Monday, October 21, 2013

The Games We Play (?)

If we take a more cynical, pessimistic view on the world, one might begin to believe that we all are simply playing a game, that we are all just trying to manipulate those around us. That everyone has an ulterior motive and you can't truly trust anyone.

I genuinely hate this view point. But I understand why it it exists. I'm a realist. I understand that not everyone in this world acts according to anyone's, including their own, best interests. That there are people who only think of themselves and never care how their actions affect those around them. But I'm also an idealist. I truly want to believe in the good in people, I want to trust that the things people say and do around me are because they are being honest with me and about themselves. I know this cannot always be the case, but I genuinely would rather live in my world than anyone else's.

Recently, I made some mistakes.
Well, let's be honest. I always make mistakes. I misstep a lot and I usually catch myself before I fall flat on my face, but I still make those mistakes. I have always know that my trusting and idealistic nature was generally thought of by some of my more pragmatic friends as a bit of naivete. That perhaps I am being taken advantage of or ignorant of things going on around me. I usually brush these concerns off with a laugh and say "No, there's no way that's true," and move on with my day.
But recently I began to suspect something had happened. When someone else continued to reaffirm the belief that my suspicions were correct, I suddenly let all the possible situations pour into my head, sit there, ferment, boil, and sour my whole body. I became sick and anxious. Paranoid.

Why was this able to happen?

Because in the last year, despite all the amazing things that have happened to me, I have suffered two huge losses at the hands of people I trusted. Last summer I stuck my neck out for someone that had a million red flags, but I wanted so badly to believe that she could pull through and beat the odds. That she would stick to her word and be the friend I thought she was.

I ended up losing about a month of my time and $400. This isn't the worst of all costs, but I was angry for a very long time about all of that.

And then earlier this year, for reasons I am still trying to sort out, my best friend of 15 years stopped speaking to me.
This isn't meant to call her out. I don't even know if she reads this, but if she does, there's nothing I'd say here I wouldn't say if she was speaking to me.
But she ripped the biggest hole in my life I have ever experienced. 15 years is a really long time. Even the pain of X leaving me was nothing compared to the gaping hole I am still dealing with. And she had become such an integral part of who I am. She was the one person I trusted more than anyone else. Ever. And she abandoned me. That everlasting trust I have always had was because of her undying belief in me. Now she has ripped it away from me, and I feel like there is so much I have to reevaluate about how I see those around me. Unfortunately this means I am becoming paranoid about the rest of my friends, all of whom haven't truly done anything to deserve it. I am truly blessed and lucky to have the friends that I do, because they acted quickly and swiftly to try and help me mend this wound, and I know that truly, without them and Alan, I would not have come through this. But it isn't completely gone. I still feel the pain of it, nearly every day when I want to text her something that makes me laugh and I know she'd laugh at too. And then I miss a heartbeat when I remember I can't do that. And any attempts on my part to do so would just be interpreted as me ignoring the issue that caused this in the first place.

And that issue? I bet you were wondering how I was going to come back around the Game we all supposedly play.
I'll be honest. I don't actually know for sure what the problem was between she & I. I asked her, and she yelled at me and told me how I just don't get it, but never truly told me what it was she wanted me to do about it, making it impossible to resolve. (See my tips for conflict here.) What I did hear is that she seems to believe that myself and, to a lesser extent, "everyone else" around here makes judgments, whispers, talks behind backs, and manipulates everyone else around them to their own ends. I'll be honest, I'm not totally sure who "everyone else" includes, so this makes it very difficult for me to assess. This silence was later followed by an email from someone else, following up on this discussion, telling me what a terrible piece of shit I am. How controlling I am, how terrible I am for telling other people what to do.
A good month for me, for sure.
As mentioned in a previous entry, I have never tried to control anyone. But now I feel the need to make this distinction more clear. Maybe the problem in all of this comes from my communication style. While many women, who generally use the feminine speaking style, view talking and conversation as a way of building relationships, most men view it as a way to accomplish tasks and fix problems. (I will add the point here that these are not meant to cover every man or woman or whatever, it's just the general speaking style associated with either gender.) There are also women who have more masculine speaking styles and men with feminine speaking styles. There are also those who are androgynous speakers. I'm clearly not androgynous myself, but my speaking style is. I certainly view the value of building relationships via long conversations, being a good listener when my friends just need an ear, sometimes just needing to say things out loud to a listener to calm down. But I also view it as a way to solve problems. When my friends bring me their problems, they generally seem to want my advice too. This was kind of the standard for my estranged friend and I. For 15 years, she and I would come to each other with our problems, talk about them, commiserate, and sometimes that involved advice giving. She never told me this was a problem, she never stopped asking my opinion about things, and she often didn't like my answers. But I always thought that this meant even if she didn't like my opinion, she appreciated my refusal to sugar coat my beliefs about a situation. She often did what she wanted, against my feelings on the matter, but it was no skin off my back, not my life. Somehow, later when this big fight began, this frankness and willingness to give advice was turned into me trying to control her life. That somehow for 15 years all I had ever done was tell her what to do.... even though this "telling her what to do" was a direct result of her asking what I thought she should do.

