Actual acts of thievery are not the focus of this collection of essays called The Thief’s Mentality, as much as the mindset and worldview of the deceptive and the delusional. If all theory is autobiography, the deceptive and delusional view the world from the perspective that the world around us is as dishonest as they are, and those of us who don’t know this are either in some form of denial or suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. They also believe those who instructed us to acted right throughout our maturation (our parents and our teachers) have done this so well, and for so long, that we’re now convinced that we are more honest than we are. The thief’s job, as they see it, is to open our eyes to the world around us to a perspective we’ve never considered before. This mission is, of course, self-serving.
The Thief’s Umbrella
We’re no better than anyone else is, and we know it. Our parents did such a great job of instilling this idea in us that many of us consider it our defining principle. If for any reason we forget that, in our interactions with deceptive people, they are quick (too quick?) to remind us. They put so much effort into it that by the time they’re done with us, we end up questioning our integrity. Most of us have had a lover cheat on us, but how many of us have had one cheat so often that we’re still embarrassed by how much they fooled us. Their octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on our part. Those of who have never cheated on a lover know how effective these charges are, for they keep us on defense. We’ve all encountered deceptive individuals who employed these tactics so often that we forgot to question their integrity. If their goals were to prevent us from analyzing them, we must admit they were successful, but in the aftermath of those relationships, we recognize that their accusations said more about them than us. Some might call it projection, others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but The Thief’s Mentality suggests that it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella called the thief’s mentality.
Delusions and Illusions
While some of the characters in these stories may engage in one of the various forms of deception, most of them (actual thieves, liars and cheats excepted) are not lying in the manner we traditionally associate with dishonest people. They believe what they are saying to be true, but the difference between them and most people is how they rationalize what they do. Some of us consider the ramifications of what we are about to do, others just act, and leave us to reflect on what they did.
Whether we’re the odd ones or not, their worldview is so foreign to ours, we feel the need to dig deep to understand how, or why, they think so different. It might be a fool’s errand to try to source such a line of thought, but if we were able to meet their parents, and various other members from their genealogical tree, we might discover the seeds of it. For those who consider this a bit of a stretch, The Thief’s Mentality asks how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free of it?
The Sitcom Formula
My favorite sitcoms invoke a formula that involves a main character playing the eye of the storm. The ensemble cast members define the show and the main character, through contrast, but the central role the main character plays on the show is often that of an observer. (Think Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld or Alex Reiger on Taxi.) The main character acts as the conduit to the every-man in the audience, pointing out the flaws, foibles, and eccentricities of the side characters. “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” is the central question the main character has for the side characters in their interactions. It is hilarious, because it’s so true. How many unnecessary complications could be resolved if we, and everyone around us, just did that this way? Needless to say, the key to great comedy is truth, and this is so true that it’s hilarious. We all know that our side characters define us, in ways large and small, and we all know people who add unnecessary complications to their lives, and we play the center to their storm.
We found this “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” question an engaging way of framing an argument that it forms the central thesis of these stories. This isn’t to say that The Thief’s Mentality avoids arguments. In the two most opinionated pieces in this collection, we present the “I” character’s opinion in conjunction with how an opposing view may have formulated, and the role we all played in its formulation. We do disagree with the manner in which these characters conduct themselves, but we catalog the probable gestation cycle of the begrudged, and the role we all played in it, but we “but” our way to achieving the final question regarding their nature.
Do you know a true piece of work (a POS)? Have you ever met his parents? Chances are his parent’s friends were POSs too, and so were their kids. Chances are our friend, this POS, spent most of his youth running around with those kids. Without knowing it, he developed an affinity for like-minded people, until everyone he knew thought the same way and developed in a similar manner, until Ms. Comparative-Analysis came walking down the hall. By the time he encountered her, he knew how to use “She ain’t all that” to combat uncomfortable comparisons. As he learned more about her, he added a splash of “Who does she think she is anyway?” to fortify his wall. If he eventually befriended her, most of his preconceived notions fell apart, but he wasn’t discouraged. He attempted to convince her that she was a POS too, and she didn’t even know it. He aided her enlightenment with a barrage of accusations, and he continued this onslaught to keep her as honest as he wanted her to be. His rationale being that he didn’t want her to do to him what he was more apt to do to her. Even if some part of him knew she never would, he did his best to keep her insecure and unsure of her moral integrity, so she wouldn’t flirt with the notion that she might be better than he is. He also did this because a part of him knew that if people wanted to keep him honest they would consider using such tactics against him. He also knows that the best defense is a good offense and a constant barrage of accusations will keep her on defense, so that she might never examine him and see his true POS nature for what it is.
“You’re a great listener,” a casual associate once told me. “In a world of people waiting for others to stop talking so they can speak, you actually listen to what people say, and you pay attention to what they do. I just want you to know how rare that is.” I beamed with pride. I didn’t beam as much when others issued similar compliments, because I thought I had a secret that might diminish their compliments: I didn’t actually care what happened to the people telling me their stories. I listened to their stories so well that I could repeat their details with a surprising level of accuracy, and the questions I asked them throughout revealed how fascinated I was with their story, but I may have cared less about what actually happened to them than most of those who don’t listen. This little secret left me wondering if they would still give me the compliment if I revealed this fact to them. Would they smile in the appreciative way they did when they gave me this compliment, if they knew my motives were less than pure and self-serving?
Others didn’t offer me this compliment in such a direct manner, but they opened up and told me things about their life I can only guess they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else. This indirect compliment expanded when I asked them active listening questions, and they answered every question I had. The intimacy we shared during those moments told me how rare it was for them to have a person so interested in what they had to say.
