Platypus People


They’re platypus people! They’re platypus people! It’s a kookbook!

 

Platypus people do not have a duck’s bill or an otter’s body, but in many ways they are as foreign to us as their Australian counterparts were to scientific community in England, in the late 18th century. The weird, strange, and just plain different people we meet tend to stray from the premise we all share from time to time. We might not even know that we share a premise, until we hear someone else say something that suggests they’re operating from an altogether different premise. When that happens, it can be shocking.

It’s almost as shocking to us as the introduction of platypus was to Britain’s scientific community. They were so rocked by it that they thought the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal was an elaborate and well-conceived hoax. They thought they had a comprehensive catalog of the animal kingdom prior to the introduction of the platypus, and we empathize, for when we met our first platypus person, we thought we had a decent catalog on human nature.

“Who thinks like this?” we asked ourselves. We thought someone glued a proverbial bill of a duck on an otter’s body to try to pass him off as a new species when we heard what he thought of the world. We did not physically dissect him to find the truth, in the manner the skeptical Brits did when they encountered the platypus, to search for the taxidermist’s stitching. We did probe, however, and we came away thinking he was genuine, unlike those Brits who remained skeptical even after seeing a live platypus, but we had no idea how to process his thoughts.

As with the Brits and the platypus, the more we learned more about the platypus person, the more that shock turned to intrigue as we began to think that his funhouse mirror perspective might tweak how we thought of ourselves.

It might be a subjective viewpoint, but I think most of us travel through a wide variety of thoughts on the road to formulating a philosophy. With fighting words, we develop translucent passions. We crave cutting edge, unusual thoughts that formulate weird, strange, or just plain different impressions. At some point, we recognize how contrived most free-thinking, independent spirits are. Some of them are weird for the sake of being weird, some disagree just to disagree, and others follow the edicts of cool overlords to become one. We recognize these contrivances through the premise we share, which is revealed by the others who operate from an entirely different premise. When viewing this through that looking glass we see that if we’re all free-thinking, independent spirits, then none of us are, and the channel their unique perspective opens affects us in a manner motivates us to learn everything we can about their philosophy before we reach whatever final formulation we do. We want to taste every piece of pie available to us before we reach the end of the buffet.

When we hear someone who appeared to go through the same intellectual progressions as we did, only to arrive at an entirely different conclusion, we want to know how they arrived at that. We want to know everything about their philosophy on matters and how it applies to their epistemology, and we want to know the anthropological origins of their thought process. We might not agree with anything they say, and by the time they’re finished, we realize that the specific subjects they discuss don’t matter either. We’re so fascinated with their process that we listen to them with some excitement, as we think their story, or the sedimentary layers of their story, could apply and affect our own.

All of these reactions to the platitudes of platypus people are subjective, but within these subjective reactions are autobiographical attempts to understand ourselves better, and whether we are going to eventually agree with it or attempt to nuke their theories, we want to know how to process what they are saying.

I thought everyone went through the same cyclical reactions to this guy’s provocative statements, until one of my friends said, “Doesn’t he have cable?”

As I laughed, I realized that I was probably overthinking the matter. I also realized that even though this joker and I disagreed on everything two people can disagree on, and we approached him from widely different perspectives, we both came to variations of the same conclusion about this man.

We envy quick wits who can diagnose a situation and summarize in seconds, but when they say something such as, “Doesn’t he have cable?” we aren’t sure if they understand the totality of what was said. After chewing on the line, we realize that we probably didn’t understand the totality of their joke. If the import of the joke was that the platypus person might be operating from the same premise as the rest of us if he wasted as many hours of his life as we had watching cable TV, then their joke was probably spot on.

A great line like this also diverts us from any in-depth processing we might do on the subject, because it allows us to dismiss the platypus person. It’s rare that we consciously dismiss another based on a single joke, but if the joke is so spot on, we will probably have it bouncing around in our head in all of our future interactions with the platypus person.

Some people are just quicker than the rest of us. They can listen to an hours-long discussions and sum them up in one quick line. Some of us are processors who need time to process information, and we enjoy hearing numerous opinions before forming a conclusion. We might obsess over otherwise inconsequential matters far too often, but we can’t understand how someone can come up with a quick, reflexive line like that and consider the matter settled. Do they develop this ability, because they are more comfortable in their own skin that that confidence allows them to swat nuanced, complicated ideas away? Or, do they develop this ability to come up with a quick assessment of a person, because they are so insecure that they seek to thwart all unusual thoughts before they question some fundamentals of their being? Is it a defense mechanism they use to help them avoid dwelling or obsessing on such topics, or do they consider most of the mysteries that plague the rest of us settled?

Being Weird is a Choice 

After meeting a few more platypus people in the years that followed, I realized the matter wasn’t settled for me. Some of them were weird and others were strange, but most of them just didn’t fit in with the rest of us. What’s the difference? One of the best ways I found to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by natural maladies. They had a variance inflicted upon them that they could not control, and they cannot escape. As opposed to a person we might consider strange, a person who chooses to be weird, can easily find their way back to the premise, they simply choose, for various reasons, to step away from it for a moment. The platypus person cannot find their way back for reasons that are less philosophical and more anthropological, as their epistemological makeup has been passed down their genealogical tree.

We don’t define these separations to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate people who arrive at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this rhetorical device for our readers to consider us wonderful, more understanding, or compassionate, but we deem those who go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human decency. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than any of the subjects we discuss. We design this arbitrary separation for the sole purpose of providing some classifications for those who had no choice in the matter, against a backdrop of those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

We might think that anyone who chooses to be weird must suffer from a strange psychology. In my experience, it’s quite the opposite for our need to be different started out as a form of rebellion in our youth. We wanted to be weird to rebel against the philosophical and spiritual hold our parents had on us. Those of us who chose this path wanted to be perceived as being just as weird, strange, and just plain different as those we were conditioned to dismiss and avoid by our friends and family.

My dad sensed this early on, and he did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. Through the decades that followed, he attempted to correct my weird ideas with more sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase he used so often that my refusal to acquiesce to his more structured ways of the world was one of my primary forms of rebellion. There were so many intense arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, combustible. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. He did his best to provide his children the most normal upbringing he could.

I rebelled to the relatively strong foundation he built without recognizing the luxury I was afforded. The primary reason for my gratitude is that some of the truly weird and strange platypus people I’ve met since I left my dad’s home lead chaotic lives that can be a little scary. They came from very different homes, with a less than adequate foundation, and they ended up expending as much effort trying to prove they were normal as I did to be considered weird.

When we are very young, our parents set the premise from which we will operate. This premise is often generational, as our parents passed on the fundamental knowledge they learned from their parents. As we age, we begin to see the cracks in that foundation. At some point, we assume our parents are so normal that they’re boring. They might have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? When we begin to add these quirks up, as we age, and we compare them to others’ parents, an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth emerges in this dichotomy: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t a little weird, or goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that our parents just have some different ideas about some subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.