So, the point here is, do we all try to get what we want and manipulate those around us? The plain answer is... yes. I guess there's no way to sugar coat that.  A very close friend recently told me to "remember I'm not a cog in your social group," and I was instantly hurt. But we, as a species, are manipulators. Look around you. Are you sitting in a cave or a den of bushes? Chances are, no, you're sitting in a building. The most obvious form of manipulation is that of our environments. Humans change everything around them to suit their needs. I'm not here to get into the debate of whether this is a good thing or not, we just need to accept that is what we do. I'm not a huge fan of using this word to describe it, but since so many people are accusing me of doing it, I feel I might as well go with it. However, when it comes to those around us, that manipulation becomes an especially precarious tool.

Humans are social creatures. In communication and psychological research, we describe some of our ability to learn through several theories that involve social learning. Social Learning Theory, Social Cognitive Theory, Cultivation, etc. These all describe that some of our most powerful learning is through social and media interaction. We learn from each other. I feel like this should be obvious, but perhaps I live in a different world, yet again. And we live in social groups. Tribes, cities, nations, social groups, workplaces, etc. Within our tribes, we grow bonds with the other humans. We grow to care about or dislike the other humans, we learn their likes and dislikes, we learn how to work with and piss off and push out and draw in other humans. At the base level, of us as animals, this is all pretty normal. You can see this happening in most every other kind of social animal that lives in groups. Hierarchies form, alliances build and deteriorate, etc etc. I don't view these tribes as a machine, with cogs that must be in a certain place/are replaceable. Because that's not what our friends are. But we all still have roles we fulfill within those groups, and anyone who denies this is blind. It has become very clear in the last several years that my friends look to me to be the social center. I organize events, I coordinate rides for those w/out the means to bring themselves, I provide sleeping arrangements for my out of town guests, I try to find opportunities for my friends who ask me for help, and I made my home the most warm and welcoming environment I could muster. That is my role. Alan's role is to support me and provide me with the stability so that I can continue to act in this role for everyone else. His role is also to temper me and to calm me when I get worked up. My other friends often fill other roles in as well. I'm not here to assign them, but I certainly see them repeating actions that suggest the roles they are taking.

As we begin to fill these roles and continue to function within this model, we grow close to one another, we begin to depend on the others to continue doing what they've been doing, and besides the occasional hitch or hiccup, continue to work as has been working. We're not a machine, we are individuals looking for a shared identity with each other, a sense of community and family with others that appreciate the role we fill.

Sometimes that bond gives us insights into the other members' lives that we might not have had otherwise. And we become concerned. Here is where the manipulation balance comes into play and intentions begin to play the bigger role. When those actions begin to concern us, we must decide why they concern us. Is it because we simply don't like this action? Does it really have any effect on me personally or the way this social group seems to fit? No? Do these concerns involve the person involved being in some kind of danger to his or herself? No? Maybe best to let it go. But if the answers to these questions are yes, then perhaps you are within your right to address them. Obviously, handle with care. Because the danger here lies in how your approach is perceived.