The easy answer I developed for my dilemma was that I love a great story, and when I hear one, I want to know every single detail of it. I want to explore it beyond the storyteller’s frame, to the extent that the storyteller is examining the short-term and long-term effects of their story in a way that they may not have considered before. No matter how urgent I became, however, I didn’t care about them. I just wanted to know everything I could about their story.
The final answer I arrived at was as confusing as the question, for the primary reason most people don’t listen to others is that they’re too self-involved. Yet, I was so self-involved that I was more interested in the stories of others than most are. When I listened to another tell their story, it was almost entirely self-serving, as I strove to know the people telling them better than they might know themselves, so that I might understand why I do the things I do through all the similarities and contrasts they present in their story. Did I deserve the title of being called a great listener if my motives were not pure, or was the “who cares why you’re listening as long as you are” concept more prominent? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that in some ways their stories helped shape my story in a way that shaped this collection of essays.
“You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others,” by Elizabeth Alexander. This quote captures the essence of The Thief’s Mentality.
Rocking the Worldview
When we listen to others tell their tale, we develop an idea for how the world works one person at a time. Similar to the manner in which the universe works, we believe that all earthly bodies have a magnetic relationship to one another that defines their orbit, our orbit, and the general sense of order in our universe. When an exception to our rules comes along and redefines it, they do so at their own peril. We don’t allow them to breathe after they hit our tripwire. We rip them apart and help them put all their pieces back together according to our sense of order. Some might argue that that is the essence of The Thief’s Mentality, but this book focuses its theme on those who tweak the premise of our sense of order.
The Epiphany Effect
Our understanding of how our world works (i.e. our sense of order) has a direct relationship to our level of happiness. One could say that the contradictions and inconsistencies we experience in youth, leads to confusion and a general level of unhappiness. As we age, we gain a greater hold on the way in which the world works and it leads to greater comfort and more happiness. The relief we feel can lead us to cling to these constructs until we become stuck in our ways, and any idea that questions our newfound sense of order could threaten to make us uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet, most of us also come equipped with a small window that we leave cracked open to ideas that might rattle our notions. These ideas are, more often than not, not revolutionary ideas that might shatter that window. Rather, they are eye-opening clarifications that tweak our understanding of the way the world works that The Thief’s Mentality calls epiphanies. Merriam-Webster.com defines epiphany as “An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.”
Epiphany is a unique word in the lexicon for most define it based on their individual experiences with it. The potential power an epiphany might have on a person’s life is characteristically patient for the immediate reaction we have to these thoughts is that they’re so obvious that we think either we have explored them before or we should have. An epiphany typically requires subsequent incidents for the recipient to understand how they might apply to our lives. When this occurs, the recipient begins to see what they considered an accepted norm in a way slightly different than they did before they heard the thought. For some the word has religious connotations, for others it’s a striking moment, but some consider it nothing more than a subtle crank of the wheel. One noteworthy experience discussed in the book, involved an obvious thought the author spent far too much time tweaking. When he first heard it, he dismissed it as so obvious that he didn’t give it ten seconds of thought. The characteristics of this epiphany reared its beautiful head later, when the author least expected it, and it continued to do so until he had it all shiny, redefined, and ready for use in his world.
This definition of an epiphany is similar to a subtle twist in a movie that does not reveal itself until the movie is over. “Why did that happen?” we ask our friends on our way out of the theater. “Because she said that to him? Oh, before she did that other thing. OK, now it all makes sense.” When we begin to notice how often these subtle, otherwise insignificant thoughts apply to our situations we start chewing on the epiphany, until we’re digesting it, and we’re viewing the world a little bit differently than we did before we began processing the thought. Others might continue to find such tiny nuggets of information nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but when an eager student begins adding bits of their own thoughts to an epiphany, it snowballs into an individual truth. Once we clear these hurdles and embrace the power of epiphanies, we begin to see what we once considered the accepted truth, as it is for so many, is not as true for us as we once thought.
The Thief’s Mentality plants no flag on whatever unusual points of brilliance these epiphanies unearth for the reader, for the author is but a messenger repeating what should’ve been so obvious prior to processing it. Epiphanies provide eye-opening clarification on a topic we thought we understood, and the confusing revelations we experience after completely processing them produce an effect on us we could call the epiphany effect. As I wrote the epiphany effect can lead the recipient to think they should’ve considered it before, even to the point of considering themselves stupid in the aftermath. “I can’t believe I never saw it quite that way before.” Epiphanies can do that, but the recipient should relax with the knowledge that this happens all the time to a wide range of people.
One final note on epiphanies, they are elusive and fleeting. As author James Joyce once said, “[They] are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany is not a one size fits all, as most of them do not apply to most people. The delicate nature of an epiphany is such that even when they do apply, they are so personal that no one else understands why it means more to us than their more obvious definition. Locating the qualities of an eye-opening thought and interpreting it for personal usage does not require a level of intelligence, but it does require some level of personal ingenuity to sculpt and shape them for individual interpretation. The fleeting nature of an epiphany suggests that it’s entirely possible that a person could stumble across an epiphany and miss it entirely. Most naked epiphanies, or those that we haven’t shaped for personal interpretation, seem so obvious that we might allow them to pass without further thought. By the time we recognize the substantive information of an epiphany, we may not remember the loose, delicate connection it could have had to the situation before us, and the manner in which we should’ve applied it. The author has encountered many of these situations, but he couldn’t remember the exact phrasing of the epiphany. How many times do we hear such a subtle crank of the wheel, and when we try to use it, we cannot remember it. We might narrow it down to the author that wrote it, and the book they wrote it in, but we can’t find the exact passage in question when we need it. It’s frustrating. Some might say that if the epiphany were as powerful as we suggest, we would’ve remembered it, and while that may be true in some cases, in others, it elucidates how elusive and fleeting they are by nature. As the Joyce quote alludes, the nature of their power requires diligence on the part of the recipient.