Category Archives: relationships (general comments re)

On Friendships: Forming, Preserving, and (Sometimes) Knowing When to End Them

 

 

“For the rest, what we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined. If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I.”

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of Friendship,” Essays, Chapter XXVII

 

 

“May we not include under the title of conference and communication the quick and sharp repartees which mirth and familiarity introduce amongst friends, pleasantly and wittily jesting and rallying with one another?”

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Art of Conference,” Essays, Chapter VIII

 

 

“Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine,—a possession for all time. … My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“… let us approach our friend with an audacious trust in the truth of his heart, in the breadth, impossible to be overturned, of his foundations.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“A friend therefore is a sort of paradox in nature. I who alone am, I who see nothing in nature whose existence I can affirm with equal evidence to my own, behold now the semblance of my being, in all its height, variety, and curiosity, reiterated in a foreign form; so that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“I hate the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and worldly alliances. I much prefer the company of ploughboys and tin-peddlers to the silken and perfumed amity which celebrates its days of encounter by a frivolous display, by rides in a curricle and dinners at the best taverns. The end of friendship is a commerce the most strict and homely that can be joined; more strict than any of which we have experience. It is for aid and comfort through all the relations and passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days and graceful gifts and country rambles, but also for rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck, poverty, and persecution. It keeps company with the sallies of the wit and the trances of religion. We are to dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of man’s life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom and unity. It should never fall into something usual and settled, but should be alert and inventive and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series

 

 

“Why can’t we be friends? I want one sadly, and so do you, unless your looks deceive me. We both seem to be alone in the world, to have had trouble, and to like one another. I won’t annoy you by any impertinent curiosity, nor burden you with uninteresting confidences; I only want to feel that you like me a little and don’t mind my liking you a great deal. Will you be my friend, and let me be yours?”

— Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience

 

 

“It has by now been sufficiently demonstrated that the human being has, as part of his intrinsic construction, not only physiological needs, but also truly psychological ones. They may be considered as deficiencies which must be optimally fulfilled by the environment in order to avoid sickness and subjective ill-being.

“If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge love and affection and belongingness needs. ….

“The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security, and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.”

— Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being

 

“To be able to have friends is one of the most wonderful things about human existence. Few experiences rival it. It has meant everything to me throughout my life and has made me the person I am. I never forget an old friend.

“I never really chose a friend except upon the criterion that we enjoyed knowing one another. The give and take among friends is wonderful; the sense of acceptance and of affirmation of one’s personhood, yours and theirs. The jokes, confidences, stories, friendly disputations. The things you learn from a friend that you would have otherwise never known. The miraculous meeting and befriending of people whom fate puts in one’s way.

“A friend is someone from whom one does not require approval, only the desire for companionship, the desire to share.”

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

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This is a post about friendships: their importance in one’s life (touched upon very briefly here); and, mainly, the importance of trying to maintain them.

What I am thinking of is the importance of one’s being able to form and maintain ongoing friendships with people whom one would not have perhaps expected to form a friendship with or to be able to along with, and with friends whom one has acquired but about whom one has sometimes wondered: is it worth maintaining the friendship?

To frame the issue in a nutshell, I would say: You’ve got to give people a chance — to extend a friendly hand, so to speak; to show, all things being equal, a willingness to become acquainted with others (rather than acting as if you are too important or busy); to not be too hasty to judge or jump to conclusions with regard to what you might think of the other person.

You’ve got to be willing — once a friendship has been formed, and particularly in the case of longstanding relationships — to put up with the failings and annoying habits of others, if they desire a friendship. (Note that I said “they,” not “you.”)

That is the key, in my opinion, because if the other person desires a friendship, they probably have something to offer.

Don’t turn them away, reject them. You’ll be cutting off your nose to spite your face. You will never know what you may have missed.

Every friend is precious, just as every person is unique and precious. Our lifetimes are finite, and our experience is limited — we can’t get to know everyone. Our life histories — indeed, our personalities — are a “compost” of all the people we have been privileged to become acquainted with.

