Monday, March 26, 2012

The Highway Taken

People always seem shocked that, when they give me a "my way or the highway" ultimatum, I often quite calmly choose the highway. They shouldn't be shocked: there is almost always more than one solution to a problem, more than one path towards reaching a desired result.

It's usually only their egotism that makes them think that their way is the only correct way, and likewise that you'd better agree with them. I've had two or three friends in my life who were like this: sometimes it even descended to the absurd level of being about the Right Way to Load the Dishwasher. Granted, they were often correct about 75 percent of the time in life, because they were smart people; the problem arose during the other 25 percent of the time, when their solutions ran up against their inability to comprehend the phrase, "Well, that's one way to do it, but not the only way to do it." They often could not comprehend that their usual way to accomplish something wasn't the only possible way, or sometimes not even the most efficient way. Looking back, even though I don't harbor any grudges towards any of those people, none of them are friends with me any more. Either they pushed me away, or I chose the highway.

There's a great Romany saying I've always liked: "If the local gaje are giving you trouble, just pick up the caravan and go on down the road. There's always another town, always more gaje."

Another way of saying that is: It's a really big ocean, full of little fish. There are always new reefs to find and explore.

The choice being standing your ground and fighting for your position vs. picking up and moving along the highway isn't always an obvious one. I note that a lot of people choose exactly the wrong response whenever their ego and insecurities are on the line. They stand their ground when it would wiser to not pick a fight, and they flee when no man pursueth.

Genuine self-esteem doesn't require other people to agree with you. Forcing other people to agree with you, or demanding that they do even if you cloak it as a choice, is a rhetorical tactic no-one uses who is actually secure in themselves and their position. The loudest demanders are usually the least secure in their own prejudices: they know on some level that they're full of shit, and they use volume to try to convince themselves as much as you, and they try to run you over using sheer volume because on some level they know their arguments are full of holes. In other words, shouting is bullying. Period.

Insensitivity and intellectual arrogance (I'm right, you're not) are not at all the same thing as objectivity. Objectivity doesn't contain an emotional component—which of course is why it's so rarely encountered. Some of the most objective people I've ever met are those trained in Buddhist forms of meditation, because they're trained to be non-attached to outcomes. Even they get tripped up when it gets personal, sometimes: it's hard to be objective and clinical about a life-threatening illness when it's your own. On the flip side, I've encountered a lot of academic scholars and critics who think that intellectual superiority is a hallmark of objectivity, when in fact it's a hallmark of arrogance rather than objectivity. Arrogance is always rooted in insecurity, just as most anger is at root tangled up with fear.

One of the best lessons, on the level of mindset and attitude, from becoming an Adobe Photoshop expert was that there were almost always multiple ways to get the same end result. I enjoyed going to Photoshop training seminars not because I needed to learn more about how to do my graphic arts work but because I enjoyed seeing how the instructors achieved their results. Sometimes their route to the same end-result image was very different than mine. Sometimes their method was better than mine, sometimes not. I incorporated what was new to me into my own work flow, and often improved my efficiency. Towards the end of my graphics career, I was typically getting projects done in half the time allotted by management; which was great, as then I often had the rest of the day to "play" in Photoshop and do my own artwork.

Photoshop is a very rich environment, full of multiple paths to the same goal. It's practically endless in terms of what you can do with it. I am constantly learning new techniques and tools, even though I haven't upgraded in a few years due to lack of cash.

Photoshop is a lot like life that way: there are always more options and solutions and answers than you've thought of before. There are almost always third options to even the most dualistic and polarized viewpoints. There is almost always more than one way to reach a goal, and more than one way to do a given task, and more than one way to resolve a disagreement.

The people I started out talking about, those who give you the ultimatum to either agree with them or get out, are almost always limited by their own set-in-stone ways of doing things. The limit themselves by thinking their way is the only right way to do something—a viewpoint that remains consistent whether you're talking about loading the dishwasher or economic policy. They're convinced they're right, and you'd better agree with them. Some of them are polite enough to at least consider your differing viewpoint, but in the end they'll dismiss it all the same. The veneer of courtesy is the oil that greases the gears of social interaction—even when insincere, I would argue, because even when you know you haven't convinced them of your viewpoint, you can still have a discussion rather than be stuck with ultimatums.

Ultimatums don't work well with me. People who give them to me always seem surprised when I don't immediately back down and cave in to their viewpoint. They always seem surprised when I just exit rather than continue to let myself be hammered by their repetitive rhetoric. That's because my self-esteem doesn't require me to convince them they're wrong, especially when it's obvious that their self-esteem is so lacking that they'll fight to the death to be In The Right and suffer no contradictions. Neither does my self-esteem require me to force anyone to agree with me—quite the opposite. Genuine self-esteem means that you can be secure in your own convictions without having to force everyone else to share them.

Genuine self-esteem also means you don't feel required to comment on their character, or comment at all, when they don't agree with you. Always having to have the last word in an argument or discussion is just another method of trying to assert that you're right and they're wrong; what that indicates about your self-esteem should be obvious at this point.

Ultimatums are a bullying tactic. Refusing to play by the rules of bullying is what can shock the bullies to their cores, because you're not playing by their rules anymore—and that's when bullies start to portray themselves as the victim, the wounded party. They start complaining that you're not playing fair! Well, to a bully "fairness" only exists when they get to do whatever they want to do, and they will modify their own rules whenever they feel like it, because "fairness" to a bully means one thing and one thing only: "I win again!" Any situation in which the bully doesn't come out on top turns them into the "victim." This is as true in politics as it is in elementary school—but then, lots of people never did grow up anyway.

That's because a bully's ego is fragile. Bullies are emotional and psychological two-year-olds. They can't stand it when things don't go their way, and they throw tantrums and lash out till they get their way again. The psychology of bullying is the psychology of pre-school sandbox fights.

When a bully tells you that you're not playing fair because you refused to fight by their rules, all that means is that they don't like that you didn't submit to their will. That's why they're shocked when you choose the highway over their way. Bullies can't see the highway as an option because that can't see anything but their own way being The One Right Of Way.

Usually there's enough road on either side of a bully to just walk around them. Do that. It saves effort, avoids unnecessary drama, saves time, and allows you to see further down the highway than they ever will.

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