If we ever gain enough distance from them to view their idiosyncrasies with some objectivity, this revelation can be earth-shattering. We witnessed, firsthand, some confusing elements of their thought process, and we began adding them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that that uncomfortable truth emerged.

After that relatively daunting epiphany clears, a sense of satisfaction takes its place. Our rebellion to their quirky ideas was the right course to follow, and we now see how justified we were. At some point in our various stages of processing this newfound information, we realize that for much of our life, our parents were a beacon of sanity in an otherwise confusing world they were charged with helping us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer as funny as we thought it was. We reach a point where we want/need them to be normal, and we ask them not to express themselves in front of our friends, because if our friends learn how strange our parents truly are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?

My dad was abnormal, at the very least. Some might say he was a kook, and others might suggest he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was a platypus person who was difficult to classify. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and if that is true I believe he made them as a result of some of his natural deficiencies.

The point of writing about my dad’s deficiencies is not to denigrate the man, but to point out that which separated him from what one would call a normal man. Those deficiencies plagued him, and he put forth a great deal of effort to convince the world around him that he was as normal as they were. The trials and tribulations he experienced in this regard marked his life, and he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he did, so he tried to establish a normal home without too much chaos. In his subjective approach to life, he thought fitting in with others and being normal were the keys to happiness, and he tried to pass that along to us. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.

Even after years of reflecting on this, and recognizing what my dad’s efforts for what they were, I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to indulge in the artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. I knew weird ideas were out there, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left the relatively normal home my dad tried to create for us, I ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence. I lived the life I always wanted to live, and I found weird, oddball philosophies so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping them in the bottle.

My dad’s overwhelming influence on my life was such that I preferred the company of normal people long-term, but I remained eager to invite weird people in for a brief stay to challenge my status quo. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with friends and family telling me that I should be avoiding these people, because they were so strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I consumed all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young people seeking to disappoint their parents and anyone who has expectations of them in the manner I did, I have one word of caution. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable. Violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before going down these roads, however, an aspiring rebel needs to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Knowing the rules provides a foundation for successful rebellions. All rebels think they know the conventional ways of the conventional, and they might think there’s no point in studying them, but if there’s one thing that I learned as an aspiring rebel, and in the many conversations I had with other rebels since, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. A violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, and subsets, for those seeking to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn them, and the proper violation of them, will allow those who set the rules to dismiss a rebel as one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

Most rebels find inspiration for their rebellion from screen stars who violate standards and upset the status quo in their presentations. These stars provide color by number routes to rebellion that are provocative and easy to follow. These rebellions also look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that the screenwriters and directors of these productions manipulate all of the extraneous conditions and side characters around the main character to enhance their qualities. We all know this is true, in some respects, but few of us factor it into our presentation. In real life, there are situations and forces that even a rebel with strong convictions cannot control. There are people who will present the rebel with scenarios for which they’re unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. Again, the real life rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and side characters to enhance their presentations in the manner all the behind the scene’s players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, and a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides.

My advice to all aspiring rebels is to listen to those squares who are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those who feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me the elements of life that bored the fill in the blank out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I sought entrée into the “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew the elements of rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. When compared to the rock and roll figures of our culture, she had poor presentation skills. She was also overweight and unattractive. The entertainers were attractive and thin, they all had strong jaw lines, and they confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.

Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun, I decided. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong. As long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what they feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to expel whatever my body couldn’t use into the face of the mainstream. I wanted to be so weird that they could taste it. The responsible grownups who played a quality role in my development had a boring sameness about them, and the idea that I might be able to be something different led to some growth in my undercarriage. My dad vied for this sameness, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I continued to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

✽✽✽

In my efforts to have someone, somewhere consider me weird, I spotted the now endangered platypus person. The reason we place the platypus person on the endangered list is that with the advent of devices and the internet, the idea of total nonconformity is even rarer than it was when I was younger. It’s no longer as simple as a person not having cable. They must avoid all that is available to them in the information age, including the internet. It’s easier than it’s ever been for them to consciously and subconsciously replicate and mimic our thoughts, rhythms, and patterns, in other words. It also leads to greater assimilation, and it makes them tougher to spot. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to camouflage their duck’s bill on an otter’s body, we should note that it’s rarely by choice. As I suggested earlier, they sincerely want to be normal, but their upbringing was such that it requires some effort on their part to do what it takes for others to perceive someone as normal. They don’t mimic to deceive anyone, unless one considers convincing oneself of a lie so thoroughly that they believe it themselves an act of deception.

In the course of my efforts to find the rare bird, I realized that it can take weeks to months before we see their duck bill, because they only show it to people they trust, and that trust takes time to build. It also takes a level of familiarity for them to be comfortable. To get them to open up, we might have to give them our weaknesses, but we don’t do this for the purpose of getting them open up. We don’t know they’re platypus people when we speak to them. We aren’t reporters digging for their story, a story, or this story. We just do it in the course of establishing a friendship with them, as we would with any other person. As with the egg-laying, semi-aquatic mammal, platypus people require a certain environment, and very specific conditions before they reveal themselves. When they do reveal themselves, there is some insecurity involved in their reveal, but there is also relief. It’s obvious that they have experienced levels of ridicule and abuse for their thoughts and ideas, and they are relieved to find someone who is so curious about the way they think.

The only times I have been able to build this level of trust, through prolonged involvement, have occurred within the confines of shared employment. On one of these jobs, I developed what we could call a cerebral crush on one of my fellow employees. We had numerous, fascinating conversations on a variety of unrelated topics. In one of our last non-work-related conversations, she replied to one of my stories with a, “Wait a second, did you say you want to be weird? You actually want to be weird? People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”

This response wobbled me a little, because I thought she and I were both playing with peoples’ heads in the same manner. I thought she wanted to be considered weird too. I had no idea the things she did and said were more organically weird, strange, or just plain different. Her response told me that I had no business playing with her toys, in this sense. It also wobbled me a little, because I never heard anyone defend weirdness before. The conversation went on for a couple minutes, but no matter what I said, she kept cycling it back to this two sentence theme: People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t

I would try, numerous times, after that conversation to steer her back to what I considered a fascinating topic, but she would have none of it. I wanted to know what it meant to be weird, from her perspective. I wanted her to elucidate on the difference between being weird and trying to be weird, but unbeknownst to me, she considered that conversation over, and she found all of my subsequent questions on the topic insulting.

Therefore, I can only guess that the import of her condemnation of my efforts was based on this idea she had that weirdness should be a birthright. It should be natural and organic. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those who regard the organic nature of their oddities a birthright. She presumably regarded this as equivalent to a person who wears glasses to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those who are required to wear them.

I felt caught while in the moment. I thought of all the attempts I made to have another consider me weird, and I thought of how inorganic they were. I felt like a fraud. As I said, my dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take another moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive, God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat. God bless you for creating a base of normalcy from which I rebelled, for without that base I now wonder what I may have become.

