Cassie.

IMG_0033.JPGThis is Cassie, aka Cassiopeia, aka “come here, you arse of a dog.” She turned 16 last October, which for a Lab is oooolllldddd. She enjoys a simple life. Her hobbies are sleeping, eating, farting, shedding hair, and pottering around the place. Occasionally she faceplants because her legs are a bit wobbly, but she always makes it look like a deliberate assault on the part of Planet Earth on her nose and her dignity. She makes such a compelling case that I’m tempted to take her side.

Cassie lost her house last summer, so she came to stay with me and the rest of the gang. It wasn’t a particularly stressful or complicated process: her mum told us that she needed a place and we jumped at the chance to have her. And it’s got nothing to do with us being nice: it’s to do with us being clever, and maybe even a touch selfish, because Cassie is spectacularly nice and a joy to be around. People enjoy her company, so they seek it. Although she could no longer serve any practical purpose, unless you’re planning a slow-cooked stew, she adds to people’s lives. She makes people happier just by being around them. She gives to people, so they want to give back, and because she needs so little the equation is constantly skewed and the system keeps on going.

When I realised how she did what she did, it blew my mind. I’m not a particularly caring or giving person – as in, being caring or giving are not labels that form part of my self-identity. I don’t pride myself on my selfless giving, which in some peoples’ eyes makes me borderline evil. Yet I’ve no compunction whatsoever looking after this mouldy old bear dog who couldn’t possibly do anything for me other than suck my money and eventually break my heart, because dogs don’t last forever. But I look after her and shall keep looking after her without resenting it one bit, and feel like I’m getting the better side of the deal.

It’s an entirely new relationship model for me. My family was composed entirely of old and/or infirm people by the time I showed up. My grandma took a second, very late stab at motherhood to produce my mum, and my mum waited a while to produce me and has never been in good health. By the time I was old enough to help anyone, everyone needed some kind of help. The ways they went about getting it, though, were completely different. They never said please or thank you. They never tried to give as much as they took. They never even tried to make people feel better for being helpful. What they did instead was create a web of obligations, shame, and emotional blackmail. If they ever did something for anyone, it wasn’t about reciprocity or fairness, or simply about the joy of giving. It was a deliberate ploy to establish a Duty to be exploited later.

In a way it worked. Most people are invested in their self-image and many like to believe that they’re Nice, so they will go to some serious lengths to do what it takes to maintain that. It was relentless, though, because however much my folks manipulated and bullied people into helping, it was never quite enough. It all had to be done again tomorrow, because helping them didn’t bring any level of happiness into their helpers’ lives. It didn’t make them feel better about themselves; it made them feel imposed upon or even exploited. Eventually it made them feel resentful for being put in a position where to say no would have made them Bad People. It also made some of them run.

I don’t know whether my folks didn’t know or didn’t care about how to make people love them, or even like them. I don’t know what started it all; maybe one of my ancestors discovered that reciprocity doesn’t work with some people and decided to take the Machiavellian approach: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” I suppose it amounts to the same in the end. The bottom line is that instead of creating a tribe of willing participants, based on love, respect, and mutual support, they opted for creating a cult of unhappy servants. And hey, maybe that’s what they wanted all along: there no reason why they should share my view of a healthy and happy relationship. Maybe spreading unhappiness and resentment  made them feel all warm and fuzzy. I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care.

What I do know, though, is that I want to be like Cassie when I grow up. Out of all the role models life has given me, I choose her. I’d rather learn from a smelly old dog who occasionally forgets that doors have to be opened before she can walk through them than from any of my family members, because her way works better for me. It may be riskier, because it requires you to be nice first, to set definite boundaries for yourself, and to enforce those boundaries against those who confuse niceness with weakness. It requires you to pick and choose those you allow into your life, instead of shaping whoever comes along into what you need them to be. It requires you not to be a flaming asshole, and I don’t know if I have that in me. I’m willing to give it a shot, though.

