The best things in life are unexpected - because there were no expectations.
In The Study of Extremes, I gave you a rough outline of the events of D's life that I felt would trace the path he took to reach an end result that particularly upsets me. There seems to be a lesson to learn here.
The lesson is a big one: Expectations. How many times have you expected someone to be a certain way, only to be let down in the end? When you're let down, you swear to yourself that you will never expect again, yet before you know it, it's there again, along with the disappointment that always follows. The good thing is that, most of the time, people are pretty much the same as you, so they don't let you down. Let me explain with another little story.
During my Associates level of study in Psychology, I had to do an internship, and I chose to do it in a Child Protective Unit in the Department of Social Services. I shadowed a wonderful caseworker in her day to day home visits. One particular case stands out in my mind. We knocked on the door to a rented house that was behind a large house. A young woman answered the door, and when it opened, the reek from inside threatened to bring my lunch up and out. Looking down, I saw what looked to be a dirt floor, but on closer inspection, I saw that there was actually a carpet under the dirt. The room was barely furnished with a ripped up stained couch and a small TV on a little plastic table. A toddler ran out of another room, and was filthy from head to toe, dressed only in a very dirty diaper. Two men were sitting on the couch watching TV, and it looked like neither had ever heard of the concept of a shower. The woman was the cleanest, though her long, thin hair was dirty and tangled and her shirt was badly stained.
Back at the office, the caseworker asked me what I thought and felt about the home visit, and I told her what I had observed of the conditions of the place. She asked me, "Did you notice what was on TV? A soap opera." She let me think awhile, and I told her I never watched soap operas because I didn't like them at all. She explained: You will see places like that with young mothers who's own mother's house was never cleaned. They are at home all day and watch soap operas on TV, and you'll notice that the TV characters never vacuum, mop a floor, wash dishes, clean, cook, change a diaper or bath a baby. They have never learned how to clean. This is one of the ways that the Cycle of Poverty perpetuates itself.
Everything from our basic behavior to how we take care of ourselves is learned from our parents and then teachers. Those important people so close to us in our lives represent all of society. It is likely that your neighbors, the family in the next block, the families of all the kids in a school system behave and take care of themselves pretty much the same. Behaviors and social norms are learned from teachers and peers, but the personal care is learned at home. If it's not taught or modeled, it isn't learned.
To return to our study of D, I saw nothing that suggested that there was possibly anything amiss in his childhood. Most of what he did and wanted to do was within acceptable limits of his peer group. I can only guess about his social life after he moved to Kansas, so have no way of knowing how he was accepted there. I know of two major, negative events in his life, his divorce and a car accident, but do not know of other ongoing, day to day life stressors or of the environments he lived in. My conclusions can only be based, retrospectively, on what might cause particular changes.
From my perspective, what upsets me is that I watched a dynamic, strong, creative, autonomous individual become one who blindly, passively goes along with others. This external motivation, as it's called, is the superficial adoption of the values and beliefs held by others in order to "fit in" or avoid loneliness or reduce stress. In several instances, I have seen "born again" fundamentalist fanatics take advantage of people in emotional crises under the guise of 'helping.' Their way of doing this is by adding to the crisis exponentially by insisting that the person is bad, a sinner and deserves the crisis; building on feelings of guilt and shame while defenses are weakened until the person is completely broken. Asking forgiveness of God is what will 'save' them, and 'bring your wallet to my church to be forgiven.' It is manipulation and exploitation of the worst kind, and occurs in religion based groups, political groups and cults with a particularly charismatic leader. I did not expect (that magic word) D to fall into this trap.
There is much to explore and learn. Group dynamics, personality types, character and temperament, personal relationships, social systems from the economy to institutions, life events and traumas all play a role in shaping a person, from birth until death. Though there may be mutually accepted social norms, there are many variables that influence us individually.
In order to begin to understand others, we need to first understand ourselves. In order to truly understand anyone, you have to see their world through their eyes. And, you have to understand how they perceive their world before you can find a place to start to teach or help or be with them. Most of all, you have to set aside your own expectations of what is and is not acceptable. Set aside expectations, both of ourselves and others, and consider what has the most impact. It is a complex task, but simpler to understand and do if you think of it as an ongoing process.
Thanks for reading!