My guess was that this woman’s upbringing was probably chaotic, and she spent most of her adult life striving for what others might call normal. She was weird in a more natural and fundamental sense, and she condemned anyone who might dare play around in what she proclaimed her birthright, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who knew some details of her struggle.

Those of us who had enough involvement with her to know her beyond the superficial knew that chaos dominated much of her life, and we learned that it led her to desperately seek the refuge of any substance she could find to ease that pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life before and after, that there was weird and there was weird. There is a level of weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the area of the brain that enjoys stepping outside the norm. The other level of weird, the one that we could arbitrarily define as strange, is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through the caverns of their mind.

Was this woman a little weird? Was she so weird that we could call her strange by the arbitrary definitions we’ve laid out, or were her sensibilities so different from mine that I sought to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?

When compared to all of my other experiences with platypus people, she was an anomaly. Was she weirder than I was though? “Who cares?” we might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to this particular conversation– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority. In that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her makeup that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

What did she win though? Some odd form of superiority? How long did she search for some point of superiority? How many topics did we cover, in our numerous, unrelated conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some level of superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask how many battles did she lose trying to appear as normal as her counterpart was? She needed a victory. I had numerous conversations with this woman before we drifted apart, and I never saw this competitive side of her again. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic, and I can only assume it gave her some satisfaction to do so.

Are you weird, strange, just plain different, or an unclassifiable platypus person? No one cares, you might say, and quit judging people with labels. Our subjective reactions to define anomalies define us. Some of us try to cut analysis short by accusing anyone who obsesses over differences as lacking in compassion. Others drop a quick, humorous line that allows them to dismiss subjects of curiosity. Those of us who dwell (obsess) over these topics don’t understand how others can turn this part of their brain off, because we think our story lies somewhere in the sedimentary levels of the strange and weird platypus people.

We all know some weird people, and we’ve encountered those who are strange and just plain different. We’ve also learned that some are so different that they’re difficult to classify. The one answer we could provide is that we all have a relative hold on the various truths of life, and those answers help us keep the idea of random chaos at bay. If you have had any prolonged involvement with a platypus person, however, you know that they have their answers too. Those answers might be different from everything we’ve heard our whole life, but does that make them weird, strange or just plain different? The frustration that those of us who search for answers in life know is that some of the times there are no concrete answers to some questions. Some of the times, questions lead to answers and some of the times, answers lead to other questions, intriguing, illuminating questions. Am I weird, strange, or so different from everyone else has trouble classifying me? Do these questions require the level of exhaustive analysis we devote to it, or does it have more to do with the idea that some of us didn’t have cable growing up?

Next up: Meet the Platypus People

The Thief’s Mentality IV: The Umbrella


The Thief’s Mentality is not concerned with actual acts of thievery, as much as it is the 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 them is as dishonest as they are. Furthermore, those who don’t know acknowledge that they are either as dishonest as the rest of us, are in some form of denial or suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. They also believe those who instructed us to act right throughout our maturation (our parents and our teachers) have done this for so long that we’re now convinced that we are more honest than we truly are. The thief’s job, as they see it, is to open our eyes to the world around us to provide us a perspective we’ve never considered before.

The Thief’s Umbrella. We’re no better than anyone else is, and we know it. Our parents pounded this principle home so often that many of us consider it our defining principle. If for any reason we forget that, in our interactions with deceptive people, they remind us of it. They’ll put so much effort into it that by the time they’re done with us, we might 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 such charges are, for they keep us on defense. We’ve all encountered deceptive individuals who employed these tactics so often that we never considered questioning their integrity. If their goals were to prevent us from analyzing them, they were successful, but when we reflect back of those confusing entanglements, 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 be engaged 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 a dishonest person. 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 it to us to reflect on what they did.

Whether we’re the odd ones or not, their worldview is so foreign to ours, we 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 from it?

The Stories of Others. “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. The essays contained in this collection were not spontaneous creations. Rather, they are deep methodical dives into the motives of everyday people involved in everyday interactions. These are their stories, and it was the author’s job to capture them. Some of their stories might be similar to ours, but most of them provide a contradictory view of the world that is so different from ours. We learn through our reading that it’s all a big, tasty stew.

The Sitcom Formula. My favorite sitcoms involve the formula of a normal 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 that of an observer. (Think Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld or Alex Reiger on Taxi.) The main character is so normal that they act as the conduit to the everyman 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 main character’s response to the ensembles’ thoughts and actions. Our side characters in life often define us in similar ways, as they add unnecessary complications to their lives, and we play the center to their storm.

We found the “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” questions a more engaging way of framing an argument in these stories. This isn’t to say that The Thief’s Mentality avoids arguments. In the most opinionated pieces in this collection, we present the “I” character’s opinion in conjunction with how the opposing view may have formulated. We do disagree with the manner in which they 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.   

A POS. Do you know a true piece of work (a POS)? Have you ever met his parents? Yeah, nuff said, right? Chances are his parent’s friends were all POSs too, and so were their kids. Chances are our friend spent most of his youth running around with those kids. Without knowing it, he developed an affinity for likeminded 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 his “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 constant barrage of accusations, and he continued this onslaught to keep her as honest as he wanted her to be. His rationale was 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 didn’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. 

Listening skills. “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 by that time I happened upon 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 them 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 those who don’t listen. This little secret left me wondering if they would still give me the compliment if I revealed that fact to them. Would they smile in the appreciative way they did if they knew my motives were less than pure and some might say self-serving?

Others didn’t offer me that compliment in such a direct manner, but they opened up and told me things about their life I can only guess they didn’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 the storyteller may not have considered before. No matter how urgent I became, however, I didn’t care about them. I just wanted to know everything 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 them better than they might know themselves, so that I might understand myself better 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.

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 people who tweak the premise of our sense of order.

The Epiphany Effect. The Thief’s Mentality is loaded with epiphanies. A reader could make the mistake in assuming that the reason we wrote the essays in question was to provide the author a vehicle to write all the epiphanies he learned over the years. While that’s not entirely true, we do find the epiphanies so compelling that there is some grain of truth to it, but what is an epiphany?

Most of us park in the same place for work every day, even if we don’t have an assigned spot, and we sit in the same spot for meetings and any other regular event we attend where there are no designated spots for us. Routines have a way of staving off the random and leading to a greater sense of order, and this all leads to a greater sense of overall happiness. One could say that any contradictions and inconsistencies we encounter could lead to confusion and ultimately unhappiness. We watch these contradictions live their lives in a way that makes no sense to our foundational structure, our values, and our way of living life. As we attempt to account for contradictions and inconsistencies and try to gain a greater hold on the way the world works, we experience more and that can lead to greater comfort and more happiness. The relief we feel can lead us to become stuck in our ways, and any idea that questions our newfound sense of order could make us uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet, most of us 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.”

Even though there is a dictionary definition of the word epiphany, it 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.