And this is what Cassie thinks of overcomplicated, pseudo-psychological musings.

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Teeth.

Anecdote time, linked to the previous blog. I know a fair few people with truly terrible teeth. The reasons for their dental disturbances vary and include:

  • drug use;
  • getting their faces battered;
  • malnutrition (both situational and intentional);
  • extreme poverty;
  • major life disruptions leading to self-care deficiencies;
  • sheer giving up on themselves.

I can understand all of the above reasons – I might not support them, but I understand them. What I do not understand is people loving themselves and taking care of themselves in many other respects, yet allowing their own teeth to literally rot off in their mouths for the simple reason that they don’t brush. I know two guys like that. There are no discernible barriers between them and good oral health, yet they just don’t engage with it.

This baffled me for a long time. I understand people’s lives being so disrupted that they can’t manage to keep up with what under normal circumstances would be routine self-maintenance tasks. I understand people feeling so wrung out that they can’t find the strength or motivation to self-care. I understand people just not loving themselves enough to look after themselves. I couldn’t understand why those two guys just apparently decided to ignore that aspect of their life, particularly given how the costs were increasingly obvious. How many abscesses does anyone need before they’re scared straight?

The problem was entirely with me. I was neglecting to see how this wasn’t a stand-alone issue, disconnected with other “oddities” I saw in the guys’ behaviours and attitudes. It is part and parcel of the way they view themselves, the world, and other people. I couldn’t see their point of view because it was completely alien to mine. Because of this failure on my part, I was failing to see the internal coherence between the guys’ beliefs and their behaviours.

Both guys believe they are better than anyone else – not in a “high self-confidence” way, but in a Cluster B, away with the fairies kinda way. They think they are not only better than everyone else, but also above all the limitations of lowly humans, including the laws of physics and biology. So it makes perfect sense for them to plan 28 hours work in day, because they’re above that kind of human limit. It makes sense for them to spend more than they’re earning, because they’re simply taking what they’re superior status demand. It makes sense for them to use the people around them as tools for survival or just entertainment, because they are lesser beings put there for that purpose. And it makes perfect sense for them not to bother with teeth brushing, because that’s a concern for lower life forms. They cannot comprehend that they may be subjected to the same limitations all other humans bow under, because they don’t think of themselves as “just another person.” They literally believe they are god-like, and no evidence to the contrary will ever be able to shake that belief.

I couldn’t understand how self-love could lead to lack of self-care, because to me those words mean something completely different, because my mental landscape is completely different from theirs. In truthfulness, I still only partly get it. I understand it conceptually, but I can’t really feel it. I’m kinda glad of that, because I want to keep my cuckoo inside the clock. When dealing with those particular people, though, I have to keep reminding myself that we don’t live in a shared reality.

Ass-u-me.

I keep making the same mistake with people: I keep assuming that I understand where they’re coming from. I keep thinking that, once I work out their point of view, basic belief system, etc., I will be able to prevent myself from getting blindsided when they do something “abnormal.”

I don’t really believe in abnormal, when it applies to individuals, unless some disease, injury, or chemical imbalance come into play. From past experience it seems rather rare for people to do something genuinely “out of character”. They might react in unexpected ways when faced with unexpected circumstances, but it often seems that the only surprising thing in that kind of scenario is that nobody saw any of it coming. A lot of the time if you look at how people behave in normal circumstances, you can plot out with a degree of accuracy how they will react to emergencies. For instance, if someone is completely self-centred and prone to fits of dramatics under normal circumstances, I will not expect them to suddenly become selfless and controlled just because my need has gotten greater. It might happen, but I shan’t bank on it.

Yet people surprise people all the time. What seems to happen with unpleasant frequency is people doing stuff completely within their character, but having misrepresented themselves so well for so long that what they do does come as a shock. I’m infinitely better than that, though, what with my spidey sense. I look at what people actually do and what it suggests about their underlying thought processes, rather than allowing myself to be bamboozled by the commentary their provide for their actions. If you do something crummy for selfish motives whilst telling me how nice you are being, I shan’t fall for that. Oh no. Not me.

