Now for the heart of the matter. In Part I, I spoke in the broadest terms about my moral feeling about being an American in the modern world, and, in Part II, I spoke more specifically about being an American today in a society that feels like it’s ripping apart. The motivation for all of this though is Part III, how all of this gets processed in the mind of one particular guy with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).
I wrote about the relationship between OCPD and morality once before, because OCPD provides such a powerful summation of who I am. It does not define me, but it does provide an excellent vehicle for discussing what does make me tick. That’s because OCPD is, as the name indicates, a personality disorder. It only exists as a disorder because of the extent to which it causes me hardship – without those aspects it’s simply my personality.
The biggest hallmarks of the OCPD (at least in my case):
- I’m a perfectionist and struggle at times to complete tasks because they are not up to my standards, even though I know it meets the standards of those requesting it (yes, I hate every single post in this blog – they are not written as well as they can be and I deliberately do a minimal review to make sure I’m getting it done).
- I do not let others do it unless I cannot avoid it. I do it to make sure it gets done to my standards – that is, somewhere short of my standards.
- My writing, which has gotten nowhere substantial because of item one on this list, causes me to neglect relationships. Part of it is anxiety and introversion, but if I am compelled to write then that project takes priority. I’m nothing without my productivity and work ethic, so it matters more that I’m producing than having fun.
- My morality and ethics, which we discuss here, is excessive. Much like the perfectionism, society has an expectation for how people should behave. I expect more than that, mostly of myself.
- I hold on to material things. In some cases it’s practical, like money. My wife and I live comfortably with far more savings than the average young professional, but I constantly fret over the unexpected period of unemployment, the injury or illness in our American healthcare system, and the idea of being forced into retirement by the market many years before I die, meaning a need to live off savings.
I have a personality and a desire to conduct myself a certain way. Here are some adjectives that I love to earn sincerely from others: respectful, cordial, amiable, amenable, intelligent, considerate, kind, helpful, peaceful, diplomatic, good-humoured, sweet, calm, reassuring, stable, confident, strong, genteel, polite, thoughtful….you get the idea.
Celebrities the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn appeal to me because I know them mostly for this sort of character as well – and one often hears those who knew them speak of them in the highest terms.
For example, here is Orson Welles “roasting” Jimmy Stewart.
My contemporary example is Emma Watson. I expect, like Stewart and Hepburn, that I do not agree with Ms. Watson on all things because, well, who does agree on all things? It’s less about that and more about the way she conducts herself. She has positions on complex issues – strong, considered positions. Hers is not a gentility based on avoiding matters, it has been battle tested. Yet I have also never seen her take a cheap shot. No matter how difficult the situation or intense the pressure, her heart remains strong, kind, and courageous.
Is that a fair assessment? I don’t know – it’s my perception of another human being. In fact, it probably isn’t fair because it does exist far above the norm. Perhaps it does not reflect her personality accurately, but the perception becomes a benchmark for measuring my own behaviour. It provides me a concrete example of what behaviour is ‘good enough’ to satisfy my moral and social standards.
The reason for this series is that I live in a world that does not challenge those standards (although it does do that, too), but in a world that seems to thrive on provoking my standards. People seize on my character not to provide hypothetical situations and ask how I would navigate it, but to hammer me specifically to see if they can break through the facade. It’s as though others believe that life with such standards is not possible, therefore James is faking, therefore I must provide the service of shattering that illusion.
Passing these provocations is not difficult because it’s not an act. My personality, subject to a disorder the specifically obsesses about said standards, yearns for that degree of order in the world. Maybe the universe does not make as much sense to us as we wish it would, but the social contract should be fairly clear, yes?
I referenced in Part II the gun debate in the United States. Some people want to own firearms. We have a God-given right, enumerated in our Constitution, to a means of defending ourselves. Thousands of people in this country will be wounded or killed by firearms alone this year. Now, whatever one’s position on the gun issue, I lament at the need for it. Why should we need anything for defence? Why should so many innocent people face injury or death in the pursuit of a means to protect against injury or death?
“Guns prevent more injury than they cause” – I am not here for this debate right now. I am referencing the fact that we have, at such a scale, so many people against whom firearms are necessary for defence.
