- Is there a logical connection between their circumstances and their request? If the answer is “no”, all they are doing is exploiting their circumstances and your good nature, regardless of the seriousness of their situation. For instance, “can I have an urgent hospital appointment because I have cancer” kinda makes sense. “Can I have my pet poodle groomed urgently because I have cancer”, on the other hand, is bullshit, particularly if repeated on a monthly basis for a period of years.
- Would the demand work if they were asking anyone else in your role? For instance, if you are selling something and they demand a discount or some extras, could they demand the same at any other shop? If not, is there something in your particular relationship that justifies that demand? If not, why on earth are they asking?
- Has their special status expired? “Bobby commits petty crimes because his stepfather is a disciplinarian” may be an acceptable excuse when you’re 14. When you’re 40 and you’ve been living on your own for over two decades, not so much.
- Have they made ANY effort whatsoever to find out YOUR circumstances? For instance, if they demand a special discount because of their financial situation, what do they know about yours? If they demand that you put up with their screaming because they have “anger management issues”, have they checked that it’s not a trigger for your PTSD? If your “economy” is not of a kind that warrants them asking personal questions, why should it warrant them receiving personal treatment?
Monday, 12 May 2014
A spotter's guide to the parasite. 12.05.14
Last year I was hit right in the face by a blog by Cracked Magazine, “6 harsh truths that will make you a better person”. Cracked is not my usual place to seek life truths, but they are not misadvertising. The truths are indeed both harsh and useful. They are based around the concept that most human interactions are, in essence, forms of barter:
“If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it's because society is full of people who need things. They need houses built, they need food to eat, they need entertainment, they need fulfilling sexual relationships. (…) the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people's needs.
Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving, and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold.”
People will give you their time and energy because you are providing them with something they need. You help them, they help you. It doesn’t have to be a physical or financial exchange, mind you; you could be providing them with emotional support, external validation, fun or entertainment, and all manners of other intangible things. The bottom line is, however, that you don’t usually get something for nothing.
For the economy/relationship to survive the balance of the exchanges has to be perceived as fair or justified by the people involved in it. Emergencies and special circumstances may occur that cause a temporary misbalance; for instance, if you are ill or injured you may be temporarily excused from contributing an equal share. However, the tacit expectation is that you will reciprocate in kind should the people who helped you find themselves in need in the future. Generally speaking, however, the giving and taking should balance out.
This undeclared expectation of fairness doesn’t mean that the “economy” has to make objective sense to anyone else outside of it, mind you, or that the way its internal balance works has to be acknowledged by the participants. “You run around for me all the time and I treat you like shit, thereby validating your opinion of yourself” is not something most people would consciously sign up to, yet plenty of people do. It may not be sensible, it may not be equitable, but if both parties involved sign up to it, then it can be viable.
If you’re constantly taking more than you are willing to give or giving more than you are allowed to take, however, then chances are that the connection is doomed to fail. The person who feels exploited will eventually give up on it. Sometimes this “break up” can be as simple as not returning phone calls. Sometimes, though, it can be a horrible process, particularly when the connection is enshrined in long-established customs. “I gave birth to you so I have the right to treat you like a piece of shit for the rest of your living days”, for instance, is an exchange most of us would consider grossly unfair. However most of us still baulk at the idea of people disowning their parents.
Having absorbed and digested this concept of relationships as economies, I have since started to notice certain classes of people with whom it is impossible to establish a fair economy. However much you try to negotiate a fair middle ground, they will try to extort more. Here are the types I’ve identified so far:
1. “My wants are my needs are my rights.”
As a society we can have a pretty loose grip on the difference between our needs and wants. Really, if you “need” something it should mean that you can’t cope with it – doing without it should not be inconvenient, but actually impossible. For instance, we all need shelter, food and water. We don’t need the latest smart phone – unless, that is, obtaining that item is essential to us meeting our needs, because it is an essential tool of our trade. Advertising is essentially the business of turning “wants” into perceived “needs”, and it is surprising what you never realise you are missing when you manage to avoid the ads.
There are people out there, however, who go a step beyond. Their mental process seems to be “I need that item, hence I have a right to it. If I don’t have it, it shows that the world is unfair. Hence no rules of fairness apply.”
These people will screw you bloody. They will take what they can, steal what they can’t, and feel no remorse whatsoever about it, because they are only redressing a basic, universal, intolerable unfairness. The only way to stop them taking is to ensure that they have everything they need, which, unfortunately, means everything they want. They can never be content.
(Do you want to make yourself sick? I know a few people who apply the same mental process to their sex life. “I need that partner”, or just “I need that screw”. If I am not getting it, is because all women/men are unfair. Hence I don’t need to be fair to them. Anything goes. And here, boys and girls, we have the makings of a kind of serial rapist.)
2. “My fuck-up is your emergency.”
Tragic things happen. Things go wrong unexpectedly. We can be completely unprepared, and when life happens at us we are caught flapping, often in need of emergency support. If we are lucky (and/or we have established healthy economies with decent people), there will be people out there willing to help us out. If we are decent, we will be willing to return the favour down the line.
Emergencies often bring out the most helpful or giving side of people. Unfortunately, not having done your metaphorical homework is not an emergency; it’s a fuck-up. It may cause you hellacious difficulties, but it’s still a fuck-up. And throwing your unfinished homework at people demanding immediate assistance classes you as a spoilt brat, not as a poor soul in need.