What I found is that I can actually only ever get part of the way there. If I make a conscious effort to look at the world from another’s point of view, I can predict their behaviour reasonably well, up to a  point. I’m far too prone to forgetting how pervasive certain points of view are, though. I keep forgetting that they can affect every aspect of someone’s life.

For instance, I’ve been puzzled all my life as to why my family insisted in being in constant contact when they all visibly hated each other. Every time two or more of them got in a room, there’d be a screaming fight. They’d holler terrible things to each other and eventually one would leave slamming the door… and then a few hours later they’d do it all over again. It was as regular as the tide, though infinitely less relaxing to watch.

Me, I like things to be nice, for my very peculiar idea of what “nice” looks like. Within my friends group we give each other merciless shit, but it’s all in jest. I don’t get a kick out of screaming or being screamed at. To me that’s the sign of a communication, or even a connection, gone seriously bad. So I couldn’t get it round my head that my folks would put themselves through something like that when they didn’t need to… forgetting that they didn’t share my taste. Their idea of “nice” and “normal” were completely different from mine. To some of them, emotionally disregulating those around them was nice; that’s how they got their kicks. To others, being emotionally disregulated was normal; that’s how they knew the world was the right way up.

It sounds bloody obvious when I put it like that, which makes infinitely more annoying, yet I make this kind of mistake all the time. When my psychopathic boss who didn’t feel any differently about me and my chair was destroyed by his new girlfriend who turned out to be a larger, meaner psychopath, I couldn’t work out how he’d let that happen. She did exactly the same stuff he did unto others, yet he seemed oblivious to it and unable to stop her. But, of course, he saw her as a piece of furniture, too. In his world, her being able to turn on him was as likely as the beanbag I’m sitting on deciding to attack me and actually being able to win. There wasn’t a place in his mindset for something like that happening.

I need to guard against that – not just the fact that I can’t fully put myself in someone else’s shoes, but the fact that sometimes I believe I can. Being clueless is probably more dangerous than thinking you’ve worked something out when you don’t.

Pathways.

If this blog seems more random than usual of late, blame it on Richard Grannon. I’ve been following his video courses and the information is getting assimilated in random chunks. Sometimes stuff hits me that’s purely about me. Sometimes the info makes me look at the waters I’m swimming in. I don’t quite know which bit is scarier.

At the same time, I’ve been hammering away at the new book, which is going to be about the pitfalls and opportunities of teaching self-defence to students who are recovering from trauma. Every time I think the damn thing’s done, I find a whole other layer to the issue. Richard Grannon’s info on emotional trauma and the neural pathways it can create has opened a whole new can of worms in that respect.

There tend to be common traits to people setting off on the self-defence journey. Yes, everyone is different; yes, everyone is special; but actually our commonalities are often greater than our differences. I’m not a people person, yet I can walk into a dojo and within a relatively short period of time work out what most people are looking for there. You work out what people want, you can work out what they are missing, or what they think they are missing. The vast majority of the time it’s got very little to do with the physical aspects of the activity. It doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t work at all if you spend your listening time trying to work people out instead, because it means you’re not really listening; but it works often enough to be useful.

(Now, for me, I like to think that my motivations are infinitely more intricate, that I’m not as obvious, but I’m pretty damn sure that the people I respect the most can see right through me. There’s a level of vulnerability  in that that I find terrifying and horrifying, but that’s my problem. I know that the cost of hiding from them to avoid judgement is infinitely greater than the possible ego-damage of them not liking what they see. Also, wondering the world as a damaged asshole has proven to be rather costly.)

There also tend to be common traits to instructors. In fact, I suspect there may be fewer types of instructors than there are of students, and I have half a theory about why that might be; though that may be purely the result of me not knowing enough instructors, or them being less inclined to open up to me. Dunno. Don’t care. I’m infinitely more interested in what happens routinely than in the exceptions, anyway, because what happens routinely affects more people, or at the very least affects me more often.

