I was talking with my best friend about a book today, “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne. It is an interesting take on one of my favorite topics. In general, it leans towards the American version of libertarianism, which I have some reservations about, but I do like his take on personal freedom. In essence, Browne observes that most of us are constantly placing expectations and demands on each other, and then are either heartbroken or angry when the other person does not play along. Browne goes on to argue that doing so is foolish. You can always ask for something, no problem – but you should never get emotional if you receive a refusal. The other person is simply not someone to be molded and controlled.
I’m one to talk actually… I used to behave like this all the time, and I’m sure I still do occasionally. Ironically, the person who first made me rethink my ways was my aforementioned best friend. For reasons I will explain in a second, he is pretty good at NOT fulfilling other people’s expectations – if he doesn’t feel like doing something, he usually won’t. I remember how pissed off I used to get when he would cancel a Saturday night out because he felt tired or was simply not in the mood. “But we already agreed to do this!” I would say with a very German look of indignation on my face. Then, very politely but distinctly, he would tell me to fuck off, with a very American expression of indifference on his face.
This brings me to the story to how he got to be such a heartless stone. He grew up in an environment, where, for very religious reasons, you were always expected to be “nice.” Refusing someone outright was simply not an option, at least if the demand was within “reasonable” limits. “Want my Twinkies? Here you go.” “Didn’t feel like doing your homework, again? Of course I can do this for you.” “Want me to go to youth camp this summer, instead of doing something I enjoy? I’m filling out the application right now.” So, for many years, he was Mr. Agreeable. Until one day and one incident too many, he decided he had enough. NO ONE, no matter their expectations or their personal relationship with him, was going to pressure him into anything anymore. So, this signaled the day he finally started saying no.
So I learned from the best and even though I got very upset about him many times in the process, it eventually clicked. Friends (or any people) are not to be abused as a means to project your own wishes and values onto the outer world. If you think Saturday night is clubbing time, but your best friend has a different idea about it, either learn to suck it up or find new friends. If your partner thinks you should go vegan, don’t throw away the t-bone steak just yet. If your parents think you have to spend Christmas with them, here is a revelation: If you don’t want do, you don’t have to.
Bottom line: If you think your way of living should be everybody else’s way of doing things, get over yourself – or find an outlet, like writing a blog, ahem…
I’m obviously no psychoanalyst, but I do suspect that the problem originally stems from the child-parent relationship: In order to appease the authoritative force in your life and to gain love and affection from them, you become very good at submitting to their demands. And that might even be a necessary stage of the child’s development, as it fosters learning. However, that’s just one half of it: The child also walks around constantly demanding things from his or her parents, like food, security, toys, attention, etc. It ends up being a very tangled net of demands and counter demands.
At some point, though, you have to make a cut and understand that in adult world, things work differently. The infantile notion of having to submit to demands while at the same being entitled to placing those demands on others is simply that – infantile. Letting go of that notion might be hard at first, as it’s so ingrained in us, but it’s without alternative. You will die of stomach ulcers if you don’t.
However, if you DO cultivate a sense of not expecting anything from anyone, you will only be pleasantly surprised when people GENUINELY do want to help you, which happens. Then, the rest of the time, you will simply be free, which as I keep saying is the most wonderful thing in the world.