Pathological Altrusim

When kindness hurts


Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever come across in my life is the true story of the victim that almost escaped Jeffrey Dahmer.

It’s so disturbing, in fact, that I’m unable to summarize it here. If you want to know more about it, google him and “escaped victim.” I caution you to think twice before you do, though.

In any case, had another night of insomnia recently and thought about a report I read recently by Oakland University professor Barbara Oakley, who coined a new term for something I’ve seen myself repeatedly: Pathological Altruism.

Simply put, it’s when being kind is the worst thing one can be. The Dahmer story is an extreme example but it’s an almost daily occurrence – like soccer trophies for just showing up.

We think we’re doing something kind when in fact we’re doing the exact opposite.

The wife and I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about nutrition over the weekend where a grossly overweight woman came to the realization that she was – literally – killing her own children with a diet of fast food and soda.

She and I also talked about a friend I cut because he ended up being that one drunk idiot at our wedding amongst other questionable actions. He’s also had a string of really bad relationships and I’ve tried to explain that the common denominator in it all is…him.

But he keeps doing what he does and keeps getting what he gets. And I can’t surround myself with people that have no interest in being better than they were yesterday.

More on that Wednesday.

Getting back to pathological altruism, a buddy in college once came back from spring break and told me this story:

He’d been speeding home when a cop pulled him over and wrote him a ticket. The cop said he was sorry he did it but my buddy was going 50 in a 35 zone and it was foggy, as it often is in upstate NY. Stepping back into the car, my buddy continued on his way, depressed and irritated. Suddenly, a deer jumped out in front of him and he slammed on the brakes.

He said that the ticket probably saved his life, and at the very least, saved the life of the deer and his car.

Best ticket I ever got, he said.

In any case, one thing I can summarize here is a joke that goes something like this:

A bird was flying south for the winter when he became tired and fell out of the sky, landing in snow. Almost freezing to death, a cow happened to defecate on him. As the warm dung revived him, the bird began to sing. A wolf, hearing this, immediately dug him out of the dung and devoured him.

There are three morals to this story:

  1. Not everyone who craps on you is your enemy.
  2. Not everyone who pulls you out of crap is your friend.
  3. If you’re buried in crap, it’s best to keep quiet.

 

Location: caught in rain immediately before a 90 min phone call
Mood: wet
Music: Don’t take to heart the words that he says
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Doors close, lights change, and a bell goes off

Normal is still not quite normal

Heartgirl went to work today, her first day back since the hurricane hit.

We’ve been giving to the Red Cross to assuage our survivor’s guilt. If you’d like to do the same, it’s as easy as texting “REDCROSS” to 90999 and you’ve paid back the aether just a little bit.

Here’s a joke to lighten the mood:

A father, mother and son from the country goes to the city for the first time. They walk into a department store and are astounded by the amount and variety all the stuff. They marvel at the escalator and all the modern items they see. The mother goes off to look at clothes while the father and son continue staring at things. Presently, they come across an elevator and they watch an old woman walk into it. The doors close, lights change, and a few minutes later, a bell goes off and a beautiful young woman walks out. The father continues to stare ahead but says to his son: “Quick, get your mother.”

It’s not the best joke but it’s one of the few I know.

In any case, been slowly trying to get myself back to normal after the ACL surgery. Weaned myself off the painkillers I’ve been taking for my leg and have been trying to make it to make it to physical therapy as much as possible.

The object in the left in the picture below is actually not some disgusting sausage, it is, however, my disgusting sausage-like leg. The swelling, after two weeks, has gone down a lot but it’s not gone yet.

Knobby knees after ACL surgery

Moreover, if it looks like there’s no muscle there, you’re right. After an hour of hard working out once a day, my left leg still feels like mush. It’s amazing how quickly muscle atrophies without use.

So I’ve been heading to this physical therapist near my house. It’s close but to get there you wait forever for this tiny elevator to bring you to the fourth floor. At my last session:

Physical Therapist: Let’s see your bend on your right leg. (measures) 145 degrees, that’s impressive.
Me: Oh, I didn’t know you were measuring it. I’m not actually trying to bend it. (bending good leg)
Her: 155 degrees. Wow. (measures left leg) 135 degrees. So you’ve got a little work to do.
Me: What are the chances of me getting 155 on the left leg?

