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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why Am I Starting to Dislike Everybody?

Dear A.B.,

Your  recent reply to Y regarding her feelings of annoyance and tension around others struck a chord.  You advised her that repressed fear was the culprit, that whenever negative feelings toward others presented, repressed fear was the source of those feelings.

I've been struggling for much of the past 4 years with negative feelings toward my next-door neighbor.  I told you about her before; she is the one who constantly boasts about her lavish spending.  I do find that annoying, and her take on spending is at odds with my personal views about money. I am fairly frugal and mindful of making a dollar stretch. I respect & appreciate how hard my husband works & have no intentions of squandering his money so that I can show off for people I don't even know...or for people I do know, for that matter.  I'm grateful for what I have, & have been blessed with some nice things, but take no pleasure & see no sense in showing off.

Also, my neighbor vacuums her yard 1-3 times a day.  She spends gobs of money on landscaping and yard stuff.  She told me once that she didn't always spend so much time and money on her yard & explained, "Ginger, 99% of the people will never see the inside of your house..." (Okay!!! I see!)

At my previous house I gardened. I love plants, & have continued my interest in growing things at this house.  I also do try to keep my yard reasonably tidy, as I do have pine cones & needles and other debris to contend with.  I keep things reasonably well trimmed. I have planted annuals that have blossomed splendidly & are quite stunning.  Here's the thing.  

Whenever I am out working to maintain my property, people  walking by often comment on how my yard looks nice, but nine times out of ten they add something like, "Keeping up with the Joneses?"  "It must be a lot of hard work keeping up with your neighbor." "I see you there...trying to compete with your neighbor!"  Blah, blah, blah.  Not once, not twice, but countless times has this happened.  I am sick of it.  SO sick of it that it has colored my view of my neighborhood negatively, and even my view of humanity at large has been tainted.

Why do people assume I have no intrinsic motivation?  How can people be so sure why I do what I do? Why do people say the things they say?  At my previous house where I lived for 13 years, I planted a rose garden, a perennial garden, an herb garden.  I potted annuals, I planted trees.  I mean come on...I didn't need this woman around me to have a reason to get up in the morning!  It has spoiled my enjoyment of being out on my property too.

What is wrong with me?  I feel I've let people get to me too much & have turned bitter and resentful.  I don't like that about myself.   Others would probably deal with these remarks better than I. In addition to the neighbor issue,  I do find this city difficult to live in.  I find people seem less happy, more grumpy, more competitive than where I previously lived.  I try to make eye contact, be pleasant, make conversation, but others seem to have different plans.  They want to be grumpy & can't be bothered, & seem to just want to get on with their day.  I've tried to get involved with the community, to volunteer & apply for paid work, but none of those efforts worked out.  I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons here.

Since nothing has worked out for me in the outside world, I have made my life about hearth & home.  I do research on remodeling projects...what kind of quartz or granite for the countertops, what's the best stove, fridge, bathtub, toilet, on & on.  I'm a walking consumer reports edition.  I cook, I clean, I launder, I organize.  I try to do my best with what I have.  But there remains this underlying tension. I don't know how to handle it, but I do know I don't like this about myself.  Does this kind of thinking come with the territory when one is moving further into middle age?  I will be 48 on Wednesday.  Am I just less naive &  becoming more aware (cynical?) of how life can be unkind? Maybe that awareness has to happen in order to mature?

Thanks for any insights you may share with me.

Fondly, G_________

Dear G_______
We all get cynical and kind of fed up now and then and need to seek some kind of renewal. We don't shed our leaves like the trees in winter or molt like the snakes. But nevertheless, we need to get restarted now and then like the rest of nature's creatures. Remember the "Desiderata" who admonished us. "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here."  . Very often we don't need things to change, we just need to see them differently. Walk in the other guys shoes, etc.

First of all remember that probably half of all Americans are "on something." Drugs, antidepressants, pot, alcohol, ambien so they can sleep, etc. Why? because they are trying to feel good. Americans, in general, have become over psychologized and entitled. They are not trying to DO good. They are trying to FEEL good. Psychiatrists and human motivation speaker have told us it's our right to feel good! Chemically trying to feel good has us stuff our bodies with all kinds of stimulants or sleep aids that have a chemical consequence on our brains. 

