Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Quest

So what's the *quest* in *ksquest* about, anyway?

I'm a quester, on a quest.

Hmmm. Perhaps that much was self-evident.

I seek the truth. I want to understand the meaning of things, what the world is made up of and why people do the things they do. I like genuine beauty and skill and kindness and love, and I seek these out to look upon them.

I love reality.

I'm not surprised by much, or shocked or puzzled. As ridiculously conceited as that may sound, still, it's the truth.

Having been raised by one scientist parent, with the other parent so logical and intelligent and educated that they might as well have been a scientist too, I tend to analyze everything around me.

I like logic. I also like emotion. I'm a very emotional person, and I see nothing wrong with that. Emotion doesn't need to cloud logic. If we remember to think with our brains and feel with our hearts - each, of course, informing the other to some extent - I don't believe bias is inescapable. Relatively speaking, of course.

If we take care to try to be as objective as possible, it's a goal that we can very nearly meet.

Is perfect objectivity possible? Probably not. Picture this mathematical equation called an asymptote, with an x/y grid, and in one quadrant, a curved line. I think of objectivity as something we approach asymptotically - traveling along the curve, we can be far away from that line of axis, or we can approach it more and more closely. An asymptote never actually touches the line. But at some point, it gets so very close, it almost does. I think of objectivity like that. I may never be completely objective, but I'll sure try to get as close to that line as I can: to approach it asymptotically.

The way scientific analysis works is pretty simple. You have a question, or a theory, you want to answer. You propose possible answers, gather good unbiased data, and see if your theory can be proven.

How do you know if it's proven?

Sometimes you don't.

One good way to tell, though, is if your answer holds true over time. If you can accurately predict the recurrence of that outcome, chances are real good that your answer is correct.

Of course, it's usually not as simple as that. Since I'm no scientist myself, I sort of mushed all that up into a lame layman's explanation, probably riddled with inaccurracies; besides, there are so many influences on anything and everything that a perfectly good conclusion for some circumstances may not hold true in others. Which would mean, time to narrow that hypothesis and start again.

Still and all, I like to predict outcomes. Then over time I can see how close I was. I do this with how I tend my plants, with politics, with all sorts of human behavior. While I may never discuss politics much on this blog - with the probable exception of a future post addressing why - that doesn't mean I don't think about politics.

I made a series of predictions after the first G. W. Bush election, including ones after 9/11 pertaining to the wars. Most of them have come to pass - in other words, enough information has come to light to answer whether or not that prediction came true. So far, every single one was correct. It's more than just a game: it helps me understand how I want to vote in the future.

This particular example took place largely back in my *closet-blogging* days, when I conducted communications through email. Even with such a limited readership as that, I quickly discovered that my belief in the value of dispassionate, objective discussion wasn't held by everyone. I was the surprised recipient of some vitriolic reactions, assumptions that I hold beliefs I never stated, topic drift into unrelated issues, name-calling, the whole nine yards.

Kind of like much of the internet, all around.

I would not engage. Even though the fruitless type of reactions were performed by a small minority, I discontinued stating those opinions and predictions, or seeking rational discussion, in that forum. What for? In reward for my efforts I was being both insulted and bored; worse yet, since I got little logical discourse back from the very ones I most disagreed with and wanted logic from, I wasn't learning anything. I don't mind spending my time, not one bit. I do mind wasting it.

Lest I get too full of my own ability to predict, I'm telling on myself, there. I got the big picture right. I got the reactions from certain others quite wrong; they surprised me.

Human behavior really can be accurately predicted some of the time. I know for sure that it won't be predicted if we don't try. And me, I believe we should.

I genuinely love reality. Many people don't. I'm thinking in particular just now of a person I recently stopped associating with, who disliked reality so much that he'd turn on me for making rather simple and innocuous statements about it. I understand the origins of most of his problems, and I sympathize. Among other things, his father abandoned his family when he was a little boy, in a nasty mean nonsupporting way, and he's never been able to accept that the dad won't come back and properly nurture him. He's self-destructive, self-deceptive, and deliberately helpless - *rescue me! nurture me!* - and although he's made significant and encouraging strides in the last year, I don't know if he'll ever really heal.

See, that would require admitting the truth, that he needs to parent his own self now, he can't turn the old past into a happy ending. He fearfully allows just enough of this truth into his brain to tell me things like, How can you stand reality? How can you see those awful things so clearly, and then just go about your business the way you do? I can't stand it. It's too depressing.

Well, I find his denial and refusal to take personal responsibility depressing. He's 58 years old. There is so much of real value in this person. He has goodness in him, and so many fine talents and accomplishments, yet his life is a terrible mess in ways big and small. He won't even drive, so he walks his groceries home in the Florida heat. So damaged, he is.

