It’s Not Worth It

They sat across from each other in the booth – I brought the coffee over and sat next to her.  I was a little stunned – I did not expect him to be there.  She didn’t say that he’d be there; I expected it to be just us.  I don’t know how I looked to them – I didn’t have the strength to feign gladness, and used what little energy I had to keep my mouth shut.  She rubbed my shoulder, and it felt good – but it didn’t light me up like it usually did.  I had a “good angry” going on, and I wasn’t about to let it go.

For the next hour they talked as if I wasn’t there.  I managed to chat a bit about an introvert/extrovert question from work that day:  “You have a birthday coming up, and you have an unlimited amount of funds.  How would you like to celebrate it and how many people would you like to be there with you?”

I answered, “Out to dinner with one friend” – which may sound sad to all you extroverts out there, but is in fact one of the more pleasurable things in this introvert’s life.  He thought it was a sad answer – there was genuine pity in his heart.  I didn’t expect either one of them to get it – by this time I really only had two clear thoughts:  1) why the fuck is he here? and 2) why the fuck am I here?  I don’t know why I didn’t get up and walk away.

The arrangement was so uneven that it wasn’t worth being friends.  I listened to her way more than she listened to me.  And it wasn’t just the time – it was the content, too.  I don’t know if she’s a superficial person, but there were definite limits to what could and could not be discussed.  When I was hurting, I wasn’t in a position to talk to her about it.  That isn’t who she is.  And that made my hurt that much worse.

From her point of view, people should keep their feelings to themselves.  Public displays of affection are verboten.  It explains why I didn’t have any “deep” emotional conversations with her – she may have been feeling lots of things, but they were private matters.  You might argue that our friendship lacked the trust it needed to share those kinds of things – and you’d be right.

Marc Maron says something like “you don’t really know whether you’re in a relationship until someone gets hurt.”  Because it’s exactly those moments when you realize that the relationship you have with someone is not a casual thing.  We were friends – emphasis on the lowercase “f.”  Now I’m looking for someone who isn’t afraid, not just of my feelings, but even more importantly, of showing and sharing theirs with me.

A Bigger Pasture

Do you remember your transition from grade school to high school?  His very first day of school, when his mom left him in a classroom with some thirty other six-year olds he’d never seen before, was his first introduction to the world beyond the walls of home.

Home was claustrophobic.  His dad, the baby of his family, was born in that house in 1923.  Dad’s parents lived in the back half of the house, while mom and dad and (eventually) ten kids lived in the front.  He was fourteen years old, average height, overweight.  Smart as a whip, shy as a mouse.  He had a small circle of friends, and a sincere desire to become a Catholic priest – at least, he thought he did.  He was looking forward to a new start in a high school some 400 miles away.

The high school seminary did not have individual rooms.  About eighty-five students all slept on the same floor, freshmen and sophomores on the west end of the third floor, junior and seniors on the east end.  Each seminarian had their own twin size bed.  The metal bed frame included a couple of large metal drawers tucked away under the foot end of the bed.  Each also had their own dorm locker, about five feet tall and maybe two feet wide.

The lockers were lined up down the middle of the 70 foot wide floor, dividing the 140 foot length equally into north and south.  Because there were many more freshmen than sophomores, juniors or seniors, the upper classmen enjoyed slightly larger personal living spaces.  The older students, sophomores on the west side and seniors on the east side, occupied positions nearest the windows; freshmen and juniors were assigned the interior spaces.

Now if you had your own bedroom back home in Detroit or St. Louis or Chicago or Grand Rapids or Kansas City or wherever else in the Midwest you happened to come from, you might have wondered how the hell you were going to manage any degree of personal dignity living with a herd of teenagers not unlike the herds of cows well within sight of the high school.  But if you had shared a bedroom with at least four other brothers for the first fourteen years of your life – in his case, two or three of those years were shared in the same twin size bed with his younger brother – you could not begin to believe your good fortune.  His personal space had gone from something like thirty square feet to a hundred – with his own drawers and his own closet (locker) that belonged to him, that no one else (well, no one other than the fathers, of course) could access.  Yes, he was now part of a larger herd – and this pasture was a whole hell of a lot bigger than his last one.

William James and Philosophy

There are at least two things you should know about William James’s philosophical views.  The first concerns his so-called “thoroughgoing dualism” in the Principles of Psychology.  At times James is an epistemological dualist, with the aim of psychology to explain the cognitive relation between a knower and what it knows.  But at other times James appears to be a metaphysical dualist, with psychology aiming to explain the causal relation between physical things and mental (brain) states.  The Stream of Thought chapter from the Principles, the best example of how contrary James’s observations of consciousness run against positivism, makes much more sense in the context of epistemological, and not metaphysical, dualism.  To understand the Principles you need to understand how psychology-as-epistemology differs from psychology-as-metaphysics.

