If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Friday 15 February 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
Never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others.
George Santayana (16 Dec 1863 – 26 Sep 1952)
This Spanish-born philosopher, writer and intellectual is probably better known for his comment that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” than for the epigraph here. But the latter captures an important point, one that first became salient in my awareness when what I thought was a durable ally in the inevitable skirmishes of the teen years effectively turned on me in a situation where it suited her comfort to do so rather than remain my friend. Her weakness was the desperate need to “fit in”, at any cost, and when she discovered a pack in school (this was ninth grade!) ‘in-er’ than the one in which I ran (what she obviously saw as two other losers) she bolted.
Intense distress, invaluable lesson!
Indeed a lesson that to one degree or another I had to relearn an unseemly number of times before it finally got solidly inculcated. In effect, I had for far too long become a living proof of the truth in that second, more familiar observation about those forgetful of the past being doomed to repeat its sorry mistakes. Yes, I know, the statement is usually applied to the macrocosm of historical missteps that nations reiterate, but it works equally well in the microcosm of individual lives.
The actual problem, as I came eventually to realize, is two-fold: first, know that every human does have weaknesses, and, second, ascertain their specific nature in the case of the person to whom you think you want to link yourself in whatever capacity. It follows from the first proposition that you, too, being human, have weaknesses, and by the second talking point you have to identify those in yourself – only then are you in a position to make a move. One’s (i.e., my) tendency is to seek out those who I mindlessly imagine will somehow complement, supplement, provide those strengths that my perceived weaknesses cannot, and right there arises a huge complication: except for projected wish-fulfillment, what possible evidence leads one (i.e., me) simply to assume that just those qualities you seek are what reside in abundance in that other person? None. No evidence for the assumption, none at all. What you might want to think of as strengths in that person may well be anything but, and hence there should be little surprise when the emotional life you imagined building collapses because you actually built it on the other’s weaknesses that you simply misread, for whatever reason, as the desired strengths. And, as Santayana urged, never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others. Nowhere is the validity of this advice more humiliatingly evident than in relationships.
Time and time again you find that perfect ‘fit’ — only shortly to discover that it is nothing of the sort. Truly, building an emotional life on another’s weaknesses is akin to building on porous earth: easy to dig down but no genuine purchase anywhere to sink and anchor a foundation that will sustain and support what goes up!
And, frankly, I’d say the same about trying to build an emotional life on your own weaknesses. Or even trying to build an emotional life on another’s strengths. They belong not to you but to the other, and in the long run cannot support you any more than yours could support the other.
The only configuration that I could confidently believe would build an emotional life worthy of the name is … not weaknesses connected with weaknesses, not the linkage of weaknesses and strengths, but … strengths supporting strengths.
It seems so obvious in theory; in practice, so opaque, so tricky.