You’ll be surprised what people — including those you may sometimes find boring, tedious, or difficult — can offer.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule!

People to AVOID:

people who are always negative; and,

people whose only interest in associating with you is as a sounding board for them to talk about their problems. A relationship by definition involves two people. There must be back and forth. It can’t just be the other person talking about their problems.

To get back to my main point.

People will surprise you with the things they come out with. Just when you have grown tired of them or their company, they will say something interesting or funny; perhaps tell you something you didn’t know; provide information that you were not privy to and are glad to have; provide helpful advice or a useful suggestion or tip.

Sometimes people when you least expect it will reveal something good about themselves — it could be intelligence, insight, their humanity, or a positive or winning character trait that you had not hitherto appreciated.

 

 

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Another thing I would like to point out about my experience with friendships — speaking solely from my own experience — is that it behooves one to be patient and to give them time. To hear one’s friends and acquaintances out. To clear the decks for them so to speak, when they want to communicate, talk.

Say, for example, that a friend calls me when I am very busy and I don’t answer the call. I make it a point to tell him that I am sorry I missed the call but that I will get back to him shortly. I tend to refrain from saying that I am “busy,” because that might convey an unstated message that I’m too darn busy to talk now and in the near future. Instead, I simply say that I am sorry I missed the call but will be getting back shortly.

I sometimes do the same thing with an email, if I’ve been sitting on it for, say, two or three days: send back a very brief message saying “pleased to hear from you, will reply at length within the next day or two.” It’s a common courtesy that costs nothing in terms of effort.

Regarding “putting up” with people, when one is very busy. What I have found is that, if I can somehow manage to tear myself away from whatever it is that is preoccupying me and lend an ear, give attention to my friend, it pays off in the long run. I preserve the friendship, and it is usually not a waste of time. Not only because one is sort of acting benevolent, but also because, what I have found is that, at bottom, I myself am not too important or never really that busy to pay attention to someone else. The loss in time that I would have otherwise had to myself — what economists call “opportunity cost” — is a gain in terms of populating my time and life with interesting people and valued friends.

Bottom line: I would say, make time for your friends; create space in the interstices of your life for them to fit into.

 

 

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In writing this post, I thought of friends who can sometimes try one’s patience. Who perhaps have annoying habits or seem to be deficient in certain social and interpersonal skills. And, of some who seem to be — at times — lonely and needy. Perhaps because they sense that people are not eager to form friendships with them, or because they have lost a few friends. It has been my experience that if I can manage to persist, in cases were the other person is desirous of companionship and is well intentioned — which is to say does want to establish and maintain a friendship — over time the other person’s defenses seem to be attenuated and the less desirable traits seem to become less noticeable or problematic. What I think may be the case and may be happening is that as the other person senses that you are not inclined to reject them, they relax, become less insecure, and become more companionable and enjoyable to be with. I see this as a win win situation in which I have gained another friend who becomes increasingly enjoyable to be with. One should be grateful for friends, and sometimes those who don’t at first blush seem to have that much to offer can become good friends should you be willing to meet them half way.

 

 

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A further thought or two.

Perhaps you like to think that you are broad minded. I know I do.

But most of us — practically everyone, it seems; indeed, it seems to be part and parcel of the human condition, unavoidable, in our bones — harbors dislikes toward or has reservations about certain groups: racial, ethnic, national, or religious. You may have a tendency to avoid such groups, perhaps fearing that not only will you not get along, but that they may not like you; or perhaps thinking you will have little in common.

A side benefit of openness and willingness in forming friendships is that you may find yourself befriending someone from one of those groups and find that all of a sudden, you’re hitting it off. Such unanticipated friendships can enable oneself to expand one’s horizons while experiencing a pleasurable, welcome, and congenial bonding and sharing.