The thing I’m tripping over at the moment is how many of us have been shaped by the events we’ve been through. Most of us have survived something. Some of us are survivors – and those two things are not equivalent. This sounds obvious as hell, but sometimes it isn’t those affected. We’re often all to prone to forgetting that we may still carry parts of our past with us. We’re often oblivious to how what we do now may be tapping into what happened then, reinforcing and reasserting certain habits and beliefs (dare I say “neural pathways” with next no background in psychology?) that were created as a result of the trauma, or as work-arounds to deal with the damage caused by the trauma . And if what we’re doing is self-defence teaching or learning, that can still applies.

So the thing that’s freaking me out at the moment is how the human interactions in self-defence instruction can mirror or tap into what abuse or trauma have left behind. And not only I don’t know how to look at it without feeling nauseous, but I have no idea whatsoever how to convey it without hurting and insulting people. Not a goddamn clue.

 

Trifling.

One of the very dubious joys of having been brought up by and around horrible people is that can sort of inoculate you against further horribleness. It’s very hard to be intimidated by petty twerps – the school bullies, the backstabbing co-workers, the narcissistic bosses, the local sex pests, even the emotionally abusive partners – when you know full well that your granny could have had them in tears without even having to try very hard. Everything looks trivial by comparison with what you’ve already gone through. You were dealing with this crap when you were in your cradle, and it was being handed out by experts. Now you’ve got masses of experience under your belt and infinitely better resources, and these trifling yahoos think they can mess you around? I don’t think so.

For people with a bit of a superhero complex, like me, it can feel pretty good. Look at me being completely unaffected by all the crap of the world these people are throwing at me! Look at me handing it right back! I’m being a force of karma! Look at mighty me! And sometimes this kind of approach can work out rather well for everyone involved, apart from the yahoos in question.

For instance, I have a tendency to see low-level predators as great opportunities for combining retribution and entertainment. I know I’m supposed to feel intimidated or at least uncomfortable, but I don’t. I feel as if the universe had gift-wrapped a Bad Person and dropped it into my life so I have something to play with. Kinda like a game of cat-and-mouse in which the cat discovered too late that the mouse is in fact an abnormally small weasel. With rabies.

The results can be genuinely amusing. My limited experimental evidence suggests, for instance, that low-level charm predators generally only have one game, consisting of a fairly limited set of tactics that are far from unique. It’s really good fun to pretend you’re playing the game and then suddenly go off script on them and watch them flounder. You have to be a bit subtle about it, though, or you don’t get to play. The last time a petty sex pest tried something stupid with me, I was so happy thinking about the grief I now felt fully entitled to throw at him that I found myself gushing “so you’re a perv, yay!” and literally clapping my hands in glee. The guy was apparently not expecting this, because he looked very confused and then proceeded to avoid me as if I carried the plague. It was selfish of him, really. I had to actually make an effort to avoid being avoided in order to get any fun out of him.

…and that’s when things can get seriously, dangerously stupid, because no part of that is clever. However “safely” you might plan these activities, it’s not clever to move towards uncertain danger for funsies. Hell, it’s not clever to forget that you can in fact move away from danger.

That’s the thing for those of us who grew up with this stuff, though. When you’re a kid, your agency is incredibly limited and tends to hinge on the will of your carers. If your carers are wonky, you’re in trouble. If your carers are wonky and clever about it, you’re in trouble and you’re going to stay there. It’s infinitely difficult for children to work out that the reality they’re living is abnormal. It can be even harder to work out how to convey that to people with the power and will to fix it.

So you get used to rolling with the punches, metaphorically or not, because that’s all you can do to make things better. And eventually you can get so good at it, and so proud of that ability, that you forget that you’re not supposed to be getting punched in the first place. You can deal with it so well, when a “normal” person wouldn’t. And that’s most probably true, but it may be for the simple reason that they’re wouldn’t stand for it. They’d bail.