A revolutionary thought, by contrast, has an almost immediate impact. A revolutionary thought causes our jaw to drop, but an epiphany typically requires subsequent incidents for the recipient to understand how they 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 might involve striking moment, but some consider it nothing more than a subtle crank of the wheel. One noteworthy experience discussed in The Thief’s Mentality, 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 think about it for ten seconds. 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 the 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 it, 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. These epiphanies provided eye-opening clarification on a topic we thought we understood, but the epiphany can provide a subtle crank of the wheel that we 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 less than intelligent in the aftermath. “I can’t believe I never saw it quite that way before.” Epiphanies can do that, but the individual who might consider themselves less than intelligent for not seeing it sooner should relax with the knowledge that this happens all the time to such 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 might understand why it means more than the obvious to us. Locating the qualities of an eye-opening thought and interpreting it for personal usage does not require a level of intelligence, as I wrote, 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. Most naked epiphanies, or those that we haven’t shaped for personal interpretation, seem so obvious that we 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 our lives and the manner in which we could’ve applied it. The author has encountered many situations in which an epiphany could’ve applied, 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 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 profound 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. The Thief’s Mentality is comprised of what some might consider so obvious that they’re hardly worth considering, but it’s these little, insignificant thoughts that end up shaping our thoughts more than the revolutionary ones might.

Price Check: Can of Soup


“Whaddya mean $1.37?!” a wiry haired, bespectacled customer asked a sixteen-year-old, unindicted co-conspirator in the price-fixing conspiracy that the old man has dreamed up for a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, “It was $1.22, just last week.”  I know you’re angry sir, I think noting the veins protruding on the man’s nose, and the ruddy complexion, that seem indigenous to those that that have a favorite bar stool.  And I know you’re dying to tell anyone that will listen (or is forced to listen) but this poor, red headed cashier, named Eddie, has a lot less say than you think in Target’s “outrageous” price scheme.  And as much as you’d like to think your eyes are wide open on this issue, Target does not add anything to Eddie’s wage if he is able to add your fifteen cents to their profit margin.  The trouble Eddie has counting back your change should provide enough evidence that Eddie is not involved in the determinations made on shipping and handling costs; the amount of state and federal taxes imposed on this product; or the mushroom-marketing cooperative’s decision on the costs the manufacturing.  It’s also reasonable to suspect that the diatribe that you’ve obviously rehearsed in the mirror about the effect the improving economies in Latin America could have on the price of mushrooms, if their production of mushrooms proves to increase at the rate some project, will be lost on everyone involved once your transaction with Eddie is concluded.

esq-cream-of-mushroom-soup-0312-Zio6xr-lgYou may believe that this face of Target, this sixteen-year-old, named Eddie, knows full well what’s going on, but one look at his blanker-than-usual expression should tell you all that you need to know.  Unfortunately, you are an informed consumer, and you feel the need to give him your what for.

The sixteen-year-old can do nothing about it, however, and you will likely be considered what they call a moron for arguing with the sixteen-year-old in the first place.  The sixteen-year-old will, likely, not care that you have this complaint, and he will likely forget all about your informed complaint the minute you step out of line.  He’s not going to tell his boss, and his boss is not going to tell his boss, and there will be no boardroom discussion focusing on your complaint regarding the rising cost of a can of cream of mushroom soup.

A Matter of Death and Life


Life is not random, some say, it is choreographed by a controlling force with a master plan that we may not understand at first, but will eventually come clear when we look back and see the final portrait.  For others, life is a random series of moments, equivalent to an abstract pointillism painting.  This belief suggests that we’re simply here one day, talking to our friends, gone the next.  Human life has more meaning than the life of the badger in the arena of consciousness of life, but little more than that.  The primary difference, for these people, comes from the act of looking at life, examining it with strained eyes, until we see a purpose that we believed was there all along.  No matter how one looks at it, we can all agree that these moments of life are finite, and that it is an abuse to waste them.  The latter becomes all the more clear when we’ve survived a death-defying incident.

An abstract pointillism painting

An abstract pointillism painting

Part of the allure of the story of the vampire is the dream mere mortals have of being immortal, so that these moments of life can be infinite.  These dreams only become more profound as we age, and the realization of our own mortality becomes more substantial –and the idea of eventually becoming inconsequential, even to those that love us most, haunts us– we dream of immortality.  The dream of immortality is one thing, the non-fan have argued, but the actuality of it would be quite another.

The import of the allure of the vampire story is the question that fascinates us, “What would you do if you knew knew that you were going to live forever?”  The less obvious question, asked by cynical viewers/readers of the story is, “Why would you do it?”  How exciting would the bungee jump be to the person that knew there was no chance they were going to die?  The primal fear of falling would surely affect some vampires, as they were all mortal once, but if you can’t even be superficially wounded, much less mortally, how much allure would there be in the “death plunge” of the bungee jump?

In most incarnations of the story, the vampire is not only immortal and invulnerable to superficial injury, they can even manipulate situations to a point where they wouldn’t have to experience emotional pain.  Through the power of their eyes, most vampires can convince mere mortals to do their bidding.  As a result, no girl can ever dump them; no bully can pick on them; and no moron can ever do anything to mess their life up.  In most incarnations of the vampire story, the use of this power is selective, so as to allow the mortals involved in the story to do things that give the story greater drama, but the cynics in the audience wonder why the vampires don’t just turn on their eye power and persuade the girl to love them.  (I know most vampire stories involve the vampire wanting organic love from the girl that results from the mortal deciding to love them, but the very idea that they can circumvent this process by turning on their eye power diminishes this to a tool used by the author of the story to provide drama.)  We cynics understand that thread of the story that the greatness of love lies in its achievement for the vampire, but when he is utterly devastated by the failure to do so, the vampire doesn’t have to experience that devastation.  The vampire has a plan B.  The eyes.  Just flick on that power.

Mere mortals have no idea if the girl is going to love us in real life, and we have no plan B if she doesn’t.  We are pretty sure that we’re going to survive the bungee jump, and the roller coaster, as they offer some comfort of being a controlled environment, but there is some fear –that results in some adrenaline– involved in the idea that we’re not 100% positive.  If you were 100% positive that you weren’t going to die, or even receive some painful superficial wounds, why would you do it?  Would there be any sense of accomplishment in achieving love from another, if you knew that you had such a solid plan B that you could convince the girl to love you, regardless what she decides.

Some of us have had near death experiences, from a car crash that first responders informed us should’ve resulted in the end of our moments; we’ve been informed that if our death-defying incident had occurred inches to the left, or right, we would no longer be here to talk about it; and others have had incidents that require no such explanations of how close they’ve come.  Those that have survived the latter speak of a sense of euphoria that overwhelms them and profoundly informs the rest of their life.  This sense of euphoria, they say, does not last forever, or as long as it probably should, but for the short time you’re immersed in it, your second lease on life can be euphoric.

