Mourning and compartmentalization (AKA life and how to live it)

I didn't intend to get up on a day I am taking off from work, and write on the subject of death. But my monkey mind is spinning around some things I find curious and if I am going to relax today, I need to let my brain have it's way with them and then let them go.

First things first. This is all about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. If the discussion of them as humans with faults will make you cry, this is not the blog post for you (or maybe it is). Because they really are interesting subjects, from an objective standpoint. And I am very interested, now that I have social media pretty much tattooed to the inside of my eyelids, on what we do with celebrities and how much harder we make it for ourselves to get along in life. And I want to talk about the difference between "compartmentalizing" and seeing the whole person. And I am not trying to pick on people's reaction as much as I want to pull them apart and ask "why do we do this?". I'm going to just start writing and we'll see if I can tie all of this together at the end. Uh-huh, wish me luck on that.

I remember either writing or saying in the past that I am OK with not liking people. I think it's healthy. And by "not liking" I mean, that you don't enjoy being around that person and/or who you show up as around that person; it's unpleasant. It's a reaction, not a condemnation. There's this whole "trying to get along" thing, which I am definitely OK with (especially on a professional setting bc work is work). But I have noticed that we put so much emphasis on understanding others so that we can convince ourselves that we like that other person. And I am just OK with 1) understanding them but 2) still not liking parts of them and 3) getting done what needs to get done by making the emotional part irrelevant. It's human. We can't all be assimilated into a mundane blob of everyone-liking-everyone. You run into people in life that you have to "work with" whether it is a professional or personal situation and you just make it work out. Focus on the work, do what you say you are going to do. So you aren't going to hang out for fun. That is OK. At least it's OK with me. Maybe you r mind will change, maybe it won't, but it doesn't have to. I don't want someone to have to fake liking me in their personal time. I'd rather not waste my time either. And why are we so judgmental of the internal act of not liking someone? Examining when and why you don't like people is actually a window to your self (especially that darned ego that keeps getting you into trouble). I learn a lot from the people that I don't like. And please don't think that this is some new campaign or anything for me. This is just how I am trying to live. I'm no expert. I think we treat dislike as a negative emotion unless we all agree. Can't we dislike some things about people, not need to assume that those things are all that there is to this person, and just decide whether those things are the kinds of things we want to be around? Not wanting to be around someone does not make them bad, everyone has their flaws. We choose what we want to be surrounded with and we don't need to condemn ourselves or others because not all of our feelings about people are positive. Seems pretty straight-forward to me, in theory.

I see disliking things in others as a natural part of relating. I hate to do do this, but I am going to quote a Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney song: "there is good and bad in everyone." But for whatever reason, our society does not have the ability to nimbly deal with both sides at the same time. Maybe it's a type of media ADD. We see a "person" without seeing the mosaic that makes up that person: good and bad things that have happened to them, how the world has reacted to them and the good and bad things that they have done, and some things that they have done that really need no label as good or bad, they just are. So when we seek to determine whether we "like" or "dislike" someone, we either clamp onto the things we see about them that are positive or negative based on our own value system (either/or). So we make that person either good or bad in our minds. It allows us to be very critical and self-righteous, building up our own ego, and it also leads us to a lot of disappointment when we accidentally hooked our buggy up to the wrong horse. And our rigid views are compounding our media obsession. We want to see the bad fail, we want to see the good prevail. We want to see the bad change to good and then we can move that person out of the "bad" column and into the "good" column. Or condemn people with  "I always knew there was something wrong with that person."  Think about Alec Baldwin. The divorce, that voice mail, 30 Rock and those Hulu ads. Hey, it's all the same guy! People are going to get whiplash trying to put that guy into a column..back and forth. Oh crap, he did something "bad" again. Now who gets to take his spot on the "good" side? It's all a game of blame, judgment, binary thinking and self-righteousness. Nobody gets to have a bad day in public. And it's really hard not to do it.