“This sort of people.”

“There’s nothing you can teach this sort of people!”

A self-defence instructor muttered that to me, in exasperation, about three older ladies who’d come along to his seminar. He’d grown exasperated because, when asked to practice p̶a̶t̶t̶y̶c̶a̶k̶e̶s̶  knife disarms, the ladies in question had baulked.

They had a damn good reason not to play: they all suffered from severe arthritis and osteoporosis. One could barely use her hands even for everyday tasks, and when she did, it hurt her. The others were still relatively functional, but their ability was declining. For them to practice what he was teaching would not only have been unpleasant, but severely unrealistic. If their lives depended on them being able to use their hands to disarm an opponent, they were dead, and they knew it. In the meanwhile, their main focus was not to accumulate unnecessary damage to their already damaged bodies.

He tried to jolly them along by reeling off the standard stats for knife attacks in the UK, which are horrendous. This was successful in worrying the ladies in question, but not in shaking their resolve. So he got annoyed and muttered off, and I stayed on to talk to them.

By that point, they were genuinely scared. They’d never felt particularly in danger of a knife attack, being upper-middle-class people living an upper-middle-class life in an upper-middle-class area. Having heard the “truth” about knife crime in the UK had shocked them. They’d been given a new problem and sold as the only solution something that they knew they could never make work.

So we spoke about their lives; about how they weren’t planning to engage in criminal activities, or join a gang, or get sent to prison. We talked about the places they routinely went to (mostly church, posh restaurants, and the theatre) and the places they always avoided (pubs, clubs, sport events). We talked about the situations that made them feel vulnerable, like walking back from functions to their cars, late at night, when the town was virtually deserted. It seemed to me that the feeling was perfectly reasonable, and the best solution was to avoid the situation. Could they get a cab instead? (Yes, they could, but they hadn’t in the past because “they thought they were being silly”.)

We talked about the most likely situation in which they might meet with a knife. To me, these ladies looked like money. Muggings may not be common in their areas, but they seemed like a more likely possibility than many other crimes. We talked about pepper spray being illegal here, and how long it’d take for them to dig out anything out of their handbags, even if it was… And I told them that it seemed to me that the best solution to that particular problem for anyone, let alone people with poor mobility and at higher-than-normal risk of severe injuries, was not to fight over their stuff, anyway.

We had a really good chat, really; I think (or hope, at least) that it was useful for all of us. They helped me work out the details of a problem I don’t currently face, but most likely will, if I live long enough. I hope I helped them work out the difference between threats that are possible (all of them) and threats that are likely, and plan for the latter.

What I didn’t manage to do, that day, was tell that “instructor” what I thought of him, which is this: if there’s “nothing you can teach” to people like these, then you ain’t got shit. If taking away your physical skills means taking away all of your self-defence, you ain’t got shit. You might be a great fighting instructor, but everything you have only works when most good self-defence has already failed. Also, it’s all perishable. It won’t help you if you manage to get old enough, and realise that all your skills and techniques are as perishable as your body. So I hope for your sake that you realise that self-defence is a much broader beast than you currently believe; because the only other solution is growing to feel powerless and hopeless and frightened, as you were making those ladies feel. And although after this I can’t claim to like you, I wouldn’t wish that even on you.

I smell gas.