I have experienced this myself on occasion: associating with someone from a group that I may myself have not been fully aware that I was prejudiced against or which I had tended to stereotype and have misconceptions about. Something good has occurred on a couple of occasions — both with persons I eventually got to know well and persons I have had a more casual relationship with — where I found myself saying to myself or my wife, “You know, I thought (some group) were usually (something pejorative), but (my new acquaintance) isn’t like that.”

It’s not just a matter of overcoming stereotypes (although it can be very helpful to do so). It is very valuable experience wise (I am perhaps stating the obvious) to able to get to know people from groups other than the ones one customarily finds oneself associating with; to get to know them on an individual level; and to find that you are both becoming comfortable in one another’s presence as time goes on — that you have become less aware than you ordinarily would be of the fact of, less preoccupied with, the other person’s race, ethnicity, or religion. Being absorbed in the relationship and the exchanges that are occurring, one tends to disregard externals.

 

 

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A caveat.

I hope I don’t seem ingenuous in what I have been advocating in this post. At the risk of contradicting or undercutting practically everything I have said above, I must admit that there are some people who are just plain pernicious as far as interpersonal relationships are concerned (inimical, at a minimum, to one’s own self-interest, that is), persons who are detrimental to one’s wellbeing when it comes to associating with them. Which is to say that some people might find them to make wonderful friends, but one knows — which is to say that the individual, in this case you or I, knows, by instinct, usually right away, or nearly so — that you and that person will never get along. Not only that, but that you yourself and that person are so different in terms of personalities, core values, and behavior that association should be avoided or kept to a minimum.

From such people, one often gets a sense of derision or outright hostility. To the extent that they are aware of you, they do not esteem you.

Often, it seems — well not that often (if it were a common occurrence, it would not have been much more of a problem) — this has occurred to me with authority figures — a teacher, say; a boss; a coach — who takes an immediately negative view of oneself or deems you wanting in some respect and lets you know it. Not a potential “friendship situation,” but worth mentioning here as something sometimes experienced and instructive in a harsh way.

In other instances where I have experienced an immediate mutual dislike and/or lack of any rapport whatsoever between myself and another person, it was usually with a fellow student or a coworker. One has a sixth sense about such things. I call it the “tip of the iceberg” theory. Very early on, some unpleasantness manifests itself, and one knows that the person should be avoided.

But, I am not talking about friendships here, right? Such “relationships” rarely proceed to that point.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  April 2017; updated June 2018

 

 

 

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Postscript:

 

I have been thinking recently about how do friendships start, using as examples for my thinking about this my own friendships, past and present.

I would aver, unhesitatingly, that friendships start entirely naturally, and without any fanfare.

You come across someone. You get to talking. You find you have mutual interests (these are a very important glue in friendships), click on some issue; find it pleasant to be talking; sense some mutual compatibility. You don’t think about it much at the time.

This happened to me in my school days and in my neighborhood, in college, and in work and other contexts in my adulthood. Many relationships, needless to say, did not lead to friendships, but, then, an idle conversation, a chance encounter would. You would get to talking and become fast friends almost instantaneously, though at the time it did not seem like anything notable was occurring.

One thing — or a couple — that I think is material is that: (1) neither of you has pretensions or reservations about the other person; (2) there are one or two or three “nodal factors” that connect one — for example: you both live nearby and ride your bikes on the same route to school every day; you both love classical music (it doesn’t matter if you agree entirely on preferences); (3) you have an interest — it could be language, literature, history, culture, local attractions, and the like — that the other person can relate to.

It amazes me how often this occurs. I don’t take it for granted, despite the fact that it is a common occurrence. And, it never ceases to gladden me. It helps to make life worth living. More bearable. Immensely satisfying. Because of what other people give you. And the joy of reciprocating.

 

 

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A further thought. (A postscript to a postscript.)

