The Idiots We Put Up With: Life's Greatest Challenge

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Last week, in a post, I made two unflattering observations about idiots. Thank heaven, we don’t have to worry about offending that group. Too often, the reverse happens - we waste our lives trying to please them. As Donna commented: “Stop trying to explain yourself to idiots - you're not the jackass whisperer."

     

    But there is a major catch. Cathryne happened to remark: “Sometimes the person you thought was so deep, had such a handle on their s#@t is just a jackass in ‘wisdom’ clothing.”

     

    She could have added, the person you thought was “so attentive” or “so loving” or “so much fun to be around.”

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    We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill clueless person, here, or - for that matter - average jerk, decent person who messes up, or hero with feet of clay. 

     

    We’re talking about people who clearly do no belong in our lives, who represent a clear and present danger to our emotional safety and mental health. Too often, we never see them coming. Too late, we find ourselves triggered into depression and mania and anxiety. Or into sleepless nights or having to resort to extraordinary efforts to keep our fragile brains from tipping over the edge.

     

    So how do we spot them coming? What are the warning signs?

     

    A brief background 

     

    Experts loosely divide the human race into altruists vs selfish, those who cooperate vs those who don’t. Barbara Oakley’s 2007 “Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend” provides a masterful explanation.

     

    Typically, the selfish - what Dr Oakley calls the “successfully sinister” - eat naive and trusting altruists for lunch. These are your lying and cheating and manipulative backstabbers who climb to the top on the backs of their victims. In the Darwinian race for survival, the successfully sinister have a clear adaptive advantage.

     

    As an aside, a 2003 genetic sample of Asian and European populations suggests there are some 32 million living descendants of Genghis Khan. I think I dated a couple of them. I know for sure I had one as a mother-in-law, and I recently endured a first class mini-Genghis on a mental health board I sat on.

     

    If I had to do it all over again, I would have had a cream pie on hand to plant in her face, as well as for every other idiot in my life. Some would argue this is not at all constructive, but, boy, it sure would have made me feel good.

     

    But maybe we do have the last laugh. When all is said and done, we prefer to be around likable people, which may give us the Darwinian edge.

     

    So here we are, nice people sharing the same gene pool as the sharks and piranhas and bloodsuckers. But how do we spot them? How do we avoid being victimized? Let’s take this in three steps ...

     

    Step One: Watching our vulnerabilities

     

    The selfish feed on our needs. Love, friendship, advancement, recognition, our willingness to help, our eagerness to please - you name it, they can cater to it. If we are feeling particularly needy (and who hasn’t been?) we are inclined to completely overlook the warning signs (such as, “Hello, my name is Genghis Khan”).

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    Sadly, the more needy we are, the more willing we are to delude ourselves, the less likely we are to stand up for ourselves. Perversely, we invest our happiness in trying to please idiots. We’ve all been there.

     

    I’m sure self-help books offer a ton of suggestions. All I will say is our needs make us vulnerable. Forewarned is fore-armed.

     

    Step Two: Spotting the warning signs

     

    These are very easy to spot in hindsight. If the signs are good, we want to believe in them, no matter what our instincts may tell us. When things turn bad, it’s amazing how quick we are to rationalize. A brief sampling:

     

    If it seems too good to be true, it is - You may be told you are the sun, moon, and the stars. You may be offered the same. Fine. Good luck. But run like hell when the Milky Way Galaxy enters the conversation.

     

    Way too good to be true - What do you call that special someone who shares all your interests, laughs at all your jokes, is there for you, bakes the perfect vege lasagna, and knows how to change a tire? How about fictional?

     

    If you find yourself walking on eggshells ... someone is walking all over you. Don’t hang around for that person to crush your spirit. 

     

    Those conversational give-ways - It’s all about the other person - me-me-me, I-I-I. Should the conversation turn to you, it’s unsolicited advice and unwarranted put-downs. Time to change the channel.

     

    Lack of respect - Such as not being thanked, being patronized, being stood up, being ignored. It's amazing how we put up with this. 

     

    Step Three: Standing up for yourself

     

    There’s a whole self-help industry dedicated to this. I will simply add: Be willing to let go, learn to say no, and if you have a cream pie handy - don’t be afraid to use it.

     

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    I’m looking to turn this into a series of articles, but I need your help. Recognizing and dealing with idiots may be our greatest challenge in living with bipolar. Please feel free to provide your own wisdom and insights, as well as your experiences. 

     

    Comments below ... 

Published On: January 04, 2014