I’m encountering a conversational tactic with increased frequency of late. A person will recount a personal experience, and their interlocutor(s) will immediately dismiss it. The methods used for that dismissal often include:

  1. Appeals to a narrative: “This is not how it works.” For instance, we “know” that men are rapists, women are victims; so women plying men with drinks can’t be rapists, even though men doing precisely the same thing would be, because. It doesn’t matter if it happened to you or yours, because that’s not how it goes.
  2. Accusations of falling into a narrative: “You’re only saying that because you’re a <<label>>”. And yes, I might  be telling a story because I am, indeed, a <<label>>, and I might be picking that one story because it suits my narrative, and it may be a rare example of where the opposite narrative doesn’t work… but that doesn’t mean that the story is untrue or insignificant.
  3. “I don’t see it so it’s not there.” I’ve experienced this the most talking about gender discrimination in my old workplace. It’s fascinating how many people will jump down my throat to tell me that the sexism couldn’t have been there because they’ve never seen it – even though they never worked in my specific workplace, or even in my field… and particularly as all of them are men 10+ years older than me. They didn’t see sexism aimed at others in their place, hence I couldn’t have experienced sexism aimed at me in my place. #logic.
  4. “Invalidating against invalidation”. I’ve seen this with regards to trigger warnings and non-physical safe spaces. I’ve got nothing against them, btw, but I do have a problem with how they are routinely being misused. I can present countless actual examples of misuse. The response is invariably that no, these don’t/didn’t happen, and I am just trying to “invalidate” these useful concepts. The fact that my life experiences are “invalidated” in this process is apparently ok. I’ve still not worked out whether this is a case of tit-for-tat or these people are genuinely oblivious to what they’re doing.
  5. Appeals to “science”: do I have valid data to support my assertion?

This last one annoys me the most, because I actually like science.

Example: I might say that I was regularly sexually harassed on public transport in Italy as a teen. Person(s) will demand to see the data. I do not have data on being personally sexually harassed. I didn’t log it, and even if I did, it would only be in the form of a diary, which is “anecdotal”. There is no national data; the practice was ubiquitous because it was unpunished. You couldn’t report it. Even unsuccessful physical sexual assaults couldn’t be reported… but again, I only have anecdotal evidence for that, because there’s no data, because the data wasn’t being collected, which is the point. There are a lot of women telling similar stories… but all they’re relating is “anecdotes”, and “the plural of anecdote is not data.”

And no, it isn’t. Anecdote is not data. But this doesn’t make it untruthful, or invalid. This doesn’t make an incident or a problem any less significant to those people who have gone through it, which could be many. And ultimately all absence of data can “prove” is that the organisations and people who are in a position to generate data did not research that particular subject. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

None of seems to matter. Instead of asking me to clarify my position, or providing what supporting information is available in whatever form is there, they immediately discount it because “there’s no data”. I don’t know whether that’a an involuntary logical fallacy, or a deliberate ploy to eliminate all information that conflicts with their narrative. I don’t know if the resulting dismissal of personal experiences, including very painful ones, is incidental or deliberate.

What I do know is that all of the above tactics are essentially fancy forms of gaslighting, which is a severely uncool thing to do. Regardless of how the people using them try to sell them, we’re not obliged to buy into them.

Games.

Just on time for Christmas, I came up with a new drinking game:

  1. Take a list of standard tactics used by predators to latch on to their victims; for instance, the list provided by De Becker in “Gift of Fear”.
  2. Listen to a political speech.
  3. Every time you spot a tactic, take a shot.

Now, as a drinking game it’s bloody awful, because it would destroy your liver in no time flat. As a general concept, though, I’m starting to think it’s got real potential.

What I personally found is that when there is clear and present danger, I can spot it pretty easily. If five leather-clad muscle-bound men swinging chains and tyre irons tried to talk me into a dark alleyway promising that nothing bad would happen to me, chances are I’d grow somewhat suspicious. If a stranger tried to use typecasting or appeals to faux-etiquette to force me to down a mystery drink at a bar, my pervdar may ping. When I unexpectedly turned out to be the sole heir to a distant Uncle’s estate and suddenly my family started talking in “WEs”, it made me pay attention. It’s when a situation does not seem to present any danger to me that I tend to not fully engage brain functions, and as a consequence may completely fail to notice even obvious attempts at manipulation.