Mutual interests can be very fructifying when it comes to relationships. For example, I made a friend through my wife not long ago. We would not seem to have that much in common, and he does not share my cultural interests (although he is a highly educated, retired professional). Yet, we are both lifelong baseball fans. It gives us something to talk about. Though, should the talk be limited to baseball, it would be stultifying. Sports has always been a “social glue” and a reliable conversation starter for American males, in the workplace and elsewhere. I am certain that there are many such areas of shared interest (in general) among women.

But, it should be noted that (the novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious, dead on concept of a granfalloon comes to mind), as concerns the initial impetus for a friendship — the prime mover, so to speak — in my experience, it is not shared interests that matter, it is some deeper chemistry. What happens is that you and your friend may discover, probably will, over time, that you have mutual interests, and this will be a sort of bonus factor. But …

Maybe an example will help. You meet someone. It is almost always by serendipity. It is never preplanned. Or at least there were no particular intentions. It may be the case — often is — that you meet because you work for the same company, go to the same school, live in the same town. But, the magic of friendship happens independently of these factors, since most people in one’s workplace, school, or town do not become one’s friends.

So, say someone introduces me to somebody at an event or gathering and assumes that since you both like to collect antiques or you are both golfers you will have something in common — ergo, you will probably want to become friends. It’s actually not likely, and such assumptions are faulty.

Friendship is much deeper and subtler than that and, like all of the exhilarating, wonderful things in life, it happens of its own accord.

hatred that feeds a psychological need

 

 

 

It has a life of its own.

Feeds on itself.

I have seen it, depressingly, in my own life. Where the hatred is or was directed at me.

It is a fire which smolders and then rages, out of control. It is fueled of and by itself, from an inner demon or demons in the hater. (“The jealous are possessed by a mad devil and a dull spirit at the same time,” says Lavater.)

Nothing can seem to bring it under control. It can only be dimly foreseen and will take you by surprise by its ferocity. The only thing the object of the hatred can do is to try and stay away from the fire. No remonstrances will do any good.

Rational thought is not applicable here. Thee, O Victim, should not feel and should not think for a moment that you deserve it. It has nothing to do with you — it is all manufactured in their petty, jealous minds — and there is no basis for it. You will be called all sorts of names and subject to the wildest unfounded allegations. Try to ignore them, hurtful as they may be. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Their frustrations, regrets, jealousy, all projected upon you.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2018

“don’t misbehave”

 

 

A couple of years ago, I went back to my hometown, Canton, Massachusetts, for a high school reunion and visited an old friend. It was great to see him.

We got to talking briefly about our old school and our teachers. Our friendship had begun in the seventh grade.

My friend told me that in our elementary school, one of the teachers hit him one day — he didn’t know why. She whacked him across the face. My friend was not a great student (he was actually of above average intelligence), but he was not a bad kid. He could occasionally be mischievous, but his “sins” would probably pale in comparison to what some kids do today. I do recall one time that he got in a lot of trouble with the school authorities for writing an obscene word on a piece a paper that he either accidentally or on purpose dropped on the floor and that was found by a teacher.

 

 

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My friend said that, on the day he was whacked by the teacher, he told his father about it when the latter came home from work that evening. He said to his father, “Mrs. _______ hit me today.”

His father asked him why the teacher had hit him. He said he didn’t know why.

“Well, don’t misbehave,” his father said.

 

 

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I was thinking about this incident and its implications. It seems to reflect parental attitudes very different from nowadays.

Few will agree with me, I suspect, and I wasn’t the affected student or the son of this particular parent. Nevertheless, I do not think that one should jump to conclusions about how my friend’s father responded.

I think he may have — note I say may because I was not involved and my friend merely gave a bare factual account; I am not sure how he himself feels about this incident in retrospect — actually handled the situation well. By which I mean to say that not knowing what had occurred, the father assumed his son might have been misbehaving. He would have, it seems, had some basis for thinking so.

 

 

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I knew my friend’s father well. He was a soft spoken, kindly man. He worked in a factory. He was, from what I and my own parents could observe, a loving parent.

The message he conveyed to his son was, don’t do anything that might get you in trouble.