How many of you, dear readers, have ever littered? Anything. The stick from a lollipop, a plastic cup, the wrapper from a candy bar.
Because I have seen many a place where litter is an obvious problem and a fellow observer will remark to me, “Ugh, people. How can it get like this?” The answer seems obvious to me – not one person creating a tremendous mess but a lot of people allowing small transgressions.
It’s wrong when they do it, but not when I do. When they did it, it’s because they were lazy, greedy, impatient, ill-mannered, or some other thing. Here’s a reason why it’s okay when I did it.
I put it to you, dear reader, that when the other person did the thing they had some sort of justification in mind for what it was okay in that situation.
One of my ‘favourites’ is to hear, or read online, people complaining about putting up with patrons or colleagues at work. “How many of those patrons/colleagues are somewhere right now complaining about you?” I wonder. People I know have complained about customers being stupid or giving them a hard time at work, yet I have witnessed them being aggressive towards employees.
It’s different in this case though. When the customer was rude to them, it’s because they did not understand how things worked and they were being impatient. “I called the manager over and they explained the same thing. It’s ridiculous.” When they were the customer, the entire company had it in for them. The worker was incompetent and the manager, called over to repeat the same policy, was simply a corporate cog their to make their life more difficult than necessary.
Regular readers will recognise this scenario because I use it often:
Two-way street with cars approaching at the same time, but a lorry has one lane obstructed. The shoulder is wide enough to accommodate both cars if the unobstructed car moves onto it (allowing the obstructed car access to the other proper lane).
Now, in the United States the law says that the obstructed car needs to just wait. Their lane is obstructed and the passing lane has oncoming traffic. Social politeness would indicate that the unobstructed car move to the shoulder to allow both to move freely, but they have no legal requirement.
For my part, as the unobstructed car I do move aside and as the obstructed car I sit and wait patiently. It’s simple.
What bothers me is that too many of my peers have contradictory opinions of the situation depending on which car they are driving. In the obstructed car, they expect the other driver to move aside and will rant at the driver for failure to do so. In the unobstructed car, they will curse the other driver for starting to pull around expecting their cooperation because the law says they need to yield.
That is correct, but remember that this is the same driver who was irate when the situation was reversed because it inconvenienced them.
Have you ever been on the highway and seen someone abruptly cut across a lane (or multiple lanes) to make a turn or catch an exit? Annoying and unsafe, right? Have you ever turned abruptly like that? I have been in far too many a car to be guilty of that despite our universal awareness of how annoying and unsafe it is. “Well…” “It’s different because….” “I had to.”
One time while driving through Philadelphia our destination was in a parking lot off the left side of the road. My passenger failed to inform me until we were near the intersection, and I was several lanes over towards the right. I signalled and moved right so I could safely circle the block and come back to the intersection and make the proper left.
All the way around the block and through part of the evening, both of my passengers gave me an earful for wasting their precious time with the detour. Their expectation was that I would cut across traffic to the left lane using whatever room I could find, despite knowing that if we were in any other car that move would enrage and endanger us.
People are so often contributors to the very problems they know exist. Sometimes it’s explicit, as with the traffic examples. Sometimes it’s indirect, such as matters like toxic masculinity. (Necessary disclaimer: not all masculinity is toxic, only the toxic parts are)
Some claim that toxic masculinity does not exist, but here’s one example off the top of my head: the social trope of the gun-wielding father waiting to greet the daughter’s boyfriend. They don’t all have guns, but we certainly recognise the common protectiveness of fathers as it relates to their little girls and the boys who pursue them. Why are they protective? They know what those boys want, and they aren’t always great about taking no for an answer, are they?
Boys will be boys.
This is the whole point – there’s a built-in social expectation that boys, because they are male and males behave a certain way, are a threat (or at least a potential threat) in this situation.
Littering is wrong and yet… Cutting across a lane of traffic is wrong and yet… Sexual assault is wrong and yet…
This is not a moral equivocation of these acts. The parallel is simply in the near-universal acknowledgement that a thing is some degree of wrong and yet it happens with alarming regularity. That it happens with such regularity is a condemnation of society as a whole. Government does not adequately deal with the problems (we have fines for littering, police to monitor traffic, and sexual assault is a felony – but this all requires government resources to redress the situation after the incident occurred).