If you haven’t filed your taxes, forgot to book your hotel, let your ID expire, neglected to enrol your children in school, etc. etc. ETC. – you fucked up. It happens to us all. It’s a human thing. What it isn’t, however, is a justification for demanding special treatment. Your now immediate requirements, however urgent and important they may be to you, do not entitle you to jump to the top of any list, above those people who planned ahead and did what needed doing. You can ask for extra help, but you cannot demand it. And if people say no, they are not necessarily being callous towards you; they may simply be unable to assist you without breaking rules or being unfair to everyone else.
There are people out there whose life strategy seems to be to allow to let themselves get into dire straits, then demand help from those around them. Don’t fall into their trap. Helping them only reinforces the behaviour – if it works, they will keep on doing it. Unfortunately, if you withhold your assistance, they have a tendency to morph into:
3. “How could you do this to me, in my circumstances?”
Some people are professional lame ducks. They always have an excuse for why they should be getting something extra, something special or something for nothing, because poor them. It’s an “excuse” rather than a “reason” because the special circumstance has been enshrined and turned into a weapon to be used in all manners of situation, often entirely unrelated to the issue at hand. For instance, as well as being elderly, my mum is the size (and shape) of a gerbil; if she asks someone to carry something heavy for her, is because she physically can’t. That’s a valid reason to ask for extra help. Contrast this with a customer of mine who routinely rang out of hours, often at incredibly inconsiderate times, “because I am elderly and I can’t sleep”. Well, so fucking what? I am not, and I do. I’d thank you to respect that. The fact that you can’t sleep, for whatever reasons, does not entitle you to interfere with other people’s rest. Go away. Rant over.
When you call this sort of person on their bullshit, they tend to go untogether on you. How could you be so cruel and heartless as to ignore MY circumstances? Chances are that until you’re fully immunised against them you will feel bad about not helping them. Just ask yourself these questions:
4. “You live too far away for me to visit. Come here instead!”
There are people out there who can only measure their own effort. They can’t possibly drive to your house, so you ought to drive to theirs. It has nothing to do with the fact that you have a better car, more time, more money, less responsibilities: it’s just that your house is sooo far away. Well, guess what? Your homes are in fact equidistant.
If anyone claims not to be able to do something for you because it’s too much effort, but is perfectly happy to see you doing precisely the same for them, ditch them. Now. If you’re ever in need of them, they will ditch you like a shot. They have no interest in your person beyond the fact that you’re gullible enough to make their lives easier.
5. “I know this is terribly inconvenient, but...”
Anyone who asks you to do something extraordinary, without an emergency to justify the request, and admitting that they realise it’s an inconvenience must be avoided at all costs. Seriously, there is absolutely no upside from having anything to do with them.
Anyone who knows is willing to inconvenience you for their own convenience doesn’t care about you. Not a bit. If the circumstances change they will feel no compunction in letting you down, because to them you don’t matter. They will not feel indebted to you, because they don’t care. You will not be gaining their respect, because they just DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU. They come first, and they always will. If anything, giving in to them will make them see you as an easy mark and give them reason to ask again, and again, and again.
6. “You’re evil.”
We all have core beliefs that guide us throughout our life. We might class ourselves as non-believers because we are non-religious, but we still all have, deep down, things that we hold to be true: that people are basically good or basically evil; that god does or doesn’t exist; that we are put in this world to learn or endure or conquer. Beliefs shape what we do and say. They form part of our basic identity, of how we see ourselves. Sometimes they are such obvious truisms to us that we can’t even see that they are there, or realise that people can, and often do, hold contradictory beliefs that are as perfectly valid as ours. We can forget how strong our beliefs are, and how much they shape how we interpret our reality.
People can embrace a cause to the point that they firmly believe that the end justifies any means. We are all willing to bend some rules a little, but they will break absolutely any rules if the cause requires it. There are animal rights protesters who throw fireworks under horses’ feet so that people can see how stressed they are. There are pro-life activists who kill abortion doctors. Their causes may be different but they are all crusaders, who will kill in the name of life or injure in the name of welfare and completely justify their action because the Cause demands them. Unlike most of us, they will sleep sounder knowing that they have committed evil deeds, because they are a sign of how utterly GOOD they are.
At a less radical level, there are people who will gladly embrace the weapons and methodologies they are fighting against. They will gladly peddle lies that support their “truth”. They will verbally assault you for being verbally aggressive. They will use your race, gender, or sexual orientation against you to fight against discrimination and oppression. They will fight prejudice by accusing you of “privilege”. They will blame you for blaming and shame you for shaming. This doesn’t cause them to have even a hint of cognitive dissonance, guilt or any other inner discomfort.
Once crusaders peg you down as one of “the enemy”, normal rules do not apply to you; as in the crusades of old, we do not grant the unbelievers the same right we grant to real people. If you get on the wrong side of them, if they determine that you’re against “the cause”, they will do all they can to convert you or destroy you.
. . . . .
The more you give them, the more prolonged or personal your relationship becomes, the more they will demand of you. You will never see a return on your “investment” – not in practical terms, not in consideration, not in loyalty and certainly not in respect. If you try to alter the balance of your relationship, the situation will often blow up in your face. This is nothing to do with you, although chances are that they will try and convince you of that. You can’t compete with them, because they are playing with a different set of rules, which class you as inherently expendable. There is no upside to associating with any of these people, unless you find the punishment somehow improving. Press the eject button, before it gets worse.
 If you disagree, think about your relationship with your parents. Do you always tell them all the truth? How about when you were a teenager? Do you justify the white lies and omissions because they make them happy?