Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No point in becoming disappointed by the vagaries of human nature

At a job I once was employed at years ago, I knew someone who I regarded as a “friend,” insofar as I am capable of making one. One day she asked me if I wanted to go to her home and have a Thanksgiving dinner with her husband and another guest or two. I normally wouldn’t have accepted such an the invitation, since “holidays” are just another day for me (I even have a tendency to forget my own birthday). However, she seemed to be sincere about the offer, and not patronizing or out of misplaced sympathy; so I said I would show up. Then I was invited for Christmas, and then the visits became a monthly affair.

However, I realized early on that this wasn’t merely about being “friendly,” but that I was fulfilling a certain function in her life.  My friend was a “Christian” who took her duties to God seriously. I’m not a religious person at all, but I respect people whose moral and ethical core is most closely tied to Jesus’ own teachings of compassion for one’s fellow human—quite different from self-righteous religious-right fundamentalism and its essential core of hatred. I usually stopped by on the weekend for these visits, and I was expected to attend a church service with her and her husband. I thought that this was a small price to pay for having someone I could call a “friend” and was only too happy to “help.” 

One day I left for another job, but maintained contact with her, continuing to visit her home once a month. But then one day I called her and found her to be depressed about something. Apparently she had recently discovered that while she was working on the family taxes, she found that there was much less money in their bank  account than she assumed. Her husband—who seemed to me to be a “nice” man and a “sincere” Christian—had been “cooking the books.” It seems that he had been able to print out his own paychecks, and even somehow fudged bank statements, and spent the extra cash (he worked at a particular large software company in the area) for his own use. When confronted with this, he admitted he had been deceiving his wife, and did so—he told a marriage counselor—because it was “easy” to lie to her.  

After that confession he didn’t attend anymore sessions, and that pretty much ended the marriage. She asked me if I wanted to stop by and I answered in the affirmative, but then called back and withdrew the invitation, informing me that her father (who was living with her) had advised against it, since it might complicate divorce proceedings by providing an incorrect "impression" of our relationship.

Since I regarded her as friend, I respected those wishes, and called her once a month just to check on how she was doing. But she stopped calling me on her own like she used to. After a year I started calling once every two months, and then every three months, and then waited for her to see if she really did regard me as “friend” by calling me herself. She never did, and I never called her again. Being someone who operated on the fringes of society, I was never good at unilateral communication, let alone two-way. I felt I had been let down, even deceived.

It also made me think about the true nature of this this “friendship.” I came to the conclusion that it was based one premise, at least from her perspective: I was a “lost” sheep in the flock, and it would be a mark in her favor with God if she took pity on this lost soul and put some “comfort” into his life. I could understand it if she saw faith sorely tested by what happened, but I had tried to return the favor she had once shown me, and being someone who tended to keep to himself, this did take considerably more effort that I normally would have persuaded myself to do. 

But there was a limit to my exertions. It occurred to me that the “function” I had fulfilled had ceased to be, and I was of no use to her and her God. She didn’t know me anymore. I was never really a "friend" anyways--just an object.

This did not make me completely “down” on human nature; after all, being a natural cynic this was just one of an occasional blip on a flat line. After all, there are still people I encounter who do not mind offering small comforts (say, not charging me for coffee), and I always make certain that I compel myself to be suitably grateful. The fact is, however, that if you are not the “lovable” type and often the object of fear and suspicion, almost anything “friendly” can be interpreted in a context that is illusory. Disappointment invariably awaits at the other end. 

People for whom life has been at least tolerable feel good about themselves when they do something “nice” for one of society’s outcasts, forgetting that such a person’s first impulse is to distrust the motives of that person, or the practicality of the aid offered. The good Samaritan will “like” that person for as long as he remain a symbol of their generosity. But in fact you are only being used to benefit their own self-image. If you are no longer that symbol or you no longer see them as “benefactors”—then you are of no use to them. They don’t even know you, and they might even try to hurt you for letting them “down.”

Such are the vagaries of human nature. I can’t get to “disappointed” by what I already know.

No comments:

Post a Comment