And while we all (or most of us) agree that these things are wrong, the fact that we allow ourselves or others the little transgressions (no dumping that box of stuff here, but feel free to toss that cigarette butt out the window) gives more latitude to others who are testing the boundaries. If I can take 3 inches, why not 4? If I can take 4, why not 5?
It’s present in the discussions online.
Men should not touch women without consent.
“Well, what about if the two are long-time friends?”
“What if it’s not a man – just a boy who wants a hug?”
“What if the man is delayed and has problems with social cues?”
“What if they usually hug and she simply didn’t want to this time?”
This is not a debate – even if the person posing the question has a sincere and innocuous motivation. This is testing the boundaries of the issue. No person should be subjected to unwanted touching. Period. It’s a violation of their autonomy.
“It’s weird that a person would be averse to human contact altogether.”
That’s a separate issue. We can address we the individual does not want to be touched. As far as the interaction though, do not touch people without their consent.
What people are doing, either directly or indirectly, is sussing out how far one can push the matter without getting into trouble. “If they’re lifelong friends it’s okay, right? I mean, littering is wrong but who gets in trouble for dropping a small napkin?”
Then one day we’re standing outside looking at a stretch of road and thinking, “How the hell did this get so filthy? Don’t we have laws against this sort of thing?” We do. We also let the little things go until collectively it got that bad.
This does not mean that every person who drops a piece of paper on the ground needs a maximum fine and jail time. I’m not advocating a totalitarian state. But when your buddy drops the cigarette butt on the ground, tell them to pick it up and dispose of it properly. When you are a passenger in a car and the driver does some reckless thing, call them on it. Do not let it go until the police catch it. And for the love of all that is good, call out sexist behaviour.
We can fix 90% of the things we collectively do not like about day-to-day life tomorrow but doing things correctly ourselves and calling out the people in our own circles. Not strangers – you do not have to go Charles Bronson/Bruce Willis “Death Wish” about it, but call out the people you know. Demand that they do better.
Every person that is doing various degrees of these crappy things is connected with others. They have friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours who are letting it go. That’s the point. This is why no one is completely free of responsibility here. I may strive every second of every day to do things perfectly – I may strain so hard that I develop a short list of mental disorders from it (get it?) – but if I’m letting the people around me do these things and contribute to the problems then I have not done everything in my power to stop the problem.
I know, it sounds exhausting. And that’s the point of this series. Think not about how exhausting it sounds, but why it sounds so exhausting. We’re not talking about isolated incidents, are we? These aren’t intermittent when you look across the board at all of the categories. No, we see them constantly because way too many people are active participants in the problems and too few people are actually working to stop them.
We shouldn’t even need a government for most of this stuff. Being a decent human being ought to account for eliminating most of the issues we face, but it doesn’t. Because for too many people, the rule only applies in certain situations or for certain people. We extend courtesy and patience to those closest to us, but not to strangers and certainly not to those with whom we disagree. **** those people, right? Even though our modern world often shows you are within a few degrees of separation from that person. You might just as easily have been friends with them and screaming in traffic at the person who turned out to be your best friend.
I don’t think it’s asking a lot. Kindness, patience, and civility – particularly towards those for whom you are not inclined automatically to provide it. Yes, they might be wrong and, if they are, you should absolutely call them on the behaviour – but there are also ways to go about doing that. De-escalating. Connecting with them. The settings for most people seem to be “Ignore the issue” or “Go nuclear”. Routine conversations amount to brinkmanship because being right, getting the last word, and being more clever are all more important than being human.
My faith in people gets shaken on a regular basis these days, but I don’t let it quit. Even if I don’t find the thing that “restores my faith in humanity”, I fake it. Something will come along, so keep the path until faith restores.
I often say, as a logically-minded person, that I struggle with faith because it lacks evidence necessary to my perfectionism and confidence, but perhaps faith itself is the thing in which I have the most faith.