The Tyranny of the Plausible

Remember me? I used to write a weekly blog about life as a homeless dude at Everyone Village. Haven’t posted in a while and thought I’d just check in. The break has done me some good, and here’s hoping I will be getting back to regular weekly or at least biweekly posting.

I just finished skimming over all my posts for this blog. I was trying to see if I was presenting a positive picture or not. What I learned was that for the most part, my blog is about hope, hope for a change from a fairly miserable situation.

If negative things were touched on, it was for the purpose of greater understanding between homeless people and the larger population or between each other.

I have tried to define the stereotypes all sorts of people have for one another to overcome them and to understand, but not necessarily to excuse, the negative behavior we see in each other.

I have also tried to identify and name the internal barriers homeless folks have to better lives, whether imposed from without or within, so I and we can find ways not to set ourselves up for failure, and to have patience with ourselves because while we do not carry most of the responsibilities of the outside world, we do carry our own unique burdens.

So while I have described negative attitudes and generalizations, it was mostly with an eye to transcending them.

And the reason I spent the time looking over all these posts was something very specific.

I wanted to know if overall I could say that my blog was a positive blog, and that I wasn’t just a whiny baby.

And I think it has been, for the most part, okay in that regard.

So that is what I was doing, going back and taking a complete view of what has been written so far, but the most important thing of all is WHY I was doing it.

I was doing because the post I am writing right now is not going to be a positive post. It is going to be a post of discouragement and near demoralization.

The upside is I will keep it short.

I have not only been living at the village, but working here, and sometimes it is hard to clock out when a neighbor needs something no matter the hour, and it is doubly hard to stop thinking about issues and problems in my free time.

When I first came here it was especially a problem since I hadn’t worked in years and I felt great enthusiasm in identifying and trying to figure out solutions to all the challenges here. I kind of crashed, meaning slept for two days, early, and little by little learned to do my share and set my boundaries.

And if I was drained at the end of a work week, two days off was just enough to get me ready to continue the next week.

So it was kind of distressing, about three weeks ago, when I found myself simply not bouncing back, and not wanting to figure out solutions or listen to problems or do anything for anybody.

And luckily, a wise employee (thank you Plaedo) told me that compassion fatigue was real and I just needed a break, a vacation.

Here is how completely I had internalized the identity of a homeless man.

It hadn’t even occurred to me. I still thought of myself as someone who just trudged throught life taking what he could get of the cast offs and charitable donations of others.

I hadn’t had a real vacation in over 12 years, and I hadn’t even conceptualized the idea that I was working now. I had some money. And working people take vacations sometimes right? They need a break, and have the money to do that. And that applied to me now.

So that is exactly what I did. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive. And on my vacation I went to a coastal town and just did nothing except walk around, sleep, people watch, chat with locals, and eat fresh seafood.

It took me a while to get used to the idea of a vacation, seeing as how being a homeless person, you mostly feel that all the pleasures of life are denied you and you should just be happy you aren’t run out of town.

Before I lef, I walked around town telling myself very weird affirmations:

“Normal people take vacations. Because normal people work and need a break. You may not be normal, but you have definitely been working hard for six months, so you can do it too right? It’s fine. You can take a vacation.”

I wrote the first draft of this before the vacation and it was simply so dark that I dropped it not knowing what to do next. I am coming back to it now in a much better frame of mind and right now I can see that all the things that were bothering me were true things for sure, they were happening, but what made the situation so demoralizing was that I couldn’t even see the converse, the good things happening all around me.

Now with a bit of distance and detachment, I can see those too, so maybe it is time to write this.

As you read the following, know that that state of mind is now gone, having been resolved by a lot of long walks and meditating in parks and eating fresh fish and chips. I think it is important to know some of the negative stuff too, the stuff that truly and seriously challenges you in a homeless community like this.

And the reason I am discouraged was that I had spent the last six months essentially bathed in a sea of one of the major coping strategies of homeless people.

I have been bathed in lies.

I understand better than anyone why this specific strategy arises when you are homeless, lying to others for material or emotional gain, and lying to yourself to keep from crying. I also understand that during the same time I have been exposed to a lot of honesty and random acts of generosity and fraternity.

The problem is, and if I could turn it off I would, that for some reason the negative weighs more heavily on the soul, and you get yourself in a mindset of hopelessness from time to time.

Have you ever tried to deal with a simple task, something that should be done on autopilot, and found it almost impossible to achieve? Just a garden variety interpersonal problem, only the person you are dealing with is either messing with you or so obtuse that something basic like ‘Don’t block doorways for no reason,’ instead of being simple, becomes a five-act soap opera filled with rationalizations, counter-accusations, excuses, evasions, and you just give up.

And when you give up it is for a specific reason.

You think, ‘If we can’t even solve something simple like this, how will we ever solve the big problems, the real problems of this life?’

I am also well aware that Eugene, like everywhere else, is in a kind of edgy fugue state in the aftermath of Covid measures, and everyone is just feeling threatened and doing or saying whatever messed up thing they need to do to survive, as they see it anyway.

The thing that is bothering me is still wrong though, and not excusable. Because it is not just the fact of the lying that bothers me, it is the nature of the lying that is getting me down.

People are not only manipulating each other to get what they want by lying, and lying is enough on its own. No. They are lying by trying to claim special victimhood, special suffering, or by passing themselves off as modern-day saints, just trying to help others.

