You have seen that needs, despite apparently perfect conditions for their satisfaction, can lead people to make numerous mistakes. Now I want to discuss the hidden mechanisms (we are often unaware of) that determine our way of thinking. They can influence all our future steps and lead us to mistakes.
Perseverance is not equivalent to mere endurance. Some people think that perseverance can be measured by the amount of misery and tribulations we suffer and survive. I would suggest a different definition of perseverance. Perhaps it is our ability to keep ourselves in constructive state of mind and prevent (and thus triumph over) difficulties. Some people cannot persevere, even though nothing particularly bad is happening in their lives. I have met people whom life treated very generously, but paradoxically, they lost their healthy life energy and the ability to persevere. Perseverance could be the ability to prevent the wounds we inflict upon ourselves and to maintain the course of sober thought which goes beyond the surface. Many people believe that going deeper under the surface makes things complicated. Actually, looking beneath the surface can help us see how complex things are, but this does not mean they are necessarily complicated. Complex and complicated are not the same. Complex things may be organized in a very logical and simple manner. When people are unable to see the logic of complex things, they call them complicated. This is just the result of their helplessness and lack of will to understand the essence of things. In such cases the easiest course of action is to see the apparent shape of things and embrace that beautiful superficiality. This kind of thinking often leads to misapprehensions and misunderstandings within the self and in relation to others. It often results in serious misfortune. All this requires a lot of effort and sacrifice – much more effort and suffering than we would ever have to make if we decided to think at a deeper level about things the moment we first come into contact with them.
Perseverance is often incorrectly associated with stubborn people. They might display perseverance out of spite, but this is always destructive for them, and often very damaging to others around them.
It is not at all easy to look beyond appearances. This is often made harder by something we refer to as the first impression, something we are all prone to. First impressions are easily formed, very hard to change, and they have great power over us. The most powerful thing about the first impression is that we are not even aware that we are being led by it.
I have noticed that a lot of people confuse first impressions with intuition. This is a very slippery slope, therefore one must be particularly careful. We often follow our first impression, thinking it is our intuition. For some reason, the majority of people are proud of their intuition and consider it to be a very precious gift. On the other hand, they are often not aware that this is just the first impression which has easily taken control over reason, because it is quick and powerful. At meeting somebody for the first time many people will say that they have “a feeling, or intuitive opinion” about that person, but they will not explain what that feeling is truly based on. The fact is, they don’t know it. The answer usually lies in forgotten (but subconsciously still active) concepts probably formed decades earlier. The most obvious example: people often meet somebody that they “like for some reason”. They cannot explain why, but they call it a feeling or intuition. If we were to examine the childhood of these people, for example, it is quite possible we might discover that the person they have just met is very similar to some other person with whom they associate some good memories. Of course, this is not a rule and we should not generalize. It is just one of the common examples that show the power of first impressions and how easy it is to make mistakes because of them.
Prejudices do not necessarily have to be negative. The word prejudice should be better explained here. It consists of the word “pre” (which denotes “before”), and a form of the word “judicial or judiciary” (which denotes “judging”). Thus, prejudices are opinions we have before we actually get to truly know something or somebody. Sometimes we have positive prejudices. These can be as damaging as the negative ones. Sometimes prejudices simplify our lives (we could also say, make our lives easier), by preventing us from going through an unnecessary reasoning process (in situations where it is not significant for us). But sometimes prejudices can be dangerously misleading and push us to the wrong track in our thoughts and feelings.
Thoughts and feelings are connected more deeply than we imagine. One’s attitude is to a certain degree conditioned by one’s thoughts, and feelings that one might have for a person or a thing are to a great degree conditioned by one’s attitude. If one has a positive attitude towards a person before really knowing them, the process of meeting will unfold more easily, and one will find it easy to develop positive feelings towards that person. This can end quite badly sometimes, as you could see while reading this book.