When I detect something I think I might need to concern myself with, I try to evaluate what possible outcomes my actions could have on this situation. I'm not the best at seeing every possible outcome, but I try. But what motivates me to do something is if I see even a slight possibility of something catastrophic or truly damaging happening, and not doing something about it. I don't believe I try to manipulate people, but I can see why many do. What I try to do is make sure that someone has all the information they could have before making a decision. As I've mentioned before, after X left me, I had people coming out of the woodwork to tell me they always knew what a snake he was, but when I was second-guessing the marriage before it happened, not a single person stepped up and said "Hey, dude, this.... isn't your best plan." It may or may not have stopped me, I'll never know. That's not important. What's important was the sense of disbelief I had when many came later and told me these things. Whether it would have changed my mind or not, I didn't have the info, so I never even had the chance. I had been mentally bludgeoned into believing he was my best option, so I was going to go ahead with it, but the chance that someone could have stopped me was there. Would they have been manipulating me to stop the wedding? The difference here between manipulation and trying to stop a friend from making a bad decision seems impossibly minute, if your definition of manipulation is trying to shape other's decisions and behaviors.

Let's talk about children for a minute. How do we teach our children our values and beliefs? How do we shape their behaviors to fit into society and our families?


How do we teach our children and later college students to learn new concepts and ideas?


How do we train our animals to do the things we want?


If you want to cast helping others to see alternate possibilities as manipulation, then so be it. But I believe there is a vast difference between telling your best friend that you think her upcoming nuptials to a numskull are a bad idea and bending someone else to your own will. Forcing someone into a situation that benefits you, that somehow gains you something while they have no way out, that's manipulation. Subtly making someone hate oneself, while taking away the others someone cares about so that your viewpoint seems the most logical? That's manipulation. Using others to make someone feel like they must stay in a bad situation? Manipulation.

I have never truly stood to gain anything from my friends' pain. I don't relish in being right about douche bags they date. I wait and pray for the day I am wrong about one of them, but generally speaking, after my experience with X, I can spot them a mile away. Because I've been there. I know the flags. And I'll be damned if I don't do everything to try and help my friends avoid the same fate. No, I can't save every sad girl in the world. But no matter how many times Ian makes fun of me for starting the "Giselle Robeck's Home for Sad Girls Who Make Bad Life Decisions," I will continue to try and do my part to help my friend learn from my mistakes. No, I cannot and WILL NOT ever try to make someone else's life decisions for them. I don't want that burden or responsibility. But my definition of friend does entail the responsibility of making sure my friends know all the options before they make their decisions. If I point out all the red flags and they still want to go ahead. By all means, please do. I'm not going to stop you. That's not what I do. I love unconditionally and do not judge people for making bad decisions. I've made enough myself, how could I possibly hold that against someone.

I offer help when it is asked for. When someone repeatedly tells me they want something, I try to offer advice or take actions that encourage that direction, until they tell me otherwise. I have connections, and I try to make those connections work for those I love if I think this is what they want. But the second someone tells me "No, that's not what I want," I drop it. I don't view my friends as parts of a machine, but we all still fit together and function a little like one. And when my social circle grinds to a halt because of mistakes I made or because someone leaves it, it makes it hard for me to focus and function.

We are humans, we manipulate our environments for ourselves and others around us. Even our media, the music we listen to, the shows we watch, the news we read, all of this "manipulates" us to see the world a different way. It's why some people fight so hard for political correctness, because the media and our words shape how we perceive the world, and if we perceive the world as white, affluent, and full of beautiful people, no wonder progress is so slow. So we want our media to project a more positive image of homosexuals, a better representation of the minorities in our country, because the media "manipulates" public opinion. Humans manipulate their world. This includes the people within it, I suppose, from the cold calculating perspective. But do we do this for our own benefit, or because we believe we are helping? Because I think that intent counts for a lot in this case.

Edited to add this final thought:
I think the biggest thing here to understand is that we learn and grow from those around us, from the influences and experiences we have. If you are still able to be influenced by strong opinions around you, perhaps you are not yet done growing. I know that it took some really awful things for me to finally cement myself strong enough to be myself and never compromise that for anyone, but not everyone reaches that point as quickly, or sometimes ever.

Leave me some comments, what do you believe the difference between manipulation and influence are? Do intentions matter?

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