This was actually good (tacit) advice, because — although my friend was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “bad kid” — I know that he could be mischievous at times (which I think was probably a result of his being bored and restless in school), and he did get in trouble on at least one occasion, as I have noted above, where school administrators were on his case. So, actually, his father may have been trying to help him with the best advice he could.

Given what happened (I realize that it was no doubt hurtful to my friend, since he remembers it), I don’t think my friend’s father handled it badly. He didn’t freak out. He tacitly sent a message that may have actually been good for my friend to hear: don’t antagonize your superiors.

Do you think the case would be handled the same today? I doubt it. Parents are always crying “foul” and assuming that their children can do no wrong. When I was growing up, a premium was put on behavior, and adults were assumed to be right. I am not an advocate of corporal punishment, and I am not advocating a return to the days of schooling such as is depicted in George Orwell’s autobiographical essay “”Such, Such Were the Joys … .” I am merely trying to point out — the thought occurred to me — that sometimes parents can be more helpful to children by cautioning them to conform and submit to strictures rather than to defy or complain about them.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  October 2016; updated February 2018

 

 

 

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Addendum: The pedant in me gaining the upper hand, I can’t resist showing off. I wonder how many people know where the title of Orwell’s essay came from. It is from a line in William Blake’s poem “The Echoing Green.” I took a wonderful course in Blake with the revered professor and poet Allen Grossman at Brandeis University.

a valuable lesson

 

 

I have had occasion because of an unpleasant experience with someone close to me to think of something I learned once.

In the interests of confidentiality, let’s just say that the situation from my past. The “lesson” (with a different person than the one mentioned in the above paragraph) involved me and a “significant other.” It was a long time ago. It involved a relationship which began auspiciously and which endured.

I had previously had a horrible relationship with someone else which caused me great pain. It took me a long time to get over it; caused lasting damage to me emotionally; and prevented me for quite a while from being able to trust someone and get involved in a new relationship.

But then I met Miss Right. I learned from this newfound relationship something that I had hitherto not been able to see or recognize for myself, even dimly: namely, a sixth sense which she had about how to avoid emotional damage to oneself and how to protect oneself from it; an awareness of when it is advisable to step aside, get out of the way, and extricate oneself; an ability to know when conditions warrant this.

I learned, quickly, from my new partner that one doesn’t have to submit to being dumped on and abused.

 

 

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Prior to this, my habitual way of dealing with emotional abuse — abuse of any kind — was to stand there, so to speak, and submit to it.

From my new significant other, I learned that there was another way.

If she felt (this was, as I said, early in our relationship) that our relationship was starting, in the least, to become abusive emotionally, or “trending” in that direction, if she got a hint that I was going to be mean to her, she was quite prepared to leave, to exit, right then and there. With no further discussion. Without having to plead with me to change my behavior. She had apparently done this in the past.

Her approach and instincts were that no relationship was worth the trouble of being disrespected and abused. Better to have no relationship than to have an abusive one.

I quickly picked up on this, and it cured me of any misogynist instincts or tendencies I may have had. I knew that if I mistreated her, froze her out emotionally, it would be sayonara. She would be gone fast.

A valuable lesson she taught me. It was a lesson that worked both ways. I learned not only the strategy of beating a fast exit whenever I got an inkling that someone was having fun being nasty at my expense. I learned that it works both ways, and that no one should have to put up with abusive behavior from me.

 

 

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Please note: I don’t intend to imply that at the slightest hint of a disagreement, it is advisable to terminate a relationship. People in intimate relationships (e.g., married couples) or in close quarters quarrel all the time.

What I am thinking about in this post are situations where there is an ongoing pattern of hatred or emotional cruelty, or perhaps an intermittent pattern, but where, when it rears its head, one knows instinctively that it’s more than just a disagreement. It could be a situation where what seemed at first like a mere disagreement has led to festering anger, causing the other person to wish to hurt and degrade you. When you can sense hatred or vindictiveness, chronic surliness, and the like, then, it seems, it’s time to exit, so to speak, in order to protect oneself. This can happen with friends, lovers, and close relatives. I have experienced it.