In situations when things happen very fast, it seems to us that we never had the time to think about our actions and their consequences – and it appears that precisely in these situations we act most efficiently and in a manner that’s best for us. Sometimes, it is our primary instinct that takes the best care of our needs and our best interest, until we ruin it with too much thinking.
Thinking, however, is not always a process that requires time and effort – it is also an instinct which is always awake in human beings, and reacts automatically to every new situation with which human beings are confronted. Therefore, regardless of the lightning speed or suddenness of events in people’s lives, this instinct is active – but it works “routinely”, and we are often unaware of it. Each moment human beings face different choices – beginning with the simplest ones: whether to take a taxi or use public transport, whether to accept the job offer or not… whatever one decides, the choice is made because it suits one best. It is of secondary importance how people explain, justify, misrepresent or embellish their actions. What is important is the fact that people always do what suits them best, even though it might seem different, not just to others, but to themselves as well. Very few people are aware of this fact. On the other hand, so many people will blame others for their actions or their bad situation, or they don’t know who to blame, (but they refuse to blame themselves).
When it comes to taking good care of oneself, it has nothing to do with loving oneself, or even liking oneself. It has to do with our natural instinct to take care of ourselves. If we touch burning hot metal, we will immediately withdraw our hand, without thinking. This reaction proves that we do not always need to think in order to understand what is best for us. It also proves that we always take care of ourselves “automatically”, whether we think about it or not – consciously or unconsciously. This concern for our own well-being is our guide in our every moment, action or thought. Even the most noble and unselfish actions come right from this instinctive concern. We help other people because doing so makes us feel good. When we allow somebody to behave badly towards us, we are probably doing it to fulfill our need to feel vulnerable and fragile. There can be various reasons behind this need. For some people, their own vulnerability is evidence of their emotions, and sometimes they use it to define these emotions more easily. (We can see this in girls at the threshold of maturity, when they attempt to ascertain if they are in love or not. They often want their boyfriends to make them feel jealous and allow this to happen, just so they are able to find out how they will feel in such situation. If they feel hurt – it means they care. Sometimes this method of defining one’s own emotions is carried on in later periods of life and in some cases, it even leads to some pathological forms of behavior).
Sometimes people tolerate all kinds of bad behavior towards them because they cannot fight fear that has already become part of them. That is exactly why they accept to tolerate bad behavior of others. When fear becomes an integral part of life, then freedom from fear is seen as a loss of a life component. Therefore, some people spend their entire life in the prison of their own fear. This is something one should fight against any way he can.
The roots of all relationships (including emotional ones, of course) lie in satisfying needs. In order to fulfill one’s needs, a human being mainly needs another human being. Family grew out of the effort of humans to satisfy their needs. We can easily conclude that family and emotional life, as something natural to humans, is built upon personal interest, the way it’s described in this chapter. If we wish to understand somebody’s choices and actions, or the conflicts (including the inner ones) that arise from them – we only need to understand what interests and needs were involved in the “game”. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize them, as they might be very well concealed, but they are undoubtedly there.
The fulfillment of needs (our own and/or other people’s needs) is the path to happiness as well as unhappiness (sometimes other people’s unhappiness, and often one’s own) – and the impossibility of living with oneself and with others. Denying the power of human interests and needs (both real and imagined) would be similar to denying the Earth’s gravitational pull.
A proper understanding of other people and the self is impossible without understanding basic motives: needs. This enables us not only to analyze, but also to continuously work on improving and humanizing our relationships.
Human needs can be divided into two main groups: needs that we satisfy automatically, led by our primordial instincts, and needs we create and mold ourselves (we think about these needs and we also strategically think about the ways of satisfying them). In many cases (it is safe to say “most cases”), you can notice that people who simply satisfy their primary needs, without too much thinking about the conditions of their own happiness, often live better and “easier” lives than those who tend to over-think their needs and conditions for happiness.
