The Good Ol’ Sporting Antagonist

If you have siblings, have you ever opposed them for the fun of it? Or perhaps you might challenge someone in your life out of habit? Is there something about the long-term role of some friends and family members that makes us frequently adopt the oppositional role? It’s natural, yes, to feel competition, but why? Does it advance self and others? Do we, like lion cubs, rare up and smack down, to become stronger in the end?

There is a definite degree of sibling rivalry which qualifies as abusive. But sometimes a little opposition can be healthy. Argumentation, though it would annoy any captive audience, can lead to better reasoning–that is, in the distant, non-insistent future. Even as we grow older and–hopefully wiser–our positions often need to be challenged. Questioning (either from an inner or outer source) can lead to re-examining and knowing with greater confidence. Watching someone develop from the same place as us who may have a different outlook than us, can give us a greater appreciation for our uniqueness. Competition, too, can strengthen that desire for “our own things.” You like pizza, then I like burgers; you like apples, then I like bananas. Isn’t there something good about diversifying our likes, even if it’s because we’re little nay-saying contrarians?

Competition can be healthy. We can look forward to it in our routines, in our conversations. It’s as though I can construct any conversation in my head already. “You can change your profile pic from the giraffe now, it’s been like a month since that riddle,” my brother would say. “Maybe I like being a giraffe,” is my reply.  A conversation might never occur but my mind will easily recall the oft-proffered pattern.

Do you think that “doing our worst” might bring out the best in others? Perhaps it only brings out our worst. Perhaps siblings (or whoever plays the Prost to our Senna), in their vast and awkwardest experience of us, seek to settle the score. Is that why they insist on humbling us: they’re just avenging those inescapable moments when we embarrassed them? Or perhaps they feels it’s just plain fun to push your buttons and get you on the defensive?

Are we any better for some of those embarrassing moments?  Do you have any thoughts on the positive side of sibling rivalry?


Be My World

We all have our stories of relationships, beginning with parental and familial relationships, moving on to friendships and romance.

When we are young, we think that our parents are the entire world. We cannot imagine life without them. It’s only natural. In youth, we are like sponges soaking up everything we see and hear. As we grow older, many of us rebel from that. As a teens, we try to become our own persons; breathing room is needed.

But sometimes a dysfunction comes when another isn’t willing to let us think for ourselves–let us breathe and become. It an absorbing position to have, avoiding being yourself, sitting on the ledge of someone’s perceptions of you. I’ve been there. Many have. Some are still there. In some cases, you don’t even realize it’s happening.

There’s a certain inseparability. You feel that the happiness of the other is your responsibility. If there’s sadness, you’re the only one who can leaven it. If they feel anger, your willingness can dampen it. And if you’re not there to help, you might garner blame, or be made to feel guilty. To this other person, you are almost too important; you are everything in their world. Without you physically there–or without your willingness in mind and spirit–they will become a casualty. They will drift like one more rudderless boat without an assured course. Without you, they have nothing.

Because we are so dreadfully, detrimentally important, we cannot go our own way. We cannot go out with friends, because we will be at risk of coming under a different persuasion. But people who truly love us (people who know what loves means) will give us a rest. They will encourage us to mingle with others in the world; encourage us to look for ourselves, and come to our own conclusions–not just to see the world as they see it. They will want what’s best for us instead of just what’s best for them, what earns them praises or makes them feel good and in control. What matters in life is not just what matters to them. What matters in your life is what matters to you. And if they hurt that bad when you leave the room, the problem isn’t with you, it’s with them.

Manipulation can be very covert sometimes. And sometimes we just assume it’s the way things are supposed to be, calling it closeness in a relationship or strictness in parenting. Do you feel that it’s easy to mistake healthy love for unhealthy, stifling love? What does an unhealthy relationship look like anyway? I think an unhealthy relationship involves a silencing of one side for the loudness of another. Many relationships can unintentionally fall into this. But people who truly love should be willing to learn to allow their partner to speak their mind, and have feelings apart from their own. People who don’t intend to let you be yourself, who cannot handle feelings apart from their own, can only have their own interests at heart.

If someone said they wanted “to be my everything,” I’d have said, “no way.” There’s no way another human being can be “my whole world.” But another person can be my partner in life. They can be very important to me without encouraging me to float adrift on a subjective, other-directed sea. Sure, sometimes, sure, you affect my mood. And sure, I will be there to support you when you need it. But the reality isn’t a complete melding of selves. I have my own feelings, and you have yours. We are strong together because we respect each others individuality. Because you respect my independence, I love you more. If we can’t healthily disagree then we can’t healthily be together, either.