To me, a good yardstick might be: are you and the other person inclined to bicker? Well, so what? It may or may not be serious; perhaps one or both you are crotchety. But, be alert for cases when a person whom you were once close to and on good terms with (and more) — so you thought — suddenly seems to be looking constantly for ways to undermine you. That’s a bad sign. You seemed to be in their good graces. Now they are constantly finding fault and won’t cut you any slack. Their face is set in a continual glower; their demeanor towards you is one of outright anger, or barely concealed anger — chronic anger, that is — which consumes them. They are constantly looking for things about you to take offense at.

You can see this in people who are constantly looking for opportunities to attack. You make what seems to be an innocuous remark; they pounce on it. They enjoy finding fault with you in matters and using standards of measure large and small. (For example, they may say they find you obnoxious, a “big” measure; or, they noticed that your tie isn’t knotted properly or your shoelaces have come undone, a “small bore” measure.)

These are the kinds of situations I’m talking about.

 

 

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In my opinion, such situations can occur with persons with whom one has been intimate or had a long time relationship. Things change, and suddenly they are inimical to you. Or, present you with something you can’t endure.

In such cases, no matter who it is, it may be advisable to completely cease communications. You may find that you feel better despite the pain of separation, and despite the thought: I can’t believe it’s come to this. Having no relationship is better than having an abusive relationship, than having one in which one finds oneself being attacked and degraded, no matter who the other party is. Perhaps a rule of thumb might be — I have found it helpful — is to ask oneself: is damage control or damage repair possible? Is the other person willing to be reasonable and listen to you? When you realize that discussion will only lead to more attacks upon you or degradation, and continual “hostilities,” with no possibility of agreement, meeting of minds, or resolution foreseeable, then it’s time to get out with as much of you is still intact.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I have been doing some more thinking about emotional abuse. When and how does it occur? And why do people submit to it?

Based on my own experience, it seems that it is often the case that one person — or sometimes a group of persons — feels superior to someone. In the case of the latter, a group, it occurs when the group treats one person as an outcast or pariah, or not as good as the others, and gangs up on the target of their abuse. By so doing, they have a collective sense of being better than the lowly reject: more refined, knowledgeable, and sophisticated; and, on the right side when it comes to contentious issues or matters or dispute — they love to be in the majority.

It often seems to be the case that the feelings of superiority are not necessarily based on anything definitive, but that the supposedly inferior person plays along with the other’s (or others’) treatment of them as an inferior. The supposedly superior person, the dominant one, is used to telling the supposedly inferior person what to do and how to act, pointing out his or her faults, and so on. Often, there is some sphere of activity in which the “superior” person enjoys contemplating his or her supposed superiority to their “inferior,” or perhaps it is some mark of distinction or achievement. It seems to both parties that things have always been this way, and the “inferior” person doesn’t want to “rock the boat.” Perhaps he or she dimly senses that being “uppity” (contentious when it comes to submitting to authority) or questioning authority will cause the dominant person or group to come down hard on them.

Then something happens. The “inferior” person forms a relationship with someone new who appreciates them, doesn’t look down on them, or admires them, and helps to free them from “bondage.” Or the “inferior” party makes strides forward in life and begins to feel less inferior. Or the “inferior” person — usually by incremental steps at first not noticeable — begins to surpass the “superior” person in some field of endeavor in which the latter took for granted that he or she was superior or more knowledgeable. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does, because the “superior” person wants to prevail, or be dominant, in all respects.

What seems to often happen is that the “superior” person becomes jealous or can’t accept the “inferior” person’s newfound assertiveness. If the “inferior” person begins to question the authority of and things said by his “superior” — the latter’s edicts — the latter can become very angry. The “superior” person has been used to deference on the part of his or her “inferior” and has always secretly taken pleasure in having his or her pronouncements accepted and adhered to. He or she also enjoys giving advice and playing the role of mentor or boss.