Recently, there have been many theories that say that conditions for happiness are met when one fulfills his primary needs (the ones he does not need to think about much). According to these theories, if we have what we need for physical survival, without being burdened by too much difficulty or danger, we could be considered happy. I think this idea is worth our attention.
While reading these stories you could see how an incorrect understanding of the above-mentioned terms and concepts influences human life. You have also seen that the same thought is often present in the minds of different characters. This is another attempt to show that sometimes we can be very similar to each other, regardless of the time we live in, and regardless of the different paths taken by our lives. Mr. D’s wives lived in a time much different from the one in which Anastasia M and Mrs. L lived, but you could see that they shared a lot. On the other hand, there were situations when the same emotion took different people down completely different paths. However, the characters in this book have at least one common element: relation with money. The stories of these people also show how relative things are. You must have noticed that what we call comfort does not necessarily mean happiness.
As we said, D was a short man, and that was one of the reasons why he loved big things. He liked big houses, big cars, big dogs, tall women… he liked the idea of GREATNESS. The way he saw it, the purpose of marriage and family was to serve the idea of greatness, be in accordance with great ideals, and make him greater in the eyes of the world. You see, that was important. His image had to be perfect.
Mr. D’s needs were very simple. He did not have many of them, they were not really “deep”, but they were quite strong. To any observer, it would seem as if these needs were being satisfied automatically, on their own, that life itself treated those needs as something inevitable, like physical laws that could not be denied; and so, life itself insisted on satisfaction of Mr. D’s needs, ensuring their fulfillment at all times.
D loved power and money and that was his only true love. (Power and money also loved Mr. D and he reciprocated with all his heart and soul.) Unlike Mr. M who ascribed the best of qualities to himself, D never thought of himself in those terms. He did not analyze himself or his purpose: he simply – lived. He did not need to define his needs; he did not need his needs to be “higher” or “deeper”. Even when he wanted to make other people’s opinion contend with his own, it was strictly for business purposes. He never entered arguments or tried to spread any ideas, except good business proposals. D had found a far more efficient and viable method of making other people’s opinions match his own. He did it by always agreeing with them, approving whatever they would say, encouraging them with his consent – and all that without even thinking about what he just approved and agreed with. Mr. D did not want to conquer the world; he had a more realistic ambition: to build a world of his own. Even without (needless) thinking, he knew that was the only possible scenario.
With the same ease with which he generally went through life, Mr. D found what he was looking for. In fact, life itself found her for him (just as life was always bringing him whomever or whatever he needed and took care of him much like a teacher takes more care of their favorite student than of other children.)
Mr. D met his second wife in the foyer of a hotel. After spending a couple of hours in the hotel with his mistress, who later left discreetly, D decided to dine in the restaurant with some friends. He lit a cigar, made himself comfortable on the sofa in the foyer, and looked through the large window so meticulously clean, that the glass was invisible. Mr. D loved “glass walls” and had an enormous one in his living room. He could enjoy the view of his yard from it, while nobody could see him from the outside. Still, whenever he found himself behind a glass wall in a public place, he felt exposed and a bit uncomfortable. He easily managed to overcome this feeling by never forgetting he was exposed to everyone’s eyes and always wearing the mask he used for public places. That was making everything much easier; after all, the only possible way D could spend his moments and live his life was – with ease.
At such moments, D appeared to be thinking about something profound and important; he looked peaceful and content, with his face ever ready to smile. But this was only an appearance he had created to leave a particular impression on those around him. The truth was, at such moments, he was not thinking about anything important at all; he was just sitting there enjoying the wonderful and amazing ease of being, and everything else that life had given him. Mr. D had not been humble enough to feel any gratefulness for his life, but he was happy and satisfied. Life loved Mr. D and did not expect him to be grateful; instead, life tolerated Mr. D’s occasional mischief and egoism, as an indulgent parent who tolerates everything his spoilt child does.
A young woman walked into the foyer and it seemed she was not planning to stay long. D immediately got up and walked towards her, feeling that she was about to leave. He often had a hunch about people and he could “feel” and see them much better than they could ever “feel” and see themselves.
