Isolationism — It’s not just for nations anymore!

I’m coming to the hard won conclusion that I exist on a small island of human interaction, the shores of which are being eroded by the pull of conflicting thought processes. 

Maxim 1:  “You only get what you allow.”  This has been a liberating force in my life, as I worked my way out from under relatively mild forms of “abuse”… whether it be bullying as a child, or oppressive employers, or manipulative “friends,” of dogmatic religious thinking.  I learned, over time to confidently establish what I would and would not allow in my life, and walk away from those unwilling to give me room to be “me.”  We DO have the power to change our situations.  We DO have the ability to be whatever we want to be.

Coming to this conclusion has brought many positive benefits to my life, but I think until now I have been ignoring the potentially erosive side effects of assuming I can control the shape of love.  I’ll save the punchline for later.

Maxim 2: “You only get what you give.”  The Beatles phrased it differently, saying, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  The beauty of sharing, the value of giving, the payback for love is unquestionable.  The amount of trust I receive does, in my experience, seem to be directly tied to the amount I give. 

Yet these two halves of my Ying/Yang are fighting.  Unilateral openness, to give love and trust, and to share with others leaves me open to being taken advantage of.  And somehow my fear of being taken advantage of has become the dominant force in my approach to others; a self fulfilling prophecy, as my constricted willingness to give of myself for fear of being abused leaves my relations with others a shadow of what they could be.  To use a Louisiana/Mississippi metaphor… my efforts to dam the river and prevent flooding, have resulted in a reduction in the size of my island, because no silt is laid down to build and restore land washed away in the floods.

In an attempt to avoid being taken advantage of, or have my trust violated, I extend the hand of “love” with an attached EULA… you know, and “End User Licensing Agreement.”  The kind of thing you see every time you download a new piece of software.

“Rob agrees to participate in this act of friendship, but there are no guarantees either written or implied.  This offer of assistance today in no way obligates said offerer to any further commitments.”  And worse, this approach affects how I RECEIVE love and friendship.  “Further, any decency, assistance, or show of generosity offered to Rob, shall be paid back immediately in equal dollar value.  If cash value is not determinable, then giver accepts that no tangible obligation has been established.”  If I accept a gift, I’m bound (in my mind) to some reciprocity… so I’d rather pay equal measures and keep the slate of paybacks wiped clean.  I sure as hell want to avoid accepting a “chit” that can later be called in for WAY more than I thought I was being given at the time I accepted it. 

In establishing protective boundaries to avoid being hurt, I have also inadvertently erected presumptive filters through which I see every human approach:  How is this person’s attempt to interact with me going to violate me?  How can I make sure that, if I agree to interact, I set the terms to protect my interests?  How can I engage in “conditional love” and make sure I leave myself sufficient escape clauses that I never really commit to it?  How will my accepting the love and kindness of others set me up for undesired future obligations, and what obligations are those givers burying beneath their offering?  If I don’t believe in GIVING unconditional trust and love, how can I ever receive it?  And yet, history cannot be ignored, and I cannot wish for a world filled with good-intentioned fellow-travellers.  We must, to some degree, acknowledge and prepare for the ill-willed; the dangerous; the predatory.   At question is, “To what degree?”

I am no where near resolving this conflict, but somewhere out there it seems that the answer is in the idea that I must believe that the degree to which a person can take advantage of me is never more powerful than the way I can influence the world by giving.  Somehow I have to accept that the degree to which I deserved any perceived “abuse” or “violation of trust” or “being taken advantage of”… or the degree to which I can control it in advance… is no more explicable than the degree to which I have “earned” or “deserve” the love and trust of my family and friends.  Spending time defending one uncontrollable aspect, while devoting no time to building up the other is clearly not working.

Something’s gotta give… but I can’t let go of either maxim, nor see a route to successfully temper them to appropriate weights.  But as I look at the mainland from my shrinking, eroding island, I hear the increasingly strident, wise tones of a Maine’r saying, “Ayup… Ya can’t get the’ah from he’ah.” 

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