They are trying to plaster a false morality on top of their lies and my feeling is, if you are going to lie, lie, but do NOT try to pass yourself off as someone with a higher moral standing than other people.

You are appropriating a mode of living, a philosophy that might just be the most important kind of quality in the world, it might be the only thing that has the power to save the world. True morality. True altruism. And to make a mockery of it is just plain wrong.

You make the person listening feel like a bad person for not doing what you want them to do. You create an atmosphere of emotional blackmail that is just plausible enough that it could be true, and you get away with it because no one wants to be a bad person, so others let you out of guilt.

My first example won’t be from the village at all, because I know well that anyone from any class is capable of this kind of behavior. I saw an exchange on a bus between the driver and a rider that embodied this principle perfectly.

A young guy got on the bus wearing rollerblades, and the driver informed him, simply and politely, that he had to be wearing shoes, not skates, to be on the bus. A perfectly obvious and commonsense rule. You don’t want people rolling around on the bus. Not too much to ask.

But the dude, a young guy, in the roller blades, proceeds immediately to play dumb, like he doesn’t understand the rule, and responds in a tangential way, acting like he is the soul of reason:

“I have a pair of shoes in my backpack.”

See, he is a good guy. He HAS a pair of shoes with him. So why is the bus driver being so mean to such an angel?

And the bus driver has to repeat the request and is met by the same response.

So now the kid gets animated, berating the bus driver about how he is trying to go to SCHOOL, and thanks a lot for ruining a young man’s dreams. . . . . blah!

Just a poor young man trying to better himself, do the right thing, but he can’t because of evil bus drivers who abuse him for no reason.

So the funny thing is that in this, our little village, we don’t have that many rules, and the ones we do have mostly come in response to behavior that either threatens or is unfair to other people living here.

And yet it has been six months now, six months of my life, listening not only to SOME people who don’t want to follow these simple reasonable rules, but people who are trying to play themselves off as victims.

BOLS The combination of a lie with fake altruism is just plausible enough that you don’t know if it is the truth, so you cannot do anything about it.

Here is an example. We have one mandatory meeting a week. That is it. No one is compelled to show up for anything else except for one community meeting to keep everyone on the same page.

There are several people who simply don’t bother. They can’t be honest about it though, and just say they didn’t want to or feel like it. Instead they say things like, “I was taking medicine to MY CHILDREN! I guess that is bad now or something,” or “Someone stole my phone!”

And along with the sainthood, there is always exaggeration. If they don’t like something they never say they don’t like it. No. They say it is triggering the PTSD that they never mentioned before. And simple irritations like being overcharged on a credit card become “Identity Theft!!!” And people say things like, “When you try to help out around here, everyone jumps down your throat.”

Oh, what else? Never mind. You ge the idea.

So before my vacation, my internal monologue was something like: “What disability or trauma are you going to pull out of you know where just to get what you want today?y”

And when this happens repeatedly, it is very easy to get discouraged, and you think, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, if we cannot even deal with these simple small things, how will we ever do the big stuff like building community. Ok, they are coping strategies you learned from the street, but you don’t need them anymore, you have been here for months, so when are you going to start treating others like real people and not just objects blocking your access to whatever it is you want today?

Are we ever going to talk about free will and making choices, or will this behavior forever be excused away as things you learned because you had to because your life is so tough?

So it was getting me kind of down, the endless phoniness and fakery. It reminded me of when kids get caught using things they know they weren’t supposed to touch, and they say to their parents, “But I was making a present for you!

You know. It just gets me down because there’s no there’s no connection between what people say and what’s real. Now I understand when you’re on the streets, this can be a kind of a survival strategy to a degree, but just the depth of just the way it’s so constant. I mean it’s just just to sit there and listen to lies all day long, you know.

It is vital that words connect to reality because otherwise what is the point? Are words just strategies in an endless power struggle, or do they have intrinsic value and meaning for how they connect to reality?

I guess I was getting a little dramatic myself. Luckily I spent some time away just doing nothing and eating clam chowder and though it didn’t solve anything, the lying (among some people) was still there when I got back, the truth was I just needed a break. Now I just find it annoying and patience testing instead of a hopeless situation.

I feel pretty ready to get back to work and let this stuff roll off my back. There are plenty of good folks here, mostly good folks, who help each other out and respect their fellow men.

A few years back, I used to find myself incredibly irritable, just suddenly out of the blue finding every little thing bothersome, and one day out of desperation, I took a nap, and when I woke up from the nap, the irritation had vanished completely. And I came to the realization that when I was tired and needed sleep, I didn’t feel tired, I felt irritable. That was the signal. I learned something about myself.

Maybe it is a similar dynamic here. Whenever I feel hopeless, I just need a vacation. The lying disguised as altruism is legitimately and objectively annoying and make life difficult. That is real and true. It needs to be solved and addressed.

But it is much easier to address something when you don’t feel discouraged. So in the future whenever I feel like life is hopeless, I will just go to Florence. That is the solution.

Till next time.

2 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Plausible

  1. For what it’s worth, I have never found your posts whiny or negative. Instead, I have found them to be enlightening. They shed light on issues and activities that I have observed but not understood. Your writing captures angles on reality that I haven’t appreciated. I have been writing and editing for more than 60 years, so I have kind of a clue about writing that works. Yours works. I’m grateful that you take the time to publish it. And yes, vacations are valuable refreshments for the spirit. Thanks, Mr. In-Between.

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