In an attempt to explain this blast of euphoria that comes from being unsuccessfully murdered, author of the collection of essays We Never Learn, Tim Kreider, uses the plot of Ray Bradbury’s The Lost City of Mars to illustrate: “A man finds a miraculous machine that enables him to experience his own violent death over and over again, as many times as he likes –in locomotive collisions, race car crashes, and exploding rocket ships– until he emerges flayed of all his Christian guilt and unconscious longing for death, forgiven and free, finally alive.”

In the essay, Reprieve, Kreider explains that after it was deemed that he would survive the attempt on his life, he considered everything that followed as “Gravy.”  A term he derives from a man, author Raymond Carver, that was also granted a second lease on life.

Quoting from the proverbial “food tastes better” template of survivors, Kreider states that he did things he wouldn’t have done in his pre-murder attempt life, and what was once deemed troubling, dramatic, and consequential in the first life, became trivial in the scope of having survived.  Kreider claims he even developed a loud, racauos laugh, in his reprieve, that caused “People to look over to make sure I was not about to open up on them with a weapon.”  He claims that laughter could be heard when he complained to a friend, “You don’t understand me.”

The friend responded: “No, sir, I understand you very well –it is you who do not understand yourself.”

Whereas most survivors perceive divine intervention in their narrow escape, Kreider states that even in the midst of his euphoria, that “Not for one passing moment did it occur to me to imagine that God Must Have Spared My Life For Some Purpose.  I was not blessed or chosen, but lucky.”

I wish I could recommend the experience of not being killed to everyone.  It’s a truism,” he basically states, that motivates most thrill-seeking adventurers to attempt what are basically “suicide attempts with safety nets”.  “The trick,” he writes, “Is to get the full effect you have to be genuinely uncertain that you’re going to survive.  The best approximation would be to hire an incompetent, Clouseauque (Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers, in the movie The Pink Panther) hit man to assassinate you.   

“It’s one of the maddening perversities of human psychology that we only notice we’re alive when we’re reminded we’re going to die, the same way some of us appreciate our girlfriends only after they’ve become exes.”  Kreider writes of his terminally ill father, writing that while in his last days: “(The man) cared less about things that didn’t matter and more about the things that did.  It was during his illness that he gave me the talk that all my artist friends have envied, in which he told me that he and my mother believed in my talent and I shouldn’t worry about getting “some dumb job.””

But, Kreider writes: “You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter. Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busywork of living.”

The latter quote reminds one of a guest on The Tonight Show in which this guest talked about a love that spanned decades.  She claimed that her husband provided her a white rose every day, and that the two of them never fought.  In the aftermath of that interview, host Johnny Carson turned to his sidekick Ed McMahon and said something along the lines of: “It’s a beautiful story, and I wish I had the same (Carson was married four times), but I can’t help but thinking how boring it would be to never fight for that many years.  I’m not calling her a liar.  I believe her.  I just think it would be boring.”

In great loves, and great lives, life can experience great highs and great lows, but the great highs cannot be fully appreciated without the contrast of great lows.

I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best,” Kreider writes, “Crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. We dismiss peak moments and passionate love affairs as an ephemeral chemical buzz, just endorphins or hormones, but accept those 3 A.M. bouts of despair as unsentimental insights into the truth about our lives.  It’s easy now to dismiss that year (following the survival of the unsuccessful murder) as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi.  But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor.  It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.”

We all love to quote Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  It’s important to prepare for things to go wrong, of course, but is it a truism that everything will go wrong, or is it a “maddening perversity of human psychology” that we only notice things when they do?  If the petty jurisdiction of local weather provides us with clear and 60, how long will we remember that versus -2 and 10 inches of snow?  And how beautiful is clear and 60 when all we’ve known, all week, is -2 and 10 inches?  How beautiful, conversely, would clear and 60 be if we could use the eye power of the vampire to have clear and 60, 365?  The dream would be one thing, the reality quite another.

Know Thyself


“I do not know myself yet, so it seems a ridiculous waste of my time to be investigating other, irrelevant matters.”  —Socrates stated on the subject of studying Mythology and other trivial matters.

“Know thyself?” we say in response to this Socrates quote. “I know myself. I know myself better than anyone I’ve ever met. Why would I waste my time trying to understand myself better? Other people that makes no sense to me. I have no problem with me. Trying to know thyself better, to the level the Ancient Greeks and Socrates speak of, seems to me nothing more than a selfish conceit for pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.”

Philosophers say that the key to living the good life lies in reflection and examination. If an individual does not have a full grasp on their strengths and weaknesses, the changes they make will be pointless, or they might not be able to sustain them for long. Knowing is half the battle, to quote the cliché.

One of the measures that we might use to gain a better understanding of who we are is to understand how weird, strange, and different we are, in conjunction with the resultant feelings superiority and inferiority that derive from it, and it can provide us some relief from the confusion we feel about the world around us. If we were to use the Cartesian coordinate system, we studied in our high school Algebra class, we might be able to locate where we are compared to point of origin, or the point of total normalcy on one axis, versus our superiority and inferiority on the other, to form a (0,0) for example, on the (X,Y) axis. This may be an inexact science, but comparative analysis might be the most common method we use to know ourselves better.

We’ve all met those strange individuals that tend to be more organic by nature, and we know we’re not that. Through comparative analysis, we could say that those people exist five increments to the right of the point of normalcy on (‘X’) axis of the Cartesian coordinate system, yet we know that we’re not all that normal either. We know that no one that knows us would place us on the point or origin in this particular Cartesian coordinate system, in other words, because they’ve had experiences with people that are more normal than we are. The first question we could ask them is who are normal people? The second question we could ask regards the numerous ideas we have about being normal, weird, and strange. We consider those relative concepts nearly impossible to quantify. I’m sure that they would cede some points on that argument. If we are going to make an attempt to know a little bit more about ourselves, however, we might want to compare ourselves to those around us in a simple system that compares us to those that exude a confidence in their being that allows them to be more comfortable in their own skin than other people. Some describe such people as radiating self-possession.

If the majority of people we run into are more normal than we are, by our arbitrary definition of the two terms, we might define ourselves as a two on the weird to normal (‘X’) axis. If that were the case, where would we be on superiority versus inferiority (‘Y’) axis? We can guess that our point on the (‘X’) axis would have a corresponding effect, and that we would be a two on (‘Y’) axis if the relationship between being more normal leads to greater self-esteem, and thus a feeling of more superiority. Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,2) coordinate compared to the rest of the normal, well-adjusted world.

The next question, for those plotting points in their ledger, is what aspect of your personality should we focus on? The answer is there is no solution, if you operate from the unstated assumption that your “2=2” comparative findings will reveal a true solution.

The true solution to all that plagues you do not lie in comparative analysis. Therefore, everyone can put their ledgers down. It is pointless. The true solution lies just outside plotting points, and inside a person’s individual Cartesian coordinate system. The true solution lies just beyond the analysis the reader has performed while reading this. It is inside some of the questions a person asks while plotting, and in some of the answers that they find. Ask more questions, in other words, and a person will arrive at more answers. The point plotter may never find the perfect question that leads to a truth of it all, but they’ll find some answers, to some dilemmas that plague them, until they have more answers than most.

