Monday, December 08, 2003

Apple Sauce

You'll recall that "Apple-- not the name she uses" was my trainer. I don't quite understand why her opinion of me mattered, but it did. The few times we interacted outside the "classroom" was when I had to give notice that I was going to be late or skip a training phase. I felt like a suitor setting himself up for rejection (incidentally, not a role I'm unfamiliar with).

One adage that comes to mind is this-- "It's not what you say but how you say it." In the times I felt I had to be assertive, I wound up being aggressive. Or when I had to ask for something, I had to be submissive. Walking the middle road was always difficult, for me.

Some of my friends will, no doubt, be blaming my tendency to gravitate towards people who exhibit these qualities:
  • that she's pretty
  • speaks English in a way I can respect
  • exudes a presence that is felt immediately upon entering any room
Guys, she's that, but she's not a part of what was once my two-deity personal cosmos. She's not the girlfriend and neither is she the Muse.

Power Disparity

As a boy of nine years, I had a flash of insight, as I waited in line to ask for service at an office. It involved papers that my father needed to be processed. The person at the office was seated, relaxed, while the rest of us were standing, waiting to be have our requests heard. Some of us, to my mind, were refused, while some of us were heard. The process seemed to me, quite arbitrary. Here, in the office, was someone in a position of power. Power over your life. Naturally, those who were here to ask for something were in positions of considerably less power-- Otherwise, they wouldn't have to ask for anything from that seated official. If the official, I reasoned, were in a bad mood, your request would be denied however just, righteous or deserving. (If someone were sent to correct him, an ombudsman figure, he'd only be able to correct the irate official because he had more power.) And if that was normal parctice in a small government office, what more in offices all over the archipelago?

And so began my ambivalent relationship with power-- wishing to have more of it while literally hating the people who had it, especially power over me. (You could never catch me asking for directions in my teens-- that gave a stranger total power over your fate. He could give you the wrong directions, and send you into an alley swarming with robbers, for example.)

As I grew, I saw things that confirmed what had been developing as the dark part of my world-view. People in power loved to show it off, and were mightily displeased if you weren't impressed. It didn't matter that they were wrong, foolish or petty. What mattered was that they were bigger, had more money and that they could beat you up. You tended to be "cleaner" the higher you climbed. I thus learned the value of keeping a properly subservient face, so that any backlash from the people in power (who were always petty) wouldn't be aimed my way.

I learned that to "be responsible" was to be blamed for things you may not have control over. That people made you "leader" not out of any respect for you, but because you were convenient. They expected you to solve all their problems yourself, and if you failed, they heaped blame on you in spades. You were "leader" but they were like He-Man: they "had the power."

There were many later lessons, all gleaned from events that involved a little boy who thought he suddenly knew what the world was about. It's a shame that he had to look at later events, and people-- bosses, teachers, parents, cops et. al.-- through this prism. Had he realized early on that he was seeing only part of the big picture, it would have saved ME a lot of headaches.

What is power anyway? It's the ability to order your existence in the manner that you see fit. God is the ultimate egoist because he can afford to be. He's got all the power. Good for those of us who believe in him, he uses it in the interest of Creation.

What is power? It's at once the most satisfying, most childish answer to the often plaintive question: "Why are you doing this?"

Why indeed?

"Because I can."

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