Why Must I Like Your Weird Sense Of Self-Importance?

I am told by my neighbour that he has just acquired a much coveted property right in the middle of the city. I am happy for the man. But apparently he is not. He feels that he could have done better- that there could have been a better property to acquire. There could have been a better spot for the site. There could have been better prices on the deal. There could have been a shorter distance to his new property had he picked it to be elsewhere. And I start to wonder why he has suddenly struck up this conversation with me. We barely know each other. We rarely see each other. Apart from our names and occupations, little exchange of information has been made between us. And yet here he is, telling me how disappointed he is at being handed a rather unsatisfactory deal. Had we not met, in the common porch we share, while returning home from work, he would never have felt this need to let me know how seriously he takes things and how important his affairs are to him and how fortunate I am to have caught sight of him coming home- because he is so busy that he feels he is entitled to ignore his neighbours, to not acknowledge them when they meet him on evening walks or say hello when they greet on supermarket aisles. But they must stay and listen to all of what he has to say when he FINALLY feels the urge to begin a dialogue.

Why must I tolerate your total lack of regard for anyone but yourself? Why must I feel obliged to be polite to you just to be socially accepted? Why must I like listening to your long monologue on how important you think you are?

The answer is- I don’t have to. Yes, we do live in a society that is highly judgmental. Yes, there are people watching every word we speak, every move we make. And yes we have come to adopt these ways ourselves (no matter what we say to deny this), as a result of our long association with these social “animals”. We are social but remain animals from within. Our dearest Dr. Freud had very clearly enunciated the model of the psyche. According to the theory, the Id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, the Super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the Ego is the realistic part that balances the desires of the id and the Super-ego. Yet at times we feel our Id superseding the other two domains of our psyche. The Id takes the steering wheel not only when humans commit crimes, but also when we feel even remotely hostile or antagonistic towards other people. In this regard, those of us who would go to any lengths to be acknowledged and/or appreciated are the ones who appear to have the most active Ids. When we feel we are wronged, or unnoticed, or less loved, we withdraw internally and adopt defensive tactics. These vary from person to person. Some may fall silent when asked about their lives, some others may start talking too much about their own. I am, however, persuaded to think that maybe my neighbour simply has no one to talk to. Maybe his efforts at being a great negotiator are undermined and not adequately applauded. For who doesn’t want to be acknowledged? Who doesn’t long for appreciation to come their way?

However, there is an entirely different category to mortals who remain seething with discontent all their lives. Nothing and nobody is ever good enough for them. These people weigh their words carefully (some of them don’t), are generally well-groomed, meet people with an air of such importance that the other party is simply overwhelmed to be greeted by them- and yet all they can talk about is their own matters, opinions and experiences. When in a circle, they quickly lose the interest of the others simply by one flaw- whenever someone starts talking about their experience or opinions; these people immediately begin a monologue, in the same vein, of their own, while desperately trying to make their narration more likeable than the original speaker’s. Everything always has to be about them. They’re not merely narcissistic. They are self-obsessed to the limit of thoughtlessness. They would comment on someone’s weight, complexion, or even eating preferences, giving no thought to the hurt inflicted upon the person’s confidence and self-regard. However, they themselves are easily wounded when someone dishes out the same to them. These individuals could have been bullied or may have bullied others. These people could be your closest relatives or just random nosy neighbours. However, after a certain age, such attitude cannot be set right.

So what must one do? Obviously it is impossible to address every person by gauging his/her background and life-influences. Nor is it possible to see the reason behind such self-obsession. So the only available resort would be to simply pretend to hear their annoying little tirades and invectives (against someone of no consequence really), tolerate their orations or just politely greet them and find a way to slip out as quickly and causing as little injury as possible. Such individuals never like being shown mirror, nor do they appreciate constructive or any sort of criticism. Best stay out of sight. Best lay plans of just sticking to the pavement when they are seen on roads.

Or you could take the front door to the room of confrontation. You could plain and straight tell the person to mind his/her own business, at the risk of being rude and uncompassionate. At the end of such a conversation, you would probably feel like you’ve run head-long into a brick wall.

Either method of dealing with the situation would make little impact on the characteristic of such individuals. All we can really do is make peace with the way things stand and accept people for how they are.

Melba Sabu,

Assistant Professor- Department of English, Kalinga University

Email: melba.sabu@kalingauniversity.ac.in

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