Even knowing - predicting - the probable outcome, I decided to try to help him heal. Not to heal him, note. We none of us can really heal another person, in that sense at least; only they can do that. But perhaps I could help him heal himself. And lest you think for one minute I did this out of some pure-hearted goodness? - I was looking at a prime opportunity to practice my skills of non-confrontational negotiation, of successfully dealing with a controlling personality...and to spend time with someone who could be a lot of fun to shop and ride around with, to eat good food and swap stories together.

I would talk about self-destructive things I did in my life that I changed, and why. I would point out something done by some mutual acquaintance, and how if they did x instead of y, their outcome might have been better. Naturally, my examples were highly similar to things he was doing. This way, though, he rarely felt I was attacking him, so he almost never got defensive.

He was interested and thoughtful and wanted to learn. The mere concept that we have a right to be happy on this earth floored him. Yes, that one thing alone. It never occurred to him that one can be happy fairly, without expense to others.

Was I trying to reform him? Yes and no. Not in the sense most people mean. To suggest indirect advice, by example and parable, yes. Never by saying, --You should do *this*-- but by laying an alternative down in front of him to look at, in case he might like to pick it up and try it on.

In my world, with a few obvious exceptions like boss-employee or parent-child, it's a boundary violation to tell others what to do. To assume they need reforming, and to assume we know how, is not right. One exception with my recent friend was that when he acted inappropriately toward me, I would put my foot down. Want to step over that line? Uh-uh. My foot lands smack on top of yours.

For example: Say a person reaches into my wallet and grabs my cash. I'll do what I can to stop them. That's my money; they can't have it; I'll keep their paws off it, or grab it back. That is NOT a boundary violation on my part - but it sure is on theirs. We have a right to defend ourselves against harm; in that sense, saying, --Give me my money back!-- is an instance of when it's appropriate to tell someone else what to do.

What I won't do is sit down and explain how stealing is wrong, and they shouldn't do it, it's a sin and God doesn't like it, plus it's just plain Not Very Nice. Also, that your victim may pull out a gun and shoot you.

That would be an attempt to reform the person. Not my job.

The cash-grabbing bit was something my friend never ever did. He has some strong and appropriate moral codes, good foundations. For a while, we enjoyed developing a fun and satisfying friendship, and were considering a possible (tiny and extremely low-risk!) business partnership. This meant me bringing him in on something I'd already set up, and on terms that were quite generous to him. For me, having some simple help and some company as my physical disabilities increase was of real value. We tried it out casually, with no formal business commitment, to see how it would go.

Then - as expected - he eventually violated my trust. He became furious that I hadn't done two tasks for my little business that he had absolutely no right to *order* me to do. I'd already made it clear that I wouldn't do either task, one of which I physically couldn't do even if I'd wanted to. My last quiet words to him were this: --You have a choice. Leave yourself, or your temper, at home.-- He turned and walked away, abandoning me to do a heavy day's work alone and sick.

A true friend should not do that.

Little harm done, but I lost interest in continuing the friendship. After several months of not really speaking to him beyond light pleasantries as we inadvertently crossed paths - and still seeing fury in his face for me calling him out on his nasty unprovoked temper tantrum! - he finally calmed down.

And I gave it a second chance. You see, the great growth he displayed after those months he spent alone and thinking was wonderful to see, and encouraging, hopeful. Yet - true to form - after several months more, he tossed that second chance away too; and in much the same manner, saying I'd promised to do something he wanted, something I'd carefully emphasized I wouldn't do.

A pattern, there. Disliking that reality, he dismissed it and replaced it with what he preferred. Since that wasn't real, it didn't happen. And denying personal responsibility for the outcome of his own actions, he blamed me instead.

It's human nature, and therefore understandable and forgivable, to snap at the hand reaching out to help. HOWEVER: This does NOT mean I should allow my hand to get bit. I can understand and forgive perfectly well at the very same time I smack his teeth away. And there is absolutely nothing wrong, nothing *bitchy* or *ballbusting* - his actual words - about defending myself from that attack.

I knew this going in. None of what transpired was a surprise, and the hurt was limited because of the expectations I had. Certainly, it still hurt some. I value friendship, I'm sad at this loss, and at the manner of loss too.

But by understanding the whole scenario, and predicting the probable outcomes from the beginning, my losses were limited. I made sure, all along, that the *given vs. received* columns on the friendship balance sheet stayed equal enough so I could jump ship at any point in time and leave little behind. I gave heavily in areas that didn't cost much materially, but were rewarding both to him, and then to me for their own sakes - car rides, free business advice, plant cuttings, providing a listening ear. In attempting this friendship, I'd decided from jump street that the probable cost to me in emotional hurt, and maybe a tiny amount of material things, was worth it.