Secondly, does James regard psychology as an exclusively “person-centered” science?  Now it’s only in maybe the past fifty years that philosophers began to widen their view of consciousness beyond its purely “cognitive” content by recognizing emotions, desires, etc.  James, quite purposely I think, blurred the usual distinctions between thoughts and feelings, so that we might not identify “thought” solely with the cognitive, or “feeling” with the noncognitive, aspects of conscious awareness.  We have cognitive feelings, too – feelings of ‘if,’ of ‘and,’ of ‘with’ – not unlike our sensory awareness of, say, a patch of blue.  So it’s important to not misconstrue James’s term “feeling” in an exclusively emotive way.  Consider what sort of notion of person is at work in the Principles.  Clearly, any adequate science must be “subjective” or “personal” to believe in its hypotheses, at least enough if for no other reason than to be able to test them.  But to what extent?  The “cure,” if you will, is not simply to give ourselves over to the subjective pole of experience once and for all, but to provide an account that accommodates both subject and object poles of experience.  James’s radical empiricism sets out to do precisely this.  If the intent of a “person-centered” science is only to discard one pole of experience for the other, then it makes the same mistake positivism makes – just in the opposite direction.

Be an Owl

Do others’ feelings keep us from getting things done?  If we measure our success by the number of tasks we complete, but hurt others in the process, that’s not success – that’s pathology.  We may need professional help, but we CAN be as passionate about our relationships with one another as we are about “getting things done.”  Goals and relationships are not an either/or proposition; if we are to be truly successful, we have to do both.

I’ve often taken the “turtle” approach to dealing with confrontation:  avoid, withdraw, retreat.  When someone tells me to fight for my goals at the expense of others, my gut reaction is to punch them in the face.  This person doesn’t understand who I am – they want me to be someone other than myself.  For better or worse, I am a shy person – and for some reason, the people I am closest to don’t understand why I just don’t come out of my shell and be like them.  You never really know how alone you are until you realize how disconnected the world is from you, and you from it.

You can’t be anything other than who you are, no matter how much you may try.  I can only be who I am – to me, both thinking and feeling matter.  It’s not a matter of either/or – if you don’t have both, you’re doomed.  I’m not a turtle anymore – I will not avoid conflict.  But I’m not a lion, either – lions care only about getting things done and (when necessary) will hurt others.

I’m an owl.  Owls collaborate.  They place a high value on both their goals and their relationships.  They take a problem solving approach to conflicts and work to find a solution that achieves both their own goals and the goals of the other person in the conflict.  Owls recognize that when handled effectively, conflicts can improve relationships by reducing the tension between people.  They try to begin a discussion that identifies the issues that are creating the conflict.

Owls look for solutions that will satisfy both themselves and the other person, thereby preserving the integrity of the relationship.  They will work diligently and are not satisfied until a solution is found that achieves their own goals and those of the other person.  This also includes working at the conflict until all of the tension and negative feelings have been fully resolved.

Yes, we have to do this over and over and over again.  I still believe that collaboration is the best way of dealing with conflict and confrontation.  But lately all I see in this world are craploads of lions and turtles, and no owls.

Be who you are.  Care about your relationships with others as much as you are about what you want to accomplish.  Collaborate with others, and you’ll be amazed at what you will achieve.

Amish Show Tunes – Conclusion

CALEB:  Jacob, wait.  Our brothers have hit upon something delightful for the harvest social.  And the song mentions “the land” – which is always beautiful to the Amish …

JACOB:  Well, you’re the church elder, so okay; I’ll trust your judgment.

CALEB:  Wonderful!  Brothers Abner and Levi will sing this lovely song about the land at the social.

LEVI:  Um, Brother Caleb, we were hoping to please God and the community with two or three show tunes.

(the words “show tunes” make CALEB a little uneasy)

CALEB:  Oh?  Pray, tell us of another of these “show tunes.”

(long pause, then JACOB begins to sing softly)

“The sun’ll come out, tomorrow / So ya gotta hang on ’til tomorrow …”

(ABNER smiles at JACOB, and both sing):  “Come what may! / Tomorrow! Tomorrow! … ”

(LEVI joins in, all three sing):  “I love ya tomorrow! / You’re always a day a way!”

(CALEB raises his hand to stop them)

CALEB:  Wait – this song is Christian because … ??

LEVI:  … because it’s a song about hope …

ABNER:  … and about joy …

JACOB:  … and about love …

(LEVI, ABNER and JACOB sigh together)

CALEB:  All right, two songs then.  I just hope the community likes these “show tunes” as much as you all do. … Hmm …

JACOB:  Brother Caleb?  Does something still trouble thee?

ABNER:  Caleb, thou art good and kind.  Tell us, what is it?

CALEB:  Well, there is one song from my youth … I’m wondering if we might sing it at our social as well …

LEVI:  Brother Caleb, of course we can!  Sing out, brother; show us your soul’s joy …

(CALEB pauses, clears his throat, and sings)

“It’s just a jump to the left …”

(JACOB recognizes the tune, sings)

JACOB:  “And then a step to the ri-i-ight …”

(ABNER, hands on hips, sings)

ABNER:  “With your hands on your hips …”

(LEVI, knees in tight, sings)

LEVI:  “You bring your knees in ti-i-iight …”

(all four, “Rocky Horror” style)

CALEB, JACOB, ABNER and LEVI:  “But it’s the pelvic thru-ust / that really drives you insa-a-a-ane / Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

(As all four sing the refrain again, lights fade to black)