July 27, 2015

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Oscar Wilde - No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

“This is no time to make new enemies”. These were the last words of French writer and philosopher, Voltaire on his deathbed when asked to foreswear Satan.

I, of course, have no problem making new enemies (and upsetting old enemies) on a regular basis. Yes, I know, being arrogant, self-absorbed, difficult, short-tempered and petulant – with a weird (if any) sense of humour doesn’t help my cause at all.

Yet, if I were a genius like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare and Mr. Spock, these character defects would be eccentric (and expected) to mere mortals.

Being a mere mortal, my frailties aren’t cute and eccentric … they’re just bombastic and rude.

I collect enemies in three ways.

  • I don’t listen well.
  • I make up enemies.
  • I try to be helpful or “No good deed goes unpunished”.

Non-existent listening skills

I’m a shocking listener. I’m that guy. You know the one. That irritating creature who antagonises people by finishing their sentences for them and interrupting them in mid-sentence. And, of course, listens not to understand, but to get my viewpoint across. I promise you … nobody likes a self-opinionated smarty-pants. I’m trying to take a page out of Etko Schuitema’s book when he says that listening is a moral skill and it is suspending my agenda for the other. Not so good at it at the moment.

Manufacture an enemy

If I haven’t got a real enemy I make one up. Like I don’t have enough on my plate to contend with. I’ve conjured up an enemy. Let’s call him Jeb to save me the embarrassment of having to apologise to him later whilst nursing a black eye. The Lord knows that the log in my eye is far greater than the splinter in his. Jeb is a professional speaker. Whenever he presents a motivational talk or writes something, I just know it isn’t his own work. But, he claims it as his. Surely everyone knows that Zig Ziglar and not Jeb said, “Rich people have small TVs and big libraries, and poor people have small libraries and big TVs.”

It drives me insane. And, it drives me to a froth that his audiences love him and lap up every word he says. And, Jeb, where’s the proof that millionaires read at least 60 business books a year and the rest of us don’t. I read more than 60 books a year and all I’m doing is making the authors into millionaires. I don’t know if it is that the audience loves him or that he makes more money than a small town and me (or a combination of both) that gets me so riled up?

Of course, the irony is not lost on me that I might just be projecting my inadequacies onto Jeb. I know I’ve pinched a quote or two or 50 from someone without acknowledging the source.

But, here’s the thing, Jeb doesn’t even know that I have an issue with him. And, even if he did, he wouldn’t change nor care to change. So, Jeb is in effect besting me without even knowing it. The only one who is losing in this self-inflicted drama is I.

On a side note – manufacturing an “enemy” is a good way to rally the troops and keep them focused. And, in some circumstances killed – the so-called “weapons of mass destruction” that started the Iraqi invasion cost the USA 4 486 soldiers and more than 170 000 Iraqis (more or less 120 000 of those being civilian deaths). So, conjuring up an enemy is seldom helpful.

No good deed goes unpunished – Oscar Wilde (he’s the handsome lad in the photo, by the way)

Be helpful. That’s a sure fire way of making enemies. I get an A+ in this department. I have a ‘gift’ of being able to spot a grammatical error or spelling mistake with one eye closed, even if I’m in a drunken stupor. Naturally, this gift doesn’t extend to my own work which, more often than not, looks like the love-child of Tourette’s and ADHD. When I point out a mistake (with great humility and tact, I might add) I can see the shutters go down and ire rise. It has taken me years to realise that even if people ask for critique, nobody actually likes it. Most of us just want someone to agree with our viewpoint. Criticism hurts for the simple reason that it is probably true and the person being criticised has to come to terms with his or her frailty. So, I don’t critique anybody’s work now unless they ask me to (at least three times) because no good deed goes unpunished.

I suppose that’s why I stay in my study and write as much as I can. Because if I’m out of my room unsupervised and not sedated, I will mix with people and invariably rub someone up the wrong way.

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