And it was.

But another very early decision was: no third chances. I see him now, once again turned on his back all clumsy like a June bug, waving his arms and legs in the air, *unable* to right himself - *helpless! helpless! someone MUST rescue me, I've proven over and over what a generous and perfect person I am!* - and of course, just like a June bug, every time I reached down and set him aright, he promptly flipped onto his back again, where he remains today.

I wasn't his Dad.

Now it's up to him. He's perfectly capable of getting back up and standing on his own two feet, and he knows it. We did make enough progress that he acknowledged that intellectually, at least. I have no interest in setting him on his feet again, myself. He knew I had a limit, and he went there deliberately. Like virtually everything else in his present life, his losses are the direct results of his own actions. That's what self-destructiveness is, after all.

My relationship issues with this person were all about boundaries. When he crossed mine - he does this quite badly with everyone - I said, --No. Go back. Not allowed.-- When he responded, --Not fair! I earned the rights because I did xyz for you!-- I said, --You didn't earn any such rights.

First, no one ever *earns* them. *Rights* in friendship are contracts of a sort, and contracts aren't unilateral. I never agreed to let you cross that line. You can't decide it's okay on your own just because you decided you *deserve* it.

Second, the so-called *favors* you did me were ones I didn't ask for and didn't want. They were NOT genuine gifts; they were entirely self-serving, full of hidden strings attached. Under great pressure from you to take them, I rejected all I could; I accepted a few to make you shut up, then promptly more than repaid them.

But to your way of thinking, it wasn't possible to fully repay them; you believed that having been *thoughtful* in the first place created some kind of continuing obligation on my part. Wrong. No matter how much you desired it, you never tricked me into being in your debt. No meeting of the minds, no contract. Control-freak tactics coming from passive or *good* behavior are still controlling tactics, just as much as your old temper tantrum was, and those tactics don't work on me.

The saddest part, the irony, is this: People try to control others out of fear. Fear of loss of the friendship, in this case here. Yet he lost my friendship only because he tried to control me.

So why am I musing over this just now?

Partly because it's a recent event. But far more, because of some similarities to questions raised in a recent internet incident.

You see, judging a person is not at all the same as judging their actions. The judging of souls is certainly not in my mortal domain. Judging the criminal or civil legality of a person's actions might be, when done in a court of law, but I'm not sitting on a jury.

Judging the ethical right or wrong of certain actions they perform, now, that's a different story. I believe that's not only a right, but a responsibility, for us all.

If I don't consider and analyze whether a given action was *right* or *wrong,* how on earth can I continue learning right from wrong? I'm very far from knowing everything there is to know about that. I follow guidelines like the Golden Rule, but frankly, life and people are far too complicated for such simplistic rules to always meet the need.

If I say, --Mr. X did wrong-- or, --Ms. Y should have done this but didn't-- I'm not running around judging the worth of their characters. I want to know what the right thing to do would have been, so I won't be caught off guard if it's my turn to make a similar decision. Too often, we face situations requiring fast thinking or fast action, but we don't have much decision-making information to go on, because we didn't think about such things beforehand.

All too often, the reason we didn't is because we didn't want to feel like we're Judging Others.

Apples and oranges.

The other reason is this: I believe we have both a right and a responsibility to protect ourselves from harm. *Self-interest* is NOT the same as *selfishness.* Selfish refers to things like greed at the expense of others - more boundary violations. Fair and just self-interest is ethically right - and even ethically necessary. That's easy to see if you're raising children. They need their parents to be as healthy and whole as can be, in every way.

Even if you're truly alone in this world - even if no one loves or needs you - that still holds. We are all creatures of whatever deity, or life-force, or such, inspired life to begin with. To allow ourselves to be unnecessarily harmed is to disrespect and dishonor that gift of life.

It seems to show other people that it's okay to cause - or accept - harm if the victim appears not to care. This is a bad example to set. Most of us would not want someone we love to have harm inflicted upon them; why should we allow it upon ourselves? Aren't we just as much a part of that life-creation as everyone else?

I firmly believe it's incumbent on us all to understand human nature as it truly is. Reality. See things as they are, not as we wish they would be. Not as some stereotype of *bad,* either. Reality. If we can predict what a person will probably do, including what harm they may cause to us or to others, we can arm ourselves accordingly. We can take caution. We can watch out.