Coffee, by itself,  is doing a lot of us in. For every chemical up or down we give ourselves, we later will have either a depressive or agressive reaction. It all ends up, relationally speaking, in meaness or small mindedness. There are many good people out there still, but they don't constitute a preponderance of our population anymore. Count your blessings if you know one or two nice, down to earth, organic, what you see is what you get, good-hearted, well-meaning people. And as my seventh grade teacher used to say "Grapple them to your bosom with hoops of steel.{

Another thing that makes people feel good is if they can best someone else in any way--conversation, yardwork, smart children, more money, "inside information." Competition is hooked to our survival instinct. It's human nature. We are a herd animal and to the extent we are accepted by our herd, we know we are safe. Everybody is guilty of a little bit of this, myself included, but I try to remember where it comes from so that I don't go all crazy with proving how wonderful I am. Just want to keep my head above water, hang onto my pride and small accomplishments, and swim with the herd. If we aren't aware of the source of our competitiveness, and if we don't give other people understanding and whatever space they need for their own competitive needs, we can get all out of balance. We can get over-competitive. We can become show-offs. Or we can just get mad at everybody.

The more afraid we are the more we set great store by acceptance and then we tend toward overkill like your lawn queen. If it makes you feel better you can call her "The Lawn Queen" to her face. You don't have to be mean about it. You can keep it give-and-take. It's really just stating the obvious anyway. For you, "lawn queen" will be a mild reproach, for her it will probably be taken as a compliment--after all "queen" is good, right? say something like, "You know, your lawn is so perfect I have decided that you are definitely the "The Lawn Queen" of the neighborhood.  If she takes offense and comes back with some remark, roll with it and be a good sport. You both got your meanness out.

You can say the same thing to the passers by who ask you if you are trying to keep up with the Joneses. "Well, I do try not to look too shabby next to the "Lawn Queen," after all I do have some pride. At least my dandelions are bigger than hers." Trying to roll with it should make it easier to regain your own joy with your more modest gardening. Don't complain to me about competition. As a writer I have to contend with people like J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter and still take pleasure in my more modest authorial work.

I am reminded by your letter of an incident that happened more than thirty years ago. I was invited to a housewarming of some people I knew slightly and went in the company of closer friends. The house was so ostentatious and overdone and such a McMansion that I was disgusted. I mentioned to my companion "Well, it's not exactly a small love nest, is it? Look at that embossed ceiling."

My friend remarked, "Well, it's not my taste either but after all, it is somebody's dream house."

My friend had the right attitude and I felt very small-minded for my nasty remark. But hey, we're all human here. Doing the best we can. My friend probably got her daily meanness out somewhere else. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A.B.,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply.  Everything you say makes great sense. I was reassured by the comment, "There are many good people out there still, but they don't constitute a preponderance of our population anymore. Count your blessings if you know one or two nice, down to earth, organic, what you see is what you get, good-hearted, well-meaning people." Nice to know. 

I will try to have a sense of humor about the lawn (& spending) queen.  I need to take her, and those who speak of her, more lightly.

I do see that she is afraid.  I have figured that her constant spending and obsessive yardwork (& housework, even though 99% of people don't see it) are attempts to be "head and shoulders above the rest."  It seems if she doesn't feel superior; richer, tidier, cleaner, just better than everyone else, she feels she is nothing/nobody at all. Like your housewarming friend, "ostentatious and overdone" are precisely the words I would use to describe her.  Seems creating an over-the-top image is an effort to bolster the self in comparison to more "modest" folk.

I wish she could see that in reality, people don't like or admire or enjoy other people because they always have a perfectly clean & tidy house, lawn and car, or because they have all the right things with all the right labels.  Usually we like perfect people in spite of, not because of their perfection!

Thanks for sharing and for being so understanding.  It's nice to hear that getting fed up now & then is not so criminal! As always, your insights are very helpful and eye-opening.  G_________

1 comment:

Ginger said...

Came across a couple of quotes today that made me chuckle in light of this discussion:

The "ostentatious and overdone" among us can surely relate to Napoleon Bonaparte's insight:

"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever!"

Alice Roosevelt Longworth's words bring to mind my own less than charitable, *small-minded* impulses:

"If you can't say anything nice, come sit next to me."