Burning down the house.

I once sat and listened to a guy moan about how badly his father was mistreating him. The gist of his story was: he’d been hired by his father to house sit for a defined period; instead of house-sitting, he’d sublet said house against his father’s expressed wishes, as well as illegally; the tenant had managed to burn half the house down (literally), with his father’s possessions still inside; now his father was refusing to pay the agreed house-sitting fee for the period between the house burning down and the end of their agreement.

Yes: the dude wanted his father to pay him for sitting a house that couldn’t be sat because he’d caused it to get burnt down.

He was entitled to the money, because that’s what he’d been promised. Yes, the house was no longer there, but that wasn’t his fault. He’d gotten a tenant in because what he was getting paid to live in a house rent-free was not enough. His father had been mean in not facilitating the tenancy, so who was to blame if the insurance didn’t cover the damage? Yes, he had been specifically told not to use the wood burner, but was it his fault if the house was unsafe? His father should be glad he wasn’t there so he didn’t get hurt, instead of bitching about it. He could have died, and his father fussed about his stuff instead! Now, because he didn’t have the money that was rightfully his, he was forced to stay cost-free at his father’s new house. And he didn’t want to be there, because he didn’t like it, and it was all unfair.

Note: the dude was in his late 30s at the time.

I absolutely believed that the guy was being genuine with me, which got me thinking about how the rest of his mental landscape must look like. What must life be like for him? What must life be like WITH him? I mean, the episode in question was pretty extreme. If he could maintain his blamelessness faced with a smouldering building, could he ever feel responsible for anything? It may go some way towards explaining his recurring problems with his partners, children, friends, customers, officials, etc. Is there any aspect of human interaction that wouldn’t get messed up by viewing life through such a filter?

I sat and stared, and stared, and then stared some more. I made some noncommittal noises. I had precisely 0 idea how to respond to the guy. What do you say to someone who believes that he is the injured party under those circumstances? I couldn’t agree. I didn’t see any point in disagreeing. I didn’t think my reality and the guy’s overlapped enough for us to be able to communicate meaningfully. Also, I didn’t want to shake up a can of crazy.

My non-reaction did nothing to convey my thoughts on the subject. I don’t know how the guy interpreted it, but I’m pretty sure I must have confirmed his original views; I was either agreeing with his position on the subject, or being yet another unfeeling asshole, hence agreeing with his view of the world. I wonder sometimes how many of us end up in that situation: so far gone from a certain aspect of reality that nobody bothers to try and bring us back.


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