Philosophers, bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and reported to the world by a writer named Pausanias.

It was what modern day philosophers might call the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, and what a previous generation would call a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement, and the Ancient Greeks achieved it with two simple words:

“Know Thyself.”            

Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.

Although it could be said that man has found the investigation of other, more “irrelevant matters” far more entertaining for as long as man has been on earth, few would argue that we have more distractions, from this central argument, than we have right now. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

The Holy Grail for those that produce images on movie screens, TV screens, and mobile devices is to produce characters that an audience can identify with so thoroughly that the viewers begin relate to them. Idyllic images litter this path to the Holy Grail. These images are ones that a consumer associates with so often that they begin to incorporate their idealism into their personality. On a conscious level, we know that these images are fictional in nature, but they may exhibit characteristics so admirable that we may begin to mimic them when among our peers. A moment of truth eventually arrives when a person finds that they’re having difficulty drawing a line of distinction between the subconscious incorporation of all of these fictional characteristics and the realization that they are not us. The idea that we are not them follows, and what follows all of this is we don’t know how to handle a moment of personal crisis when it arrives.

When our moment of personal crisis arrives, we may project a screen image version of us into reality, and that version we have of ourselves might know how to handle this crisis better than we ever will. This image may not be us, in the truest sense, but a future “us”, a different “us”, or an idyllic image of “us” that handled this matter so much better, but we can’t remember how, now that we’re being called upon to handle a crisis.

We may have been a swashbuckling hero –in one episode in our lives– that encountered a similar problem and dealt with it in a heroic fashion. We may have encountered a verbal assault on our character –in another episode– and we may have been a cynical, sardonic wit that countered a damaging insult with that perfect comeback that laid our verbal assaulter out, but we can’t remember how we did it, because it wasn’t us doing it, it wasn’t really us. On some level, we may even know that we were fooling ourselves, but we’ve incorporated so many images of so many characters, handling so many situations with such adept fluidity, that we’ve incorporated those idyllic, screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, in our interactions with peers. These images may be nothing more than a false dot matrix of carefully constructed tiny, mental adjustments made over time to deal with situational crises that have threatened to lessen our self-esteem, until we became the refined, sculpted specimen that is now capable of handling any situation that arises. These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled that confrontation, but we preferred our rewrite to the reality of what happened. We then began erecting that rewrite so often, or with such thoroughness, that we convinced ourselves that we handled the matter a lot better than we actually did in order to create that ideal image that we needed for better mental health.

We have all had moments in life where we felt the need to correct a peer on the specific manner in which an event our lives happened, because we overheard them tell a third party a version of that story that was incorrect. When they don’t believe us, we invite others into the argument to provide overwhelming corroborating evidence for this peer. Those of us that have done this have been shocked when our peer refused to believe the true account. At that point, we walk away from them, because we recognize that they’re delusional. Some part of us knows that our peer knows the truth, but they chose to view things different. We think less of these people from a distance, a distance that suggests that we’ve achieved a plane of honesty that they could never achieve. The only other alternative, we think, is that our peer had a need to colorize their role, in some way, for greater self-esteem. After thoroughly condemning this person, we experience a similar scenario. The difference in this scenario is the reversal of roles involved. It’s happened to the best of us. Those of us that strive for honesty in our everyday walks of life.

On the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we find esteem. Maslow states that this need for greater self-esteem, this need to be respected, valued, and accepted by others is vital to one’s sense of fulfillment. If esteem is this vital to our psychological makeup, what happens when the fact that we realize that we’re not as capable of achieving as their peers? What happens when this becomes impossible to deny? If we are able to convince ourselves that these incidents are the exception to the rule, we might be able to find excuses for why another succeeds where we fail, but when it’s repeated over and over, with peer after peer, we start to get frustrated, confused, and we might even find ourselves growing depressed. To avoid falling down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

If these defense mechanisms involve nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, say mental health experts, it can be quite healthy. The alternative, they say, occurs when the reality of a situation overwhelms us. This could result in depression, or other forms of regressed mental health. If that’s true, where is the dividing line between using healthy delusions and being delusional?

If an individual achieves what they hope to achieve from delusional thinking, and an incorporation of idyllic images begins to foster their desired perception in an effort to thwart depression, and they get away with it, what’s to stop them from using those mental tools so often that they’re rewarded with even greater esteem among their peers, and greater self-esteem? Why would they choose to moderate future delusions? What’s to stop this delusional thinker from continuing down these delusional paths, until the subject begins to lose track of who they are … who they really are?

Most of the research dedicated to brain focuses on the organ’s miraculous power to remember, but recent science is finding that the power to forget is just as fundamental to happiness and greater mental health. This thesis suggests that the brain may distill horrific memories and bad choices out, for greater mental health, in a manner similar to the ways in which the liver distills impurities out for greater physical health.

We could say that if it’s true that our lying peers might have remembered their embarrassing incidents differently in a biological attempt aimed at achieving greater mental health. Were they lying? Yes. Was there goal to deceive everyone around that they were a lot better than they actually are? Perhaps, but it is just as likely that at some point in the timeline they sought to deceive themselves into the idyllic image that they needed to create for greater mental health. To take this theory to its natural conclusion, one could also say that those that need intense counseling may have opted for the bright and shiny delusional paths. They may decide to go down these paths so often, while blocking out embarrassing details and forgetting self-esteem crushing decisions along the way, that professional assistance is their only recourse. We could say that by replacing these embarrassing details and self-esteem crushing decisions with idyllic images and positive reinforcements– that these people has spent too much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions. We could say that these idyllic images, are such that they now need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them to a truth that they’ve hidden so far back in the forest of the mind that they can no longer find it without assistance.

It is for these reasons that greater brains than ours have suggested that the path to greater knowledge, a better life, happiness, and more self-esteem exists somewhere on the path of knowing thyself better. They also suggest that most of the time we spend investigating other, irrelevant matters is a waste of time, or superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

Post 400


Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

This is the 400th post written on Rilaly.com since May 2009.  That’s almost 100 posts a year, and if you knew of this blog’s inauspicious beginning, you’d know that’s quite an accomplishment.  To celebrate this milestone, I will do my first jig in the comfort of my home, or the first jig I do in relation to Rilaly.com anyway.  I will make mean faces when I do it, and I may even slap my ass a couple times.  This is not to be misconstrued as sexual in any manner.  This is purely celebratory.  You’re welcome to join me, even if we’re not dancing simultaneously.Political columnist George Will says that he does not reflect on his career.  I do. He states that he is always looking forward. I’ve met a number of people that have accomplished far more than I have, and when I’ve congratulated them on their list, they usually shrug it off and qualify it in some manner.  While I wish I had their list, there does seem to be a part of them that hasn’t enjoyed the process.  Although my list may be comparatively meager, especially when stacked up against Will’s, I enjoy reflecting before I move forward.