The weather was horrid that October day, completely in keeping with Mrs. L’s mood. That October she became single again. No, it wasn’t a divorce. It was the death of Mr. L.
It was four in the afternoon. The rain was not heavy yet, but it was drizzling persistently. Another awful day. She was ignoring the people who came to the funeral, and to her, the graveyard seemed very quiet, giving Mrs. L what she needed so badly those last couple of years: some peace. She was standing beside the grave surrounded by a handful of relatives and “friends” who suddenly became “close” to her. After the funeral ended, Mrs. L wanted to be alone at her husband’s grave.
She stood there with a white rose in her hand and stared at the tombstone through her sun glasses. “J.S.L. 1961 – 2008” was the inscription on the elegant looking tombstone.
“Hope you like the tombstone. It’s good you didn’t choose it yourself. You never had any taste; you would have only embarrassed yourself in front of all these people. I don’t know what to tell you without sounding too honest (you’ve always hated honesty, that is why you’re dead now). If you had only listened to your doctor when he honestly told you that you were a fat pig and that you would die of a heart attack if you didn’t lose weight and stop drinking…) Well, you know what? I don’t care if you don’t like the truth. I am finally free to speak the truth. It couldn’t have turned out better. You almost killed me, you son of a bitch. You married me only because I was pretty and twenty years younger than you. You didn’t care about anything else. You never appreciated what I could give you, you disgusting bastard. Whenever you were home you tortured me for fun. When I begged you to let me go to a therapist (to help me go through the hell YOU had created so that I could be a better wife to YOU), you mocked me. It never occurred to you to fix what you had broken. Now you are dead… And I have yet to find out if I am still alive… I’m going home now. You son of a bitch.”
She walked to the car with strong steps. She decided to maintain that appearance of strength and determination at any cost, as long as she could walk. At least it helped her look dignified, if nothing else.
February brought particularly traumatic memories. It was on a February night that she had first been thrown out of the house in the cold. Even though these memories did not lead to strong emotions anymore, this February evening, Mrs. L was feeling uncomfortable.
After a cold, mildly boring February afternoon, she decided to read a bit and then go to bed early. However, she could not calm down. Memories of cold nights spent in the freezing car kept returning, as did the image of her husband screaming “Get the hell out!” hitting and kicking her out through the front door.
She was in bed for hours, unable to sleep, upset. She was getting overwhelmed by a wave of destructive energy that she could not fight despite hours of struggle. Impulsively, she made her way to the cabinet in which she kept medications and without thinking swallowed a handful of sleeping pills. It was only when she returned to bed that she realized what she had done, but it was too late to call anyone. She was too embarrassed to call Mr. D at this hour and tell him what she had done (because only a weak person would do something like that and Mr. D had no sympathy for the weak). She did not want to disappoint him. But if she were to die of an overdose, he would certainly be disappointed. She had to call someone. The ambulance? A taxi? She was already feeling like she was shutting down. With heaviness in her hands, she grabbed her cell phone and called that “kid”. If anyone was capable of immediately running to her rescue, it was him. She managed to drag herself to the front door and unlock it. The kid appeared within minutes, inexplicably quickly (or it only seemed that way to her). He carried her to bed and shook her, trying to wake her up:
“What did you do?!”
Then he saw the empty bottle of sedatives beside the bed, and then another, slightly different bottle, empty as well. He was seized by panic, but managed to pull himself together and call the ambulance. He told them to come immediately and asked what he could do to help her in the meantime. He did exactly as they told him. In that horrific situation, while he was saving her life, he felt pleased with the fact that he was needed and useful.
She stared at him helplessly, and he was overcome with a feeling he had never experienced before. What he was feeling was hope that her stone heart could become a little softer and warmer. With nearly no strength, she whispered:
“Yes?” he responded with tearful eyes.
“Get the hell out. I want to die alone.”