of being swept (and hosed) by a user.

If you’ve sensed the gambit and refused to function as a can opener for a smelly situation (the proverbial can of worms), then I congratulate you! You certainly did not receive any congratulations, validation, or affirmation of yourself from the user. That person was indubitably quite miffed at not being able to make use of whatever superior personal skills you possess, skills that you insisted on still possessing and not being dispossessed of by the user in his or her latest rip-off act.

Of course, for the user, the self-esteem component within such schemes is never fulfilled because the utilization of another person for one’s needs is corrosive to a healthy sense of self. Thereby hangs more than one vicious cycle.

It is also quite possible that someone knowingly uses people because it reinforces a hideous sense of self. I suppose that person ought to be referred to the disorder bibles mentioned in a previous paragraph. Sometimes a person uses another person out of fear and does not know it. Other times, the person knows it and simply believes it is okay to use another person: the ends justify the means. But a person is never a means to an end: harm is always the result, usually to both people, and always to the user in the end.

There are people who use other people so often that it becomes almost a reflex. Such people are never happy or content. The truth is that users are also used. And the next time you think that networking is an equal share-and-share alike of talents, ideas, energy, work, and skills, just remember: slackers love networking.

The highest level of human needs focuses on growth. Those needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from the desire to grow. People who wish to grow and who need to grow are called “self-actualizing.” They are aware of who they are, and they become aware of who another person is through a sense of dignity, not deficiency.

They use their awareness of other people to grow, not to try to get something or to get a leg up, a step ahead, a key into, a jump on, or any of a number of other supposedly ambitious actions which, in reality, are cesspools of cynicism and stepping stones to selfishness of a sort that, if left unchecked, strips the soul of sympathy and bleeds the heart of sensibility. (For some real-life tragedy, consider the sensitive, self-actualizing person who, unaware of deep fault lines within the self, slides the slippery slope into being a user of many people and many things.)

The self-actualizing individual is not very concerned about the opinions of others; he is far more concerned about his opinion of himself. Fulfilling one’s God-given potential keeps this person busy, far too busy for gossip, goading, and glancing at others. In a world with too many Selfies, the self-actualizing person actually does not give too much thought to self, beyond what is required to mold it and mature it into the type of person that can be of service and of good cheer to others.

Self-actualization is often more important than meeting the lower level needs. It is the reason why some people are quite happy with a very humble physical existence which permits them to do what they were born to do, to realize the potential within them.

Catharsis was much loved by the Ancient Greeks. I often find that the people most in need of catharsis are the ones who refuse to face the mirror, the manipulators and users who use mirrors, and smoke, to fuzzy up reality for the rest of us. Of course, they are the ones in love with the mirror, that reflected image which trapped and doomed Narcissus.

The percentage of narcissists in this world is no greater than it ever was: we simply have more and more media by which they can (and do) transmit their fixated images beyond all bounds and boundaries! The Greeks were wise to love catharsis, in measured doses. And the prescription for our troubled times is somewhat cathartic:

Turn off the tube (wipe out the wide screen), click the laptop shut, put the cellphone in a distant room, and enjoy the simple comforts of life in the untroubled world.

La vie est belle !


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