“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.” (U.B. Phillips)

My favorite posts are those I’ve written that are not related to current events.  I’ve written political posts, news-related, music, and sports related posts.  I’ve really tried to limit the latter two categories, as I don’t want this to be a place solely for music and sports.  If I started down that road, that might be all I write about.  So, on the rare occasions when I’ve written about them, I’ve tried to do so in a creative manner.

When I get a number of ideas that all lock into place, under the general heading of psychology, but more specifically listed under a “strange things that we do” category, I approach the keyboard with adrenaline.  I think normal people can understand a lot about themselves by studying the strange. and sometimes aberrant, creatures that surround us. Psychology, as a whole, intrigues me, but the “look at this Escher painting and tell me what you see, and that will tell you a lot about perception” line of psychology is just boring to me.  The “why do you stop at a stop sign, why does a dog salivate when it hears a bell, and why do we call a table a table” broader questions of psychology and conditioning bore me.  I’d much rather study why some people are sexually attracted to balloons in the The Balloonophilia Conflict.  How, or why, did a division occur in the balloonophilia universe, between poppers and non-poppers, and is there anything in this particular story that says anything about us?  These are a few of my favorite things.

Why do some people try to box us in to who they think we should be based on who they are, and their limits, perhaps it has something to do with the Thief’s Mentality.  How are we attracted to one another, perhaps it has more to do with our natural, biological scents than those colognes and perfumes we buy: Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of UrineWhat happens when we’re afraid, and what happens when we’re not respectfully afraid enough in a given situation?  Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias.  These stories do not necessarily have tie-ins, as a sports, music, or political post would have, and the fact that I’ve received compliments on them tells me that they’re just well written.  The following is a top ten list of those most popular, according to readers, of these 400 posts.  Some of them have tie-ins, but they contain a loose connection that could be said to be more psychological rather than a straight news story.  I love top ten lists, and I’ve been dying to write my own, so here it is.  Enjoy!

  1. Indigo Children
  2. Let Your Freak Flag Fly
  3. Thief’s Mentality
  4. The Balloonophilia Conflict
  5. Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine
  6. Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
  7. I Hate Guitar Solos
  8. The Psychology of Being a Super Fan in Sports
  9. Kinesthetic Learning in Sports
  10. Charles Bukowski hates Mickey Mouse

I must admit I was a little surprised that the Indigo Children post did so well.  I guess it had more of a tie-in than I thought, but I’ve found that you can never predict these things.  The others were not a surprise to me, as I knew when I wrote them that they were quality posts.

The following is a top fifteen list, listed in chronological by the number of hits they’ve received, of the posts that I believe have been largely, and in my opinion criminally, ignored.  I was going to write another top ten list, but that would’ve meant excluding two of my favorite posts Mechanical Animals and Would you eat something someone cared about?  I honestly think that the top five listed here are some of the best posts I’ve ever written, and I would include Nobody Cares About You and Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?  It’s really tough for me to say that one of my babies is better than another, but this is a condensed list of my favorites.

  1. He Used to Have a Mohawk
  2. Chances are you’re a lot like me and my life with alcohol
  3. Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds
  4. You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!
  5. Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence
  6. Building the Better, Happier Person
  7. The Mythology of You
  8. Nobody Cares About You
  9. Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?
  10. The Wicked Flames of the Weird
  11. Food Glorious Food
  12. Mechanical Animals
  13. Do the Apophenia
  14. Details, Details, Details
  15. Would you eat something someone cared about?

An Argument About Arguing


“You just love to argue!” a friend of mine said to me.

To me!?

To that point in my life, I had been that person that avoided arguments. I often walked away from them. When that wouldn’t work, I was prone to level the “You just love to argue!” charge against them.

Bear+Attack+Girl+Video+PhotoI don’t think even this friend of mine would accuse me of being a hyena, in the world of arguers, but I was once a limping antelope caught up in a pack of hyenas. It got so bad, at times, that I would examine, and reexamine everything I planned on saying. I feared everything I said would provoke an argument. I just wanted to have one peaceful day at work. When that wouldn’t work, I just stopped talking. I didn’t understand how everything I said could be so wrong, so controversial, debatable, and subject to argument. At one point, I gave up trying to figure it all out.

It was obvious to this pack of hyenas that I didn’t know how to argue, because I wasn’t used to everyone challenging every idea I had, but the fact that they were so confrontational about damning my ideas told me more about arguing than any debate class could.

Being the recipient of such a charge, after those dark years, taught me something. I liked it. It was shocking, but it was also pleasing.

When this accusation began popping up more often, and I began to reflect on the nature of the charge, it dawned on me that there are those that love to argue and the vulnerable subjects of society that they pick on. Some of these vulnerable subjects were less intelligent, but most of them didn’t spend every waking moment of their life arguing, so they weren’t as equipped as those that did. The question I had, now that I was being accused of being the former was, am I guilty of preying upon the vulnerable?

The difference between a healthy debate and an out and out argument is seismic. Even if some of these healthy debates are characterized in this manner, by the hyena that won’t leave you alone, you’ll find yourself leveling the “You just love to argue!” charge to end all future debates, healthy debates, and out and out arguments, and you will grow frustrated when it doesn’t work.

The question the vulnerable subject will have is why do they keep coming back to me with new information, new points to ponder, and a never-ending cycle that appears to be redundant to all observers? Why me? Why don’t they bother Suzy Q over there? She appears to enjoy arguing as much as they do? Yet, they keep coming back to me.

After receiving the charge that I’ve made against many, for so many years, I found the answer. I found the answer to why they sought me out, in my search for why I sought some of them out: I like to win.

Those that hate arguing, hate losing. They fear entering into an argument with a worthy opponent over subject ‘A’, and the revelations that will occur when they find out that the worthy opponent prove to know more about that subject than they do. The worthy opponent has proven, in the past, to be a worthy opponent. Most arguers do not enjoy arguing with a worthy opponent. The best way to avoid such embarrassing and stressful revelations, they think, is to just avoid arguing altogether.

Those that love to argue, on the other hand, appear to think that they learn things about all the players around them, and they may feel they learn things about themselves by arguing. It might all be a complex pursuit of intellect and psychology, for them, but it might also be something very simple: it may be all about winning and losing.

Most arguments seem so simple that they’re not worth having, but some people love to win arguments so much that they seek out the one person in the room that feeds their bear better than anyone else. Is this you? Do you have a person, that no matter how many times you say you don’t want to argue about it, won’t leave you alone about an about an annoying amount of everything? It may be that you’re better at feeding their bear than anyone else. Either you walk away, or you let it be known that you just don’t like arguing. Whatever the case is, they must find your reactions nourishing to their ego, or they wouldn’t keep coming back.