The hardest thing to deal with is jealousy. Or, as the poet James Thomson wrote:

“Base Envy withers at another’s joy,
And hates that excellence it cannot reach.”

The Seasons (1746)

I have observed this with former friends and relatives of mine and with friends of my wife. If they observe you moving ahead in areas they always thought were their domain, or perhaps just getting ahead in life — or forming new relationships which they are not a party to and in which your new partner doesn’t acknowledge their authority — they often become sullen and resentful. And lash out. Using a pretext to criticize you. Or dropping you altogether.

It usually behooves you, at this juncture, to cease relations with them.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017; updated February 2018

 

must it always be sexual?

 

Something occurred to me this morning because of an exchange of emails I had with an acquaintance the other day. It concerned the issue of sexual impropriety in the workplace.

Without going into the details of our email exchange or what the facts were (we were discussing an actual case), I was thinking to myself today about — was reminded of — a remark I once made to my former therapist. We were discussing my own experiences in the workplace.

I do not recall the discussion exactly, but I said something to my therapist like: Sometimes situations in life occur — it could be in the workplace — where there is chemistry between a man and a woman and they find that they not only like one another and get along, but find one another attractive. But a sexual relationship is not contemplated (probably because they’re both married or already “taken”).

I said to my therapist that such warm, positive feelings could enhance a professional/collegial relationship and were a positive thing. They can add zest to life, without there being a sexual imbroglio. And, incidentally, sometimes being able to convey to someone of the opposite sex that you find them to be attractive — without coming on too strong, importuning, or being impertinent — can actually be a very nice, affirmative thing which conveys a sense of appreciation, fundamentally, of life.

My therapist fully concurred.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    September 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

I was in a Starbucks a few weeks ago. The young woman at the counter was extremely pleasant, as well as customer focused and efficient. I told her how much I appreciated her friendly service, then added, “I can’t help saying, you have a beautiful smile.” It was not a case of me coming on to her. I am certain she will remember what I said and think of it with pleasure from time to time.

I can just hear some readers of this post saying: It was clearly INappropriate. It wasn’t.

Once, about twenty years ago, I was crossing the street on a rainy day near my workplace on Fifth Avenue, across from the New York Public Library. The wind was nearly tearing my umbrella apart. An attractive woman bypasser (also carrying an umbrella) noticed this and started to laugh. We exchanged pleasantries for a minsecond. She asked me if I was married. I said I was. “Too bad,” she said, “you’re cute.” That was it. It made me feel awfully good.

Immersing Oneself Is To Be Desired

 

 

If you trap the moment before it’s ripe,
The tears of repentance you’ll certainly wipe;
But if once you let the ripe moment go
You can never wipe off the tears of woe.

 

— William Blake, “If You Trap the Moment,” from the poet’s notebook

 

 

 

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I have had several experiences over the past couple of weeks that have no obvious relation to one another.

Yet, they have caused me to think earnestly and to have an epiphany of sorts.

The experiences were as follows:

After not having done much reading for a while, putting it off, being distracted by activities such as research and writing — and by daily life — I took up a book that I had started a while ago and began reading it in earnest.

I went to a play on an impulse, because someone else (namely, my wife and a friend) had seem it the day before and it piqued my interest.

I had occasion to think earnestly about personal relationships of mine, relationships with persons long intimate with me but with whom friction has arisen from time to time.

What, you may ask, does reading a book have to do with personal relationships? And, what does seeing a play have to do with them both, or at least the latter? The relationships are important to me, the book is of interest, but it’s only a book. And, I saw a play. Nice, but how does that relate to my epiphany?

A common thread ran through all the experiences. I will try to illustrate it below. Sometimes, things that engage our attention can get us to do “mental stretching,” as it were, to think anew about things, to entertain new thoughts, to reexamine our preconceptions, to look at things from another’s point of view, to enlarge our mental horizons. Such things often do not seem that important in and of themselves, but they can serve as catalysts and turning points.

