If you’re going to make it through this life, there are some things you need to have a good handle on starting with these 3 Unchangeable Rules.
The sociopaths I have had the misfortune to know all watch people very closely, gauging their reactions & plotting their next move. They very quickly figure out how to present themselves in order to gain whatever advantage they happen to be seeking with each person they engage with. They will decide that one person will adore them and another will be appalled or frightened or awed and set about making it so. If they’re good enough at it, they will speak one sentence to a group of three and each will hear something different – a threat, a need, a sense of comfort, whatever it is that suits the sociopath’s need.
Managing how they are perceived is a constant concern which can give them an air of distraction. Even if you see what they are doing, it’s hard to tell if they realize what they are doing. Perhaps they simply don’t realize? In fact, these games they play are always on their minds.
Remember when people used to say they distrusted someone because they had “shifty eyes”? That wasn’t entirely without cause. If you watch a sociopath, and you catch them when they think no one is watching, they’ll be scanning the room. Not just when standing alone, but in the middle of intense conversations when the other person is so intent on what they are saying that they’re no longer focusing any attention on their conversational partner. The sociopath is still listening, still giving verbal signs of engagement, but their eyes are scanning around them, observing details, gathering data points they might be able to use later. If your eyes meet, the sociopath might wink and look away after taking note that you’re watching too.
Sociopaths are just very dispassionate observers. They may seem reactive, but if they lose control, it’s because they gave themselves permission to. They’re far more in control of themselves than you or I often are. At least the slick ones are. It’s what allows them to plot and scheme against everyone they come in contact with. So next time you’re in a crowd, see if someone nearby has shifty eyes and you just might catch a sociopath. Or they might catch you.
PS Don’t you love the new emoji they made for me?
One of my working assumptions about life is that only that which can be redeemed is allowed. So anything that happens carries possibilities. Because if it’s happening, it can be redeemed. Now, whether any of that is factually true or not isn’t really here nor there. Even if it’s just a mental construct, it’s served me well through some really crazy shit.
Because I assume that everything is moving towards being redeemed, when life throws me a doozy that I wouldn’t choose if you promised me my own deserted island with wifi and an endless supply of tech support, my first thought is, “what is the advantage of this over what I wanted?” There are pro’s and cons to everything. So there are always advantages. They can take a while to find but, they are always there. Figure out what they are and hang onto them. Maximize them and use them to move forward.
Consider that your chosen path carried its own worst case scenario that maybe the universe is protecting you from. You don’t know what’s really going on, if there is anything going on, so pick a story that works for you. Write it in your mind and set it in your heart. Put it into writing if you need to. Revise it as necessary.
That story you create about whatever completely idiotic, terrible thing is happening in your life creates your working assumptions. So make it a good one with you as the good guy in the middle of it who the universe is secretly conspiring to help in unexpected ways. Make sure it fits the facts. Don’t punt and leave out the hard stuff to make the story easier than it really is. It needs to be a true story, not an imaginary one.
So, about the electoral college. They failed. Going back to the time of Plato at least, fear of the mob electing a dangerous man to power has been a concern when it came to democracy. The founding fathers studied the ancient Greek philosophers and were intimately acquainted with their writing and arguments. The electoral college was their answer to the problem of a foolish people electing a dangerous man. It was a great idea, but when the time came, it failed.
However, we do need to consider that if the electoral college had taken another path, that could have gone very wrong as well. If they punted the question to legislators, which is a possibility under the law, the worthless fools who run that place would have been left to make a decision. The Republicans have already shown that they just want power and the Democrats have shown that they will cave to pressure from Trumpkins who flood their lives with demands that they vote Trump in. Or Pence. Hard to know which is worse. So that was never likely to go well.
The other option was to give the vote to the winner of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton. This was my preferred option, although the reality is that if they had done that, it could easily have lead to violence. And given the factors I highlighted yesterday, we are in a situation which in other places has lead to extreme violence erupting almost overnight. So maybe the universe is trying to protect us on that front.
There’s no use or point in spending much energy worrying about it further. It is what it is. We have a marathon to run at sprint speed here. Let’s not waste emotional or mental energy on things that we can’t change or do anything about.
Praying for someone and being critical of them are not mutually exclusive things. Neither are loving someone and calling out their wrong doing. And, I know this is hard to believe, but speaking out against evil is not the same thing as sowing fear.
Right wing Christians understand all these things when they’re targeting the weak, the vulnerable and the oppressed, but seem to lose site of them entirely when it comes to the mighty and powerful. If one more person tells me that we need to pray for the president love our enemies and not sow fear in response to me criticizing the cheeto dusted Mussolini redux they just elected, I might have to start being rude about it.
(Also, for the record, being rude is not a mortal sin. If you can’t tolerate some rudeness without having a meltdown and withdrawing, you are damn near worthless to the Kingdom of God, anyways. Who’s he supposed to send you to minister to – comatose people? The demand for that isn’t as high as you’d think, I’m afraid.)
