Have you thought about (HYTA) why it is better to rely on ourselves than on others?

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        Much has been said about the holy trifecta of human interactions: family, friendship and love are essential needs we cannot do without. Two is always better than one, and even the most closeted person is still minimally reliant on others around him. We are hardwired that way, and though we can’t completely give up human interactions, is there anything wrong with trusting ourselves more than we trust others, or choosing to armor ourselves against our lovers and friends?

         It’s cathartic – perhaps even therapeutic – to confide in others, to open up fully to a significant other, and to invest more trust in them than we do to ourselves. Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit makes a compelling argument in favour of loving (and being loved) unconditionally, with a simple but evocative story on the joy of being truly believed in by someone such that no matter how we change, they will always stay around with us. But the story misses out a vital point: the more vulnerable you are to a person, the more keenly the blade cuts when they disappoint or hurt us, intentional or not.

         In HBO’s superlative television series, The Sopranos, long time mafia captain turned boss Tony Soprano, intricately (and manipulatively) controls everyone around him so that no individual can claim to know him well: his wife only knows the bare minimum and is merely a tool for reproduction; his mistresses are for pleasure and enjoyment but he never confides in them; his friends and remaining family members see different sides of his masks without ever getting a full picture on him; and his mafia captains / thugs that he is surrounded with can never figure out what he’s thinking so they are always second guessing him. Even if everyone came together, no one truly knew what Tony Soprano would do next.

         To many, this may seem pathological, senseless and almost criminal to build up such a deceptive portfolio. However, this level of guard and detail meant that when Tony’s wife wanted a divorce, she had little to use against him, and when certain members of his mafia conspired against him, he was always many steps ahead of them. It’s not that Tony is shrewd (that’s also true of him) but rather he simply avoids the trap of falling too deeply into a friendship or relationship. After all, isn’t the start of anything always pleasurable and memorable? But when other things come into fray, perhaps money, work or power, disappointments and sneak attacks can become par for the course. Better to expect injury than to hope for joy. That way, you are immunised if people do worse, and when they do better, it’s just a minor bonus.

         When you rely on yourself more, you are less likely to be affected by those around you. The existence of others, or lack thereof, is of no importance. What matters is your own fulfillment and the tending to of your own needs – something that’s surprisingly easy to see to. There’s a price to be paid for such a choice, and it denies us of something humane, and though this can quickly become dysfunctional as seen in Tony’s repeated dependency on a psychologist, when all is said and done, do we not ultimately answer only to ourselves?

So, have you thought about (HYTA) why it is better to rely on ourselves than on others?

Have you thought about (HYTA) the value of an apology?

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          Apologising is the hardest and easiest thing to do. Those who need it the most often do not receive it, and those who need it the least find themselves in surfeit. When did saying sorry lose much of its original form and meaning? Depending on the situation and the mode of expression, it can mean anywhere from thank you, an unwelcome sarcasm or a pointless affix to a statement. Sadly, most modern apologies are liable to fall into the latter category – just casual, meaningless words with little followup. They have become utterances we deftly know when to use, but don’t know how to see it through.

          For an apology to have value, it must – like all other words with good intentions – be used sparingly, with the awareness that each repeated use is subjected to steep diminishing returns, and that mindless repetition only speaks more about our character flaws than its intended use for humility and contrition. This is something the Japanese know well. The late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iawata didn’t just give a public apology for the profit slump of 2013. He also gave a full bow, explained and took responsibility, but more importantly, he announced he would slash his pay by half for his failure.

          Unlike his Western counterparts, Iawata wasn’t just willing to put up with public humiliation and shaming, he made sure that the gravity of his apology was commensurate with the action(s) he took. He may only have apologised once, but it was a heartfelt apology, and even those who weren’t its targeted recipients could also commiserate with him. And in comparison, how many of us truly mean our apologies to those we give it to? The tendency to casually say we are sorry in any and every situation has reduced its intended value to that of a fast food voucher.

          And a genuine apology is more than the sum of its part. It’s not something you hold up a checklist for and proclaim grand promises. Sincere apologies are discreet and subtle, and assume the person you truly mean it for will be able to arrive at his own independent judgement without in-your-face reminders. Saying we are sorry is also not about the selfishness of wanting to feel less self-guilt, but wanting to make proper amends. To that end, an apology is never fully over until the other party has decided to let us off the hook. 

          Used to full effect, a single apology can completely overturn a difficult situation, heal a damaged relationship, and even make things better than they were before. But it’s only as powerful as the sincerity of its user. Everyone knows the words that need to be said, but how many know what needs to be done? Saying sorry isn’t a tediously solemn affair. It’s a remarkable chance to improve ourselves and show that something or someone is important.

So, have you thought about (HYTA) the value of an apology?