 

 

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The various spokes of the wheel, the driving factors underlying my epiphany, were not uniform and did not occur all at once. To give an example of how something seemingly inconsequential can affect one’s outlook, the other day I saw a play, as I mentioned above: specifically, a stage adaptation of J. M. Synge’s The Aran Islands. My thoughts were wandering, as they often do, when one, say, is in a theater or lecture hall. I started thinking deeply about another person. My thoughts were totally focused on that person; there was a wonderful, edifying (perhaps I should also say liberating) feeling of being outside of one’s self. How or why did this occur? I think in part because of a “change of venue.” I am not a habitual playgoer. I did not know what to expect from then play. Such an experience and setting can result in things getting rearranged in one’s mind, in a fresh perspective.

The Synge play stimulated me in other ways as well. Though I was having trouble focusing on the words, I was interested in the language used by Synge (his vocabulary and style, that is); in the Aran Islands, its people with what I guess one might call their peculiarities; and Synge himself. I purchased his book The Aran Islands. It never would have occurred to me to have done so otherwise.

 

 

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I am reading a scholarly book about Walt Whitman, The Foreground of Leaves of Grass by Floyd Stovall. It demands full attention, which is amply rewarded. What a pleasure to read for knowledge. Tutelage. When someone else knows much more than you do about a subject. To broaden one’s horizons. Become more learned. Concentrate (the locution of Samuel Johnson, in a memorable phrase), engage, and focus the mind. It puts one’s mind in neutral gear, so to speak. Obviates self-absorption and petty concerns. Or, to put it another way, forces you to stop and think.

Also, concentrated reading — and its corollary, scholarship — enable one to achieve a state of intense concentration in which the mind is very focused and becomes cleansed. It’s a liberating experience. Being able to do such mental work is an indicator of having achieved for a duration mental stability, in which petty concerns and upsets have to take a back seat, at least as long as one is engaged in the mental “task.”

I suspect that that same thing occurs with activity, work, that is not necessarily or exclusively mental. Say craftsmanship, perhaps drawing or carpentry; building or engineering; professional activities such as medicine and health care; and so on.

 

 

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The morale of this brief post: it’s often beneficial to act on impulse when something arises that gives you the impetus to do so.

To be willing to say, guess what, I would like to see that play too. This book, film, or whatever looks interesting. I’m going to read or watch it. You have to kind of “clear the decks” to do so. Make a little space in your life and your schedule. But, you know what? I have found that “room” to do it can always be found somehow.

 

 

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Here’s a final thought. People. Relationships that begin casually. Somehow you make a link. Often, because you click somehow on some point or other, perhaps a shared interest or enthusiasm.

I don’t want to get too personal on this site, but I met my wife by serendipity. It would have seemed that we would have not had much that much in common, but we clicked off the bat. A relationship developed just like that. Without premeditation. It just happened. Once or twice, I was inclined to ask myself what was happening, but I LET IT HAPPEN. Thank God I did. My life was changed so much for the better.

 

 

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A corollary. Things take one by surprise. The big things in life. The important things, that is. You have an idea perhaps that you would like to get married in the future (though perhaps you’re not quite sure) and envision it, vaguely, happening. When it happens, it’s never quite like what you expected. You know in the abstract, or as a medical certainty, that someone is likely to die soon, but when it happens, you’re never prepared for it.

 

 

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I would be inclined to say that we can’t actually control things, can’t stage manage our lives, when it comes to the big things. Best policy: don’t try. Let them happen. Welcome them (as Walt Whitman said in his poems on the topic of death), and, when it comes to tragic events, accept them. And, when you get an impulse from above, a siren call, heed it.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017

Harry Stack Sullivan on absolute love

 

When the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as one’s own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists. Under no other circumstances is a state of love present, regardless of the popular usage of the term.

Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949), Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry (1940)