Her answer was that they have to make the new ACL tighter so that 155 is possible but potentially improbable.

Here’s the thing:

I’m not very strong. I’m not that accurate. I’m very clumsy. I don’t have much reach. I don’t have much stamina.

What I do have is speed. I’m very fast. I was very fast. Because I was flexible.

That was my one thing when it came to fencing, kickboxing, wrestling, etc.

Her: Are you ok? Are you in pain?
Me: (shaking head) Oh yeah. I just … ah …
Her: I’m sorry. Like I said, it’s possible still.

It’s silly, I know. I’m almost 40. I couldn’t expect to be flexible forever. And people all across the city have lost everything while I’ve just lost a little flexibility so I absolutely count myself amongst the very lucky.

So I’ll make this pity party brief (and then text more money to the Red Cross) by saying that it’s just that I’ve never really felt old. I joke about it a lot. But I’ve always felt young. And suddenly I’m very aware that I’m not.

Thought of that joke as I took the elevator down.

And the doors close, lights change, and a few minutes later, a bell goes off and an old man hobbles out.

Location: waiting for a friend
Mood: hard to describe
Music: I’m much too fast to take that test
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In defense of lawyers: To do evil things, first kill all the lawyers

There’s this popular quote going around attributed to Will Smith:

Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.

However, that saying’s been around forever (most attribute it to Will Rogers). I personally like the variation that goes: It’s crazy to work at jobs you hate, to buy things you don’t need, to impress those you don’t know.

It’s yet another onea those sayings that people think they know but they don’t know at all; although, unlike these sayings, it has more than just the air of truth.

But there’s this joke that I’m tired of hearing that has only the air of truth:

Him: You know, Shakespeare said, First, kill all the lawyers.
Me: Really, when did he say that?
Him: (thinking) I don’t know.

Shakespeare wrote the line in Henry VI, Part 2. (Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78)

In it, a fella named Jack Cade is bragging that the world’d be a wonderful place if he were king cause:

  • you could buy seven half-penny loaves for a penny
  • get ten pots of soup for the price of three
  • it would be illegal to drink a small beer

If only the Jack Cade could get people to “worship me as their lord.”

It’s at this point that a villain named Dick the Butcher laughs and says, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. To which, Jack Cade goes, Yup, that I mean to do.

Why? Cause that would mean killing the people that ask the questions. Kill the people that protect the little guy.

(“How y’gonna make people sell ten pots of soup for the same price as three pots?” and “Why should you be king?”)

This is true even now: The most dangerous profession in China is a lawyer. It’s why it was such a big deal earlier in spring with the blind dissident, Chen Guangcheng. He was beaten and tortured for trying to make authorities follow their own laws.

Me: So basically, you’re quoting a villain – who’s also a Dick – who’s saying that to be a good and proper dictator, you have to kill the people that think and protect the little guy from empty promises. And the actual line is: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

We’ll add this to the list of things that have the air of truth, but no real truth at all.

Of course, only a lawyer like me would parse out every bit of meaning behind a fella trying to say something funny.

Some days, y’just can’t win.

Location: home, eying the AC
Mood: irritated
Music: funny the way it is, if you think about it
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Oh mercy, mercy me

What if we’re on the wrong side?

Cain (a captain in the army): My favorite is: Do you want a little captain in you? (wiggles eyebrows)
Her: (thinking then laughing) Ewwwww.
Me: OK, back to me. Basically I think the only people I can date right now are lawyers and tourists.
Her: Ah, you want someone who has no time for you or is gone.
Me: (nodding) I can’t think of anything else right now. That’s why I’m the third wheel here tonight.

———-

Wish I had something cool to tell you but I spent the day in an office. So…no. I’ve got nothing to report.

OK, I did drink my night away with Cain and a new friend, who’s a litigator and my favorite waitress in the world. Was too hammered to tell them this joke but I’ve sobered up somewhat so here goes:

There’re these two Christians that’re thrown to the these starving lions. One guy says to the other, “Fear not, the good Lord will be merciful to us.”

To which the other dude goes, “How do you know the good Lord won’t be merciful to the lions?

That’s pretty much how I feel right now.

Location: 11:00 yest, on the phone asking for a favor
Mood: sotted
Music: where did all the blue sky go?