“Why do you insist on arguing about everything?!” is something you might say, in the face of their constant badgering. Or, “Does everything an argument to you?” You may even decide that you just don’t enjoy being around them, that they make you uncomfortable, and that you don’t enjoy their company. You may know that they enjoy watching you scream and squirm on a certain level, but you’ve provided yourself some comfort in stating that there must be something wrong with them if they enjoy doing that. If you’re one of these people, and you’re getting lost in the forest of their argumentative minds, you may want to start looking for the signs that say: “Don’t feed the bears!”

“I know I shouldn’t walk away,” you may say. “But it can just get so exhausting arguing with them.” The problem with this line of thought, as anyone that knows anything about bears will tell you, is that when you feed a bear they keep coming back. It’s the nature of the beast to keep coming back to the spot where their ego was nourished with the least amount of effort involved. They will no longer go out into the wild, where they belong, to keep their instincts shiny and honed, and they will become fat, and lazy, subsisting on your ineffectual, but nourishing responses.

There are some bear feeders, and we all know one, that believe that an argumentative bully can be put down with one clever turn of a phrase, or a well-timed, well-placed shot on the chin. If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider the idea that you’re watching way too much TV. In the fantasy world of television, where the screenwriter of that show has their character deliver that one shot, clever turn of a phrase they wished they said to their bully, that puts their bully in his place. In the fantasy world of television, the bully comes to respect the victim for their moxie, and the two of them may skip off together, hand in hand, in an eventual pursuit of the conflict that led this complex bully to be so insecure that he felt compelled to pick on his victim. If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider either turning the TV off, or switching the channel. The Lifetime Network is doing you more harm than good at this point.

In the world of reality, your single shot results in little more than putting the smell of gun powder in the air. The reason that you fired that shot was not to hurt them, but to try and scare them off a little. As anyone that knows anything about bears can tell you, the smell of gun powder triggers an instinctual mechanism in the bear that will cause them to keep coming at you until you are forced to recognize that it’s going to take a strategic concentration of blows to be delivered over time to put them down. It’s going to take a thorough understanding of the bear, and an ability to defeat them, with repetition and patience, until that moment of truth arrives when they bring up an argument and they try to avoid looking over at you while doing it. Either that, or they will avoid broaching that topic that they know is in your wheelhouse.

_47451911_4compYou will know that you’ve stuck a dagger in their purported “lifelong love of the arguing” when they give visual cues that they’re relieved that for the first time in a long time, you have said nothing to contradict them. These moments, when you become the bear, don’t come around often, and you should feel free to rub it out on the nearest tree as a reward for your constant, and confident, and strategic defeats, of every argument they left by the trash can for your nourishment.

Some unfortunate, and lifelong, victims believe that I am 100% incorrect in my assessment that constant, confident, and calm refutation has any merit, and they opt for a more high-pressured, high-volume attack that they believe will whip the head of the argumentative bully around to a realization that all victim’s desire: the ‘You don’t wanna go messing around with me no more’ realization. This attack often involves a lot of swear words, a red-face, and some ultimate ultimatum. This tactic has never proven effective, in my experience, and I have witnessed it attempted many times, from all sides of the paradigm.

There have been times when I’ve been on the casual observer side, and I’ve heard these argumentative bullies whisper: “Watch this!” before launching on you people. I’ve heard them state with pride that they can get a rise out of you, when you’re not around. They love this, is what I’m saying. They take great pride, almost to the point of arousal, in the fact that they are one of the few people that can cause you to get hysterical.

“Why do you give them that?” I’ve wondered aloud on more than a few occasions. In a few of these occasions, I have been a disinterested, neutral party. I don’t care about the well-being of the vulnerable subject, and I didn’t find the bully’s persecution particularly funny. I just wanted to know if the vulnerable subject understood the dynamic of the situation. The reactions I’ve received are just as red-faced, and laced with profanity, and high volume. It has led me to believe that some people are victims as a matter of happenstance, and some are a species unto yourselves.

Some arguments are germane and vital to a person’s existence, and the best argument I’ve heard for never walking away from them is that you have to teach people how to treat you. Those that love to argue will put a person through the ringer, just to see what they’re made of. These types disgust those that don’t enjoy being tested. They want to live in a world where everyone treats everyone else in the manner they want to be treated. They want to live in a land of peace of harmony. Too bad, say those that love to argue. This is the real world, and we’re going to force you through this tiny, revelatory hole just to see what you come out looking like on the other side. These arguments are often of a more personal nature, and they cannot be avoided. You have to teach others how to treat you.

If a person enjoys arguing, and they seek out arguments of all stripes, they will eventually encounter a person that argues about everything and nothing, and they will do so in the same argument. My advice to those that have any regard for their mental health, is to simply pack up your belongings and walk away. These types of arguments are indigenous to an annoying species of bear called the plane switchers. The modus operandi of the plane switcher is to start an argument. If they find that they have tripped upon a subject their counterpart is well-versed in, until an argument that began with a discussion on the homeopathic uses of emu urine somehow switches to the origins of the Wiccan religion. How did these people do that, might be the first question we ask, as we begin to see all the “Don’t feed the bears” signs around us in the dark and sparse forests of the plane switchers. Further inspection of the argument reveals the fact that the question regarding their ability to deflect doesn’t matter near as why they do it, and I can answer that question with one word: victory.

My advice, again, is to simply walk away. If, however, it is impossible to walk away, as the person may sit in an adjoining cubicle in an office place, or they may be a loved one. In some cases, I have found that the task of switching the topic back to the germane topic takes a steady, subtle hand, and on other occasions I have found that it calls for brute force. If we are able to manage switching the playing field back to the subject at hand, we might find our way out of one argument, on one day, in the everlasting arguments with these exhausting people, and all exhausting arguers, until we run across the person that mistakes us for being a person that loves to argue.

I remember that day, oh so long ago, when that first person accused me of being an argumentative person. I almost laughed in her face. When she did that, they had no idea how many times I said what I said just to get the other guy to shut up for five minutes. They had no idea how many times, I packed up my stuff and walked away from an argument I found tedious, and they had no idea how many times I lost arguments. They also had no idea how many times they presented me an argument, and all I was doing was countering that argument. They had no idea that they just wanted me to lie down, and roll over, and accept their argument in the manner they presented it. If they knew the painful and emotional road I traveled on to get to the point where I received their wonderful compliment, they would have never said it. They just knew the finished product that stood before them arguing against their argument. They didn’t know how many years I spent in the loser’s bin, unable to compete, not knowing the right thing to say, and trying every possible method I could think up just to shut just one of them up. They just knew the finished product. They didn’t know about all the Dr. Frankenstein’s that gave the beast life.

Very few arguers know the argumentative beast living inside them. They don’t know the maturation process that their beast went through, or the weaponry their beast purchased with intangible experience, but they do know that they like to argue with you over any other individual in the room, because they love to see someone else do the squirmy, screamy dance that they used to do when arguers chose them over everyone else in the room. They may not know any of the complex, intellectual, and psychological algorithms of their beast, but they do know that they like to win, and that you –the person that doesn’t like to argue– will always give them that.