April 21, 2009

Believe Me, Please!

There are 3 words I find to be totally absurd.

Over the last few years I have noticed there are a handful of individuals that have a hard time getting people to believe they are who they say they are. It is a strange thing when a person goes far out of their way to reason with others that they are a certain type of person.

Let me give an example. This is totally made up for my own purposes. Nobody needs to think that they are reading about themselves.

Say, there is a guy we will call Dude. Dude thinks he is really cool. He thinks he is really good at snowboarding. All he talks about is how good he is at it. He tells you how often he goes snowboarding. After a while you start to get suspicious because some of the times he says he went snowboarding you are pretty sure he was hanging out with you playing video games. Finally you decide to go with him and hit the slopes. Dude gears up and offers to drive. All his stuff is really expensive and nice. Latest boots and bindings. You see he spent almost $300 on his jacket alone. Then you get on the mountain. As it turns out Dude kind of sucks. For months you have been hearing about how he can do a 180 of the ramp. You heard how he once landed a 360 tail grab. So you watch him hit the jump but for some reason all he hits is some rollers. What he calls a 180 turns out to be a stance change at the top of the roller where you are momentarily weightless, but he gets NO AIR! Disappointment fills your heart. But you push forward. You ask him to try to do a 360 tail grab. It takes some coaxing but eventually Dude goes for it. He hits a small kicker and goes for it. Again no air. He just spins at the apex again and reaches down to grab the tail. At that point everything goes wrong. The board smashes his fingers into the packed snow. Because he is motion the board grinds his fingers and knuckles. At that point you know you will be hanging with the medic for the next hour before driving home disappointed.

Okay, so maybe some of this came from my own experience. I never really was good on a snowboard.

The point I'm trying to illustrate is that for all Dude's talk he wasn't any good. The thing that really aggravates me is when Dude comes home and tries to tell all of your friends who weren't there that he was doing 180's all day. The 360 becomes a story of how he had so much air but someone else interfered with his jump and caused him to take a huge smash on the hand. You know better and for some reason you can't keep your mouth shut. Well, I can't keep my mouth shut in those situations. Call me compulsive about hearing the truth and making sure others do as well.

I'm sure you have met someone like this before. If you met me at certain points in my life you could probably describe me as one of these people. I would like to think I grew out of it once I realized something. I'll get to that later.

So, my conundrum is simply this: should I just shut up or should I point out when people are so full of themselves that they twist the truth to make themselves look cool? Before you answer let me explore further.

About 2 years ago I learned about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD is how it is known clinically). I was taught this term by someone trying to help me deal with my feelings about someone who clearly had a severe case of it. Now I'll give a clinically inaccurate description just that does give a overall idea of what is wrong with someone with this problem. Basically someone with NPD believes that the problems in their life come from people and situations around them. This belief is so persistent that they eventually lose the ability to be truly introspective. It is as if these people are incapable of seeing themselves as fallible except in situations where they can use the idea of their fallibility as a tool to blame another person for the problems they are facing.

Okay, there really is a lot more to that then I wrote. I just want to give you the gist of it so I can continue what I am talking about.

Back to Dude. After the trip and the crazy tales of how good he was on the slopes correction comes. I point out that Dude really sucks and that he is full of s... stuff. So he gets upset. Unfortunately Dude is pretty smart and well practiced and throwing things back in your face. A minute later he is telling everyone that I suck at snowboarding. He has a myriad of examples that he pulls out of the air. The scary thing is that they are all very real examples (like I said I never was good). Then he moves on to other things. He works very deftly towards the things that really hurt. He begins to attack you where it hurts, he attacks the things you believe you are a little bit good at. He then goes on to explain how he is better than you at everything, especially the thing you love.

In this situation the issue is quite a bit different than just being a little braggy about being good at stuff he isn't. Now you realize he is really really good at making you feel like you suck at EVERYTHING.

Fast forward a bit. After all the mean words wear off, as they inevitably do, Dude goes back to telling you and your other friends how good they are at snowboarding. The thing is that the stories get bigger. Your other friends have seen how much Dude actually sucks at it. But it doesn't stop. It gets to the point where he actually tells you and your friends, "I am really good at snowboarding, really, really! I am. Believe me!"

How strange is that? The thing is what does it matter, right? Do you go snowboarding (or whatever it is you do) because you want to be really great at it? I think most people like the idea of being good at something but that is usually not what keeps people doing things. I think people do things they enjoy. For instance, in reality I suck at golf. Every time I go I worry about being paired with people who are so good that they get impatient with me because I suck so bad. But it doesn't stop me from going because I really LOVE golf. I think it has something to do with the tuning fork in the heart (Tin Cup, watch it). Every once in a while I hit a ball just right and you feel it in every part of your body. I've never felt anything like it anywhere else. It just doesn't happen very often. But I keep going because I am chasing a feeling. Then there is the feeling of sinking a putt from like 25-30 feet (I told you I'm not that good), there is nothing like the dance your heart does as that ball creeps towards the hole inching ever closer. The anticipation alone is indescribable but the sound of the ball going in the cup is just amazing. I golf because I am chasing those feelings not because I am chasing a kind of validation that will never come. I doubt Tiger Woods is golfing because he is trying to make his father proud. If it were he would have stopped when he won the Master's for the first time.

When I was 18 years old I came to an interesting decision. I decided from that moment on I would take responsibility for my actions. I would be responsible. I like to think that for the most part I have lived up to this for the last 10 years. It has served me pretty well.

Now I am like any other person, I want to be noticed by people I care about. I remember as a missionary I really cared a lot what my mission president thought of me. To this day I am not sure what he thought/thinks of me. But one day I knew how he felt. I neglected to do something important. He was mad. I got home and could tell by him waiting there to talk to me that he was ready to give me a tongue lashing. I went to him and let him go. He proceeded to tell me the mistake I had made. While he was talking I remember my promise to myself to take responsibility for my mistakes. As soon as he was done telling me what I did wrong I immediately told him that it was all my fault and that it was because of my neglect. I took responsibility for it. Then I looked up awaiting more tongue lashing. He looked down at me (did I mention he is pretty tall) and said with a half smile on his face, "Don't let it happen again," and he walked away.

I learned a pretty amazing lesson that day. I learned that people have a hard time being upset, angry or show animosity when you take responsibility for your mistakes. The wind is taken out of their sails. The anger is gone. But to truly take the wind out of their sails you have to take the correction into your actions. In my case it was a bathroom I didn't clean. From that day on that bathroom was kept clean. It was cleaned every single day before people came to the mission home and might use it.

So what is it about people that are unwilling or unable to take correction? In my mind that is all a person with NPD is. More than all of the clinical words there really isn't much more to it. There is a word in English that describes this phenomenon very well, pride. Those suffering from pride really need help. I see many people that suffer from pride are unable to function normally. They cause themselves and others around them so much pain. I just can't figure out why they can't just change. Change is hard for anyone I realize. I just don't know why people can't see that if they just started acting different they wouldn't have to go around saying, "Believe me, Please!"