A couple of weeks ago I ran into an acquaintance who told me that work at his job was so slow that his hours had been cut and he was afraid that by Christmas they would be closing the shop altogether. He’s a machinist, which is one of those jobs which is usually in high demand; I know just a couple of years ago local shops were recruiting kids right out of high school for training. So I asked him about that but he just shook his head and said that it’s changed. Then, to my surprise, he said, “what we really need is to get Trump into office.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Because Trump says he’s going to bring steel back to America and that’s what we really need.”
Now, I like this guy a lot. He’s a little rough, but he’s a good guy who I have no reason to think anything bad about. But he’s never struck me as the very sharpest tool in the shed. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he took Trump’s words at face value. But I was. I still am. Trump’s such a transparent conman that I struggle to understand how people don’t see it.
Then again, I can also see how when you’re afraid and someone powerful says they are going to help you, it must be awfully tempting to just accept what they say and not think too hard about it. And obviously, if a man with two small kids and all the usual responsibilities is living in fear of not being able to provide for them, that’s not Trump’s fault. That’s the result of a long line of decisions made by powerful people from both sides of the aisle not that did not put the needs of regular people first. Trump’s just the opportunist who was bold enough to step in and take advantage of people’s fears and hostility for his own purposes.
I asked my friend, “you really think Trump’s going to bring steel back? I think he’s full of shit.”
He kind of shrugged and said, “well, I guess we’re about to find out.”
Before we parted ways, I told him I’d say a prayer for him and his family, for whatever that might be worth. I didn’t tell him about how my husband has lost 5 jobs and a business in the last 11 years, through no fault of his own. I didn’t tell him that there actually are worse things than losing a job. I didn’t mention that Trump’s election had caused my own family to fear for those worse things actually happening. The way things are going, he’ll probably learn those lessons on his own eventually.
I keep wanting to find a way out of this impending disaster. I am sickened that the most hateful among us now think that they have both the power of government and the will of the people behind them. But perhaps it’s just the nature of things that we’ll all have to be brought low before we can really understand that not even poverty is the worst thing that can happen in life. I guess we’re about to find out.
There are sociopaths among us. And if we pretend that there are not, if we insist that everyone just assume the best and look for the good no matter the evidence, we leave ourselves vulnerable to being manipulated by them.
Do you know how you dis-empower sociopaths? You make it impossible for them to act on their sociopathic tendencies without being detected. You don’t dismiss or minimize sociopathic behavior. You ask people to act only in ways which are incompatible with sociopathy (love, empathy) and ask them to take responsibility for making things right when they do not.
Sociopaths can’t get traction under those circumstances without resorting to brute force. But under circumstances where we all just assume the best and pressure people into forgiving and overlooking what’s right in front of them, sociopaths thrive. And you know what? Sociopaths are thriving right now.
If you really want to love people, probably the most important thing you can do is learn to recognize when someone is in pain. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Pain often sounds like anger, like a bad attitude, like defensiveness, like hostility, like self-pity or withdrawal. But if you respond to the pain underneath and offer patient grace for the anger, attitude, hostility and the rest, you will be one of those rare individuals who loves people when they need it most.
I’ve avoided nearly all hot-button cultural and political topics around here for many years now. And I don’t write screeds about how terrible other people’s theology or morality is. Yet, somehow, the overwhelming majority of people who have responded to my writing are not, shall we say, politically conservative. I used to be conservative, but reading the bible has a funny way of changing that, it seems. These days I’m a pretty flaming progressive. I’ll go back to being a conservative when we’ve dealt with our problems and have better traditions to hold on to.
I’m not remotely an ideologue. Ideally I’d love to see conservatives, liberals, progressives and (I guess) libertarians have a seat at the table and hash things out together. But as I’ve been saying for years, conservatives have so totally lost their way from a moral and ethical standpoint, that frankly, they need to be removed from the grown-up table until they can get their shit straight. (Hint: what you want to conserve, has to be worth conserving and can’t come at the cost of denying the dignity of some humans.)
Which isn’t to say that if you are conservative, you are unwelcome. Far from it. If you’re willing to put up with me, I assume you are wise and have excellent taste and want to engage with you. But I do find it interesting that, absent any liberal teachers or the influence of liberal theologians, just by following scripture and praying, I came to hold a theology which apparently appeals far more to people who are not politically conservative than those who are. I’m thinking that means something, frankly. I wonder if Jesus would be a libraturd too?
Back in college, I had a friend named Joe. He was funny and smart and deep. And he wore Hawaiian shirts with mismatched print sleep pants, so even better. But from time to time Joe would do something incredibly stupid.
One time, after he told me the story of how something he had done had gone all to shit, I asked him, “what did you think was going to happen when you did this thing that quite predictably lead to a bad outcome?” (Because I’m super sensitive like that.)
He responded, “see, that’s the difference between you and me. You would have I thought it out. I just got an idea, thought of all the reasons it would work and went with it.”
Don’t be like Joe. Be like Rebecca. Think things through.
Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark. She knew she was in a struggle for her life. Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting. So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was. She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water. As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark. She knew she was in a struggle for her life. But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way. So she decided to just tread water until morning came up. As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent. She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction. Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.
This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!