For instance, I was recently on a computer forum where someone was talking about his health issues, which sounded admittedly severe. He then went on to say something like “for those of you who are not superficial and obsessed with the physical aspects…” And I just glossed over it. A friend had to point it out to me – literally. I’d just registered it as blah-blah-blah, rather than as a clear example of typecasting. I’d not noticed it, probably because it had 0 impact on my life, when it actually may be a very good indication that the person in question is someone I ought to either avoid, or be at least be on guard against.

I don’t think it’s just me. I know plenty of people who only use their self-defence skills in what they perceive are self-defence situations. At home, at the office, at the gym, etc., their skills lay dormant – not only unused, but unpracticed.

It’s a damn shame, for two reasons. Firstly, just because a situation is not likely to lead to your death or physical injury, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. A manipulatory, ill-meaning co-worker may not kill you, but sure can make your life a misery. Secondly, skills don’t wear off with good practice. In fact, the more used you are at looking for certain signs, the better able you tend to be at spotting them early when it really counts.

So this is my proposal for a game: keep the list of these behaviours in mind, and see in which settings they pop up. When you spot, them, file them for future references. Are they indicative of someone’s routine attempts at certain types of manipulation? Are they just a result of foot-in-mouth disease, or sloppy thinking? Either way, do you want these people in your life? Are some environments routinely toxic, or excessively tolerant of toxic behaviours? Do you want to stay there?

 (Yes, these behaviours  – forced teaming, using charm and niceness, giving too many details, typecasting, loan sharking, making unsolicited promises, ignoring NOs – also belong to the “how to make people like you” and”how to sell refrigerators” lists… but manipulation is manipulation, regardless of its final intentions. I much prefer to know when I’m being manipulated even if it can’t have any ill effects, than miss it when it’s a real issue.)

 

Issues.

We had a situation at work with one of my Extra Minions’ relatives. The guy is a dapper, well-spoken gent who, when at all displeased, immediately loses his temper and starts screaming at whoever is around him. One of the things he routinely bellows during his episodes is that “HE HAS ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES!!!!”

I was puzzled by that declaration. It wasn’t that it came as a surprise – if you’re the colour of a beet, flapping your arms around, and yelling at uninvolved strangers over a  minor annoyance, I’m going to deduce that your anger management skills are not as sharp as they could be. What I couldn’t quite work out what he thought the statement was supposed to achieve.

The statement was not issued as an apology. It was put out there to influence the way in which we handled the situation. We were supposed to tolerate his behaviour, although we all agreed – him included – that it was inappropriate, because “he had issues.”

In the past, I would have spent a lot of time sitting and pondering as to whether that was a reason or an excuse. My distinction between the two is based on the validity of the justification given. If the justification is genuine, then we’re dealing with a reason. If it’s not, we’re dealing with an excuse. I might make allowances for a reason, but not for excuses. That approach never worked terribly well for me, for two main reasons.

Firstly, without telepathy it can be hard at times to evaluate a justification. Secondly, your response is ultimately linked to a value judgement of that person. Many or maybe most people don’t like to sit in judgement – our culture increasingly frowns upon it, and we feel bad about it. So we can end up stuck in a cognitive limbo until enough information is available, which may be never or it may be too late, and in the meanwhile we’re left not knowing what to do.

Now I’m thinking about the whole issue in far more mechanistic terms. This person is bringing a behaviour into my life. By their own admission, they cannot take steps to modify or control the behaviour. That may or may not be true, but ultimately it indicates that the behaviour is likely to be a permanent feature of our future interactions. The only question I really need to ask is: do I want that in my life?

Do I want to routinely interact with someone who makes people feel physically threatened? Do I want to be in a relationship with someone who will constantly cheat on me? Do I want to be emotionally close to someone who is incapable of returning that closeness?  The whys and wherefores don’t really matter – it’s the behaviour that’s going to have an impact on me, not the underlying causes. It’s not an issue of judging people; it’s purely a case of gauging compatibility. If their behaviour is incompatible with my happiness or welfare, the best course of action suddenly seems obvious.