That is NOT *judging others.* I'm making no comment on the value of that person, or on the ultimate destiny of their soul. I'm only making sure I understand the reality of them, as best I can, and for good and valid reason.

You see, in k's world at least, the truth is not the place to end, but the place to start. Facts, information, reality: For me to make a decision on what action to take, or what is the moral or ethical right and wrong of any given situation, I need first and foremost to know the objective truth. At least, as much of it as any of us can.


Nancy said...

Sometimes, as with plants that just won't make it in your garden, there are people who just won't fit into your life.

k said...

Yes. In spades.

pepektheassassin said...

Hmmmm. The seventy times seven thing is hard to do. However, you can forgive a person without allowing him back into your space, and most of forgiveness is for your own healing anyway. You have done this. :)

pepektheassassin said...

ps I was glad to hear your explanation of the k's quest name -- I had been thinking Quest was your last name! heh.

prettylady said...

Hello, k! You have, indeed, laid out the pattern in detail. I agree with all of your main points: you cannot heal people, you can only help them heal themselves. Forgiveness is giving up all hope of changing the past. Good boundaries are essential for good health, not a judgment on someone else.

In fact, I am so fully in agreement with this, I have nothing to add. How dull of me.

Livey said...

damn k, why do I feel like this post is directed toward me?
I still love ya ;)

LL said...

This is an interesting post. You're very dispassionate in the writing, almost like a dissertation, but I know you are different from that.

I agree with all of your points, but for me, it's very hard to watch someone I like or love struggle. I want to help them. It has lead to some heartache and grief, but in the end, the good outweighs the bad.

k said...

Miss Assassin, the funny thing is that my real last name does mean something, and it's a lot more humorous than *quest!*

Interesting notes on the concept of forgiveness here. That it's more for our own healing? Bull's eye. I never looked at it quite like that and yet it's instantly clear. When I remain in that state of unforgiveness - and believe me, I have too many instances where I'm still stuck there - I feel the sickness of it.

Giving up hope of changing the past? I hadn't thought to relate that to *forgiveness* - and yet - of course! Of course. And once again, put that with one's own healing: we have to give up that unreal hope in order to move on.

So you can't say you had nothing to add, Pretty Lady. Which is very good, since I love to hear you talk.

k said...

Ah, Livey, Livey! When I wrote this I was thinking of my erstwhile friend, and also about a recent blogwar incident - smallish, but with some very ugly underpinnings. Forgive me this, but I didn't think of you at all, not consciously I mean, as I wrote.

But: Your

post about seeing people clearly, and the emotional void we use to keep ourselves safe sometimes...that post made me so sad. Seeing the reality of people clearly means all the good and bad, the beauty and the ugliness that's there. What it does for me is bring me not just sorrow but also joy. There's a particular sense of beauty in just the clarity alone. All by itself.

To see people clearly and predict how they'll behave, in ways good and bad, is what I use now to keep myself safe, instead of that emotional void. Having been both places, I can say that for me - for me, at least - clear *people analysis* makes me feel far safer than trying to stay in the void. Not so many sudden shocks and betrayals. No staying for months in a state of uncertainty: do I trust this person or not? and what should I do around them? No fear of reaching that breaking point, of just losing it and breaking down. And best of all, this way I can revel in people's good points too. Even ones I don't agree with, whatever.

To see people clearly is NOT just to see the bad. People who hold up that false cynicism as if it were smart are idiots. It's not true.

When I read your post I wished I could figure out some way to give you that joy, to put it in your heart, so you could accept reality with peace and contentment instead of loss and sorrow. But we can't do that for anyone else no matter how much we love them and how much we want to.

All I could do is hope that time would settle it some, and you could get the best of it along with the worst.

k said...

LL, thank you. I think about stuff like this all the time, but it's not the sort of material I would have thought *interesting* to others. How encouraging! Look out, now you'll get to see more of it, like it or not.

I did a lot of technical writing in my profession, before the disability. That was dispassionate writing too, as was proper. It's just how I do it. It doesn't make me any less of an emotional person.

I want to think clearly. To do so I must temorarily suspend emotion. I read people all over the 'sphere who don't do it that way, and their thinking is not well reasoned. I lose interest, then.

So many of us - you and Livey talk about your mutual similarities this way - we, in the 'sphere, are people who want to help others when they're hurting. And that's a very, very good thing indeed. It's something I'd never advocate giving up. Yeah, it is worth it. Even when we get burned. Far better to err on the side of *help* than the side of *let them hurt, I won't help.*

It's the manner in which we help others that I think about. How best to do it, for the sake of all involved. What's *help* mean, when are we crossing the line from help to being controlling. Stuff like that.