Letting the Team Down

We all have good days and bad days, sick days and vibrant, healthy days. Some days we earn a “well done” and some days, we’re told we should do better.

Some jobs, however, don’t leave much room for humanness. Some jobs expect superhuman performance. When exceptional performance is the rule, a normal performance becomes a letdown.  And a perpetually undermanned, over-tasked, workforce will always be asking more of you. With increased responsibility, instead of the structure being at fault, it’s all on you. Bad days might be seen as lazy, selfish, and inconsiderate to the team.

Here’s how it goes. Let’s say you’re having a bad day. Your a bit slower than usual, but you are cautious to do your job correctly. Your boss approaches. He or she notes your slowness. “Come on, you’re letting the team down,” he or she says. And what can you tell them? You know you’re doing the best you can, but today, that’s not enough. It’s as though your work is insignificant, as though you’re not trying.

First of all, know that it’s not teamwork to put down someone down. The team shouldn’t be a force to fear. The team should be on your side; not just “out there” somewhere. Team doesn’t count like 1 + 1 + 1 + 1. Team is a multiplier where the players feed off of each others’ energies; it’s not a divisor which breaks down individuals at a distance. Teamwork is not the same as competition; it isn’t the same as being pushed forward by the anxiety of an external out-performing team.

Sometimes, all we can do is fight our battles, best we can. Perhaps, we’re supposed to work faster. Sometimes we can do it, but sometimes we can’t. No one should blame your sense of community for your lack of speed. If you’re working individually, then the theoretical team isn’t a factor, and the criticism is an addition to your bad day (not constructive). Sometimes you’d like to do more but you have to accept that you’re doing the best you can. Nobody is holding your hand to see what you’re dealing with, nobody is there to help you deal with it.

So believe in yourself, and don’t forget that you’re human. If people think that teamwork in concept will make you work faster everyday, they’re incorrectly using the term “teamwork.”

No kernel of knowledge can press my abilities beyond themselves. I’m forced to do the best I can do. Please forgive me if today that’s not good enough for you. Today, it just so happens that I’m fighting against even more than usual. You don’t have to see it, but I am glad (someone somewhere will be glad that) I did. Please let me do my job the best that I know how. Thank you.

Working On Expectations

I’ve worked as a housekeeper twice. The way I worked was the same, careful and hard. The first job, my boss told me that she liked the way I worked. The second job, my bosses expected more from me. If I was very careful and thorough, I was told to be faster, but if I was fast, I would be told to be more thorough. I couldn’t just work the same way everyday, and get the desired result. Inconsistent expectations would fall out from beneath my feet.

Sometimes we have to work for expectations, like as students writing a paper. Sometimes, however, we are our own best judges. If all I had known was the second job, I might have felt bad about myself. I might have thought that I wasn’t cut out for a job in housekeeping. Actually, the case is that I am a great housekeeper, but the expectations of that second job were capricious and unrealistic.

Work for some of us is a big trade off, every day is like holding our breath, with lungs that only fill with oxygen in the evenings, and Saturday and Sundays. If this is the case, we don’t expect work to be meaningful expressions of ourselves. Perhaps I’m a little bit weak, but I need for my work to be meaningful. I don’t need to show up just to be paid. I need to play a part.

Does your work drain you, or does it fill you with satisfaction?

Being in the wrong type of job can bring our self-esteem down. Being in a job that doesn’t value our strengths as people, that doesn’t offer opportunities to learn and grow, can be damaging to our minds and our bodies. We might not even realize the harm. We might do things to blunt our own dislike of the situation, saying we’re able-bodies, we can do anything, but not even realize that we are developing crutches to get by. Even though I worked at this second job for a time, health problems developed. I eventually had to quit because I had IBS and the job conditions made it worse.

The most important expectations that we fulfill when we go to work isn’t that of others, but of ourselves. We’re human beings, and we need our work to fit our own strengths and limitations. We need to look to fulfill ourselves just as we look to fulfill the job description.

Who do you work for? Yourself? If you’re a part of a big corporation, do you feel that you’re contributing something significant? Do they recognize you as an individual or as an organism that will adapt to their whims?

“What constitutes the alienation of labor? First, that the work is external to the worker, that it is not part of his nature; and that, consequently, he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself, has a feeling of misery rather than well being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased.” -Karl Marx