 

 

Have you thought about (HYTA) why we cheat on our spouse and loved ones?

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           Looking at the spectacle of present-day marriages, you did never know that monogamy (sometimes also thought of as just being faithful towards someone we are in love with) was the new kid on the block. Between solemn marriage vows, typical on-screen romances, and government-sponsored sexuality education on the emphasis of loyalty towards the family unit, it’s become a little too easy to forget our dirty, cheating past. We arrogantly compare our monogamous lifestyle with that of birds, citing how some avian species exhibit tendencies to stay with the same life partner, which sorry to say, turns out even they cheat when the other partner is not looking. Cheating is apparently quite common in human relationships, the extent of which often boils down to whether said affair is discovered or not.

           Einstein himself also begrudgingly admitted that nothing in the human species was built for monogamy or sexual faithfulness. In a June 1953 letter to a female friend, he told her not to be too upset that her husband was having an affair. This was spoken out of personal experience as the great scientist himself was serially unfaithful. He cheated on his first wife, married his mistress who was also his cousin, and still had affairs with other women on the sly. While most of us would take a serious view on such shady behaviour, Einstein himself merely considered these affairs as non-serious and just flings typical of an European gentlemen. In what would perhaps be the most controversial advice in the human history of marriage counselling, he went on to write that a man shouldn’t be forced to stay monogamous, that it would be a ‘bitter fruit’ for all involved. But Einstein was later willing to concede that cheating had its problems when he expressed admiration for his best friend who remained with one woman his entire life.

           Has much changed since Einstein’s time? It’s hard to say. As with all matters related to love and sexuality, it’s difficult to statistically profile anything concrete. But there have been some loud headlines. In a controversial interview carried out by a study several years back, one respondent said that he would always cheat every time he left for a business trip. He had a loving wife and a great family but he enjoyed his affairs on the side, and couldn’t be persuaded to think otherwise. In more recent times, a Frenchman sued Uber, whose app’s malfunctioning features accidentally leaked the locations of where he sneaked off to have his affairs, causing his marriage to end. While it’s difficult and dangerous to extrapolate too much from such news fodder, it’s probably reasonably safe to assume that cheating still happens with some regularity: the illicit affairs of celebrities and politicians continue to serve as click-bait for gossip-mongers.

           And while the above narratives may lead one to think that men are the gender most likely to cheat, general statistics seem to suggest that both genders are equally likely to be unfaithful. So far, it seems that genuinely staying true to a person (as opposed to hoping your affairs never get discovered) is in itself nothing short of an incredible human feat. Is promiscuity the result of an uncontrollable part of human behaviour or do people cheat because they feel they didn’t marry the right person? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Much of our default attitude towards how love ought to be (as well as how much it completes us) likely comes down to our genes, what we observe from our parents during childhood, and the prevailing attitude in society. Our tendencies to cheat are inversely proportional to the amount of fulfillment we derive out of the relationship, and here, nothing is more important than the quality of communication – because talking about an issue defines a goal post. If commitment and dedication are the default cornerstones that both partners can promise to work on sustaining, it makes clear the direction of the relationship, as well as the consequences.

           However, as observed by a number of psychologists, most cases of cheating are often the result of an impulse built up over time rather than a meticulous plan executed from the start. It may perhaps begin with a simple flirt with a colleague, or what appears to be a regular one on one lunch, or a willingness to be more intimate than appropriately allowed, but such behaviour can quickly escalate, and can cause us to forget our commitment(s) towards our relationship. Consequently, the heart and mind falters, and duties and promises can be easily forgotten. For example, someone who is already spoken for, but behaves suggestively and coyly is going to find it easy to accidentally end up with a regrettable mistake. Our conscious and unconscious actions, whether we intend them to be so, signal sexual availability or interest, and the more we act on our capriciousness, the more likely we are to inadvertently cheat. And even if nothing happens, the potential fallout of misunderstandings and jealousy will often jeopardise an existing relationship.

           And of course, some of us cheat because the thrill of lying and remaining undetected is in itself a great dopamine rush, the same sort of excitement that allows extreme sport enthusiasts to repeatedly put their lives at risk. And there are those who receive a perverse pleasure in knowing that they are able to steal someone away from what seems to be a perfect and impregnable relationship. And maybe others simply enjoy dancing close to the fire, if only to spite their partners and make themselves seem more desirable. Whatever the reasons, human behaviour is sufficiently complex to allow for many deviations and computations, and much of human sexuality is dark, foreboding and variegated. While cheating seems commonplace, it’s not an excuse to give ourselves a free pass. It breaches trust, reduces intimacy and moves us away in pursuit of the truth. If you can lie to your significant other, then you can lie to anyone, including yourself. And is there not something wretched about living such an incomplete life?

So have you thought about (HYTA) why we cheat on our spouses and loved ones?