Dear Dr. Brilliant;
I live in an especially depressed State in our generally bad USA economic times. Many of the people I know have lost their jobs and can’t find new work. One guy in particular seems to go on rants about it every time I talk to him. I realize his situation is bad, but it is frightening me to see what his own bitterness is doing to him. His posture has assumed a defeated stance and his face has aged, hardening into an unpleasant anxious frown. He complains that no one wants to give him a job because he is too old (he’s 61), but I have to say that I think his internal emotional state (he is so bitter and angry it oozes out of him) is responsible more than his age. We’ve gotten into fights when I gently tried to steer him towards a more palatable emotional state (“stop trying to play shrink!”), but I can’t stand to be around him if he’s gonna keep this up. It’s like being in the room with a dog that has rabies. what is to be done with people who are poisoning themselves with negative emotion? It seems so obvious to me that it can’t be helping anything, but how do you get someone like that to stop? And what if they can’t? Am I a bad friend for avoiding someone who makes me feel this upset?
This is an excellent and timely question. It brings to mind a person I know who was raised Jehovah Witness but has now left their fold. She has since had many experiences where things did not work out for her. Her reaction is to self-blame and become negative. She feels she’s too old, too stupid, too_________, etc…
What she doesn’t realize is THE RULES HAVE CHANGED. If you suddenly moved to Japan, you would need learn an entirely new culture. Very little that you know now would apply.
Both your friend and this woman are approaching a new situation from an old set of rules. Thus no matter what happens it cannot work out. They both need to look around, take inventory and ask some questions: What are the tools and supplies available to me now? How can I use my imagination to be creative with these current tools?
We have talked many times before about how Americans expect not to suffer in this life. Their expectation of comfort can prevent the ability to be creative. If you think you already know the outcome you will not be open to creating the outcome. Books such as The Secret teach that if you pray/hold an intent the universe, will conspire to fulfill your desire. Frankly, this is horse shit. Reality is based on behavior not on desire. If you need change, you must work to create change.
Your friend needs to learn how to get from Here to There.
You can’t get there if you don’t even know what here is. What you might do to help your friend is play a game. Do an Aboriginal walk about* with your friend. Take his hand and walk with him, through the apartment and through the neighborhood. Have him label all he sees and describe its use and how it can help him survive. Look into every corner and crevice; look at things you do not normally look at. These are the ingredients, the tools, the material. Have him look at himself and label his skills. What can his skills do with those ingredient’s? How can they be used to survive?
OK, that’s what is Here.
But neither Here nor There is made of just our skills, means and resources. Here AND There is also affected by our cultural background, so in order to get from Here to There, we need look at the new culture we’ve entered and compare it to the culture from the past. What are the rules and expectations of the new culture? How do they differ from the old? For my X -Jehovah witness, the old rules she grew up with declared that women didn’t go to college. According to the old rules, all was decided for women, they were taken care of. But the rules of her new culture say that if a woman is to have any independence, respect or success, she needs to at least go to college.
What are the rules of the new culture your friend has entered into? How do they differ from the rules of the old? He needs to understand this before he can get from Here to There.
When a person adds their skills and creativity to an understanding of current and past cultures, this should help clarify an intent or path. As long as a person allows for the tiniest bit of healthy doubt that they do not already know the answer, then the window for change is open.
It is also important to know that while heading for a goal one needs to be an opportunist, keeping one’s eyes and ears open. If an opportunity presents along the way- take it! It’s not the goal that really matters; moving is what matters.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
*The aboriginal walk about: It is a rite of passage where all adolescent aboriginal boys have to go into the desert, bring nothing, and survive.
It teaches them to re-look. What is seemingly an empty wasteland is really a rich ocean if you know how to look. They learn or die.
All change is a rite of passage!
If your friend or my X Jehovah fail this rite of passage then they are metaphorically dead.
Granny adds: your recommendations are brilliant, Dr. BC, but there is something you are forgetting that might throw a wrench in the works. People resist change. I know a person who is like the bitter friend in question, and if I tried to play a walk-about game with him he would tell me to go take a flying leap, but in more colorful terms. Furthermore, it is a cherished belief of his that the destructive god Yahweh has been following him all his life and he would lose his sense of identity if he were to let go of that belief. He fiercely guards his oppression. He verbally attacks anyone who tries to make him change his thinking (“stop trying to play shrink!”). Your ideas are fantastic for someone who wants to change, but many people resist change.
Which brings us to the second half of the question: “Am I a bad friend for avoiding someone who makes me feel this upset?” here’s what Granny thinks. If you just abandon a friend who is down on their luck because they are a little hard to take, then shame on you. People who are hurt or damaged, just like dogs, will often try to bite anyone who comes near them. Would you abandon a hurt dog by the side of the road? No.
However, it is also not wise to let him bite you.
Treat your friend like a hurt dog. Try to be there for them and try to help. Explain that you are trying to help because they seem to be hurt and you want them to feel better. Play some games of self-discovery if you can. But if they repeatedly try to bite you, maybe you should get the message: this person doesn’t want your help. This person values their misery on some level you don’t understand and won’t let go. It’s their decision, not yours. You can go now. Your job is to be a good friend, not a stupid friend who gets bitten by a dog.