So aside from the "good" versus "bad" compartmentalizing, there's the put it in a box and deal with it later kind. This actually might not be compartmentalizing at all but both kinds have to do with putting people or stuff into boxes. I'm wondering if my feelings on this have to do with my obsessive need to organize or the fact that I tend to delay thinking through painful things, storing them away (very neatly, I might add) so I can bring them out all at the same time when they will really hurt. Other people might want to put that stuff in the attic to write it off, never to deal with it again.  They are both destructive patterns but I'm going to focus on what happens when we can only hold one judgment (good or bad) in our minds at a time and decide not to deal with anything that contradicts our feelings about that person at that moment. Our view is overly simple so we don't have to feel or think too hard.

So I get the all people = good + bad, though I kind of reject an objective universal value system. I've blogged before that it irks me when we refer to people or companies (cough, cough) as "evil". First of all, which "all-knowing genius" out there gets to set the rules? Second, I know I have had bad days and if that was all someone had to go on, I could be seen as "bad" or "evil" myself. Third, we think that all we know of some people is what they do and I believe that what you do is not who you are, or as people far wiser than me have said: You are not your thoughts. Geez, those "wise people" are extra-forgiving! Good thing for me.

"Wise people"...another binary distinction we make. Maybe your "wise people" are the ones whose teachings match your own value system, maybe you are influenced by who the media and culture says are wise. Those wise people have flaws too. I recently posted on my facebook page that I was reading Carl Jung's biography. I really wanted to find out how his philosophies were influenced by his own experiences. Someone on my facebook page told me that I shouldn't read that, and with some judgment, that I should read Kant. He didn't like what Jung had to say, therefore I should not explore it or his complex life. I wanted to see the good and the bad, the mosaic of the whole person. Either good OR bad, wise OR unwise. It must be really hard to keep score. It's easier if we acknowledge that we are all complex and not force ourselves or others to to put a round peg in a square hole. We are all far too round for those righteous holes that we nave made so square. All I want is a world full of custom-designed people shaped holes so that we all get to be seen and remembered in full. I find the pegs much more interesting anyway.

OK, cool...this is leading me back to the MJ, Farrah thing (phew). As I have said before, I am trying not to watch as much news as before because it was making me super sad. I tuned in for much of the Iran coverage, because I think it is important. But honestly, I can't believe how much the media has to chew on some things, giving a false sense of importance because they can (H1N1, anyone? Oink.). Anyhoo, I found out about Farrah and MJ via Facebook. I am not proud.So I actually decided to seek out a little media coverage to find out what happened.  And what occurred to me is that we almost pre-canonize people on their death beds. The photos that appear next to the MJ story: Old Michael. The Farrah coverage: lots of adoration but limited commentary on the plastic surgery that the media deemed as bad and that nutty visit to David Letterman. Flip/flop. Flip/flop. Are we apologizing for the past judgment of these people? Is revisionism more comfortable for us when we have to put someone in the ground so we can get our sadness on? We bury the icon and not the person. We bury the "Beat it" and not the face mask, the Angel and not the lip injections. The "good" and not the "bad". We can't acknowledge the inconsistent feelings we have about our celebrities because the bad stuff makes us feel "icky". And it happened long enough ago that the timing of the actual death works in the person's "favor" when it comes to how they will be judged (or not). And we only want to say good-bye to the good stuff. We've compartmentalized but we only want to deal with the pretty box, bid it farewell.

What I am hoping to see is a view of the person without judgment, just a retrospective of their lives without the stamp of "good" or "bad".  Just what happened. And consider that we really didn't know them at all, but can still appreciate some of the things that we enjoyed about them. I can generally find some compassion (or at least I try very hard to) for people regardless of the things we have decided are "bad". Was MJ guilty of the things he was charged with? We don't know so why judge? So he did some things that we think of as unorthodox. So? Maybe we think there is something "wrong" with Farrah because of some erratic behavior. Ever have an erratic day? Me too. Ever wanted to do something to slow down the aging process? I am also guilty. Ever find Ryan O'Neill oddly cute but want to poke him with a sharp stick? Oh, that's just me and Farrah? 🙂

What's wrong with us that we need to acknowledge and mourn only a part of a person? It sounds a little undignified to me. Do we all get this treatment when we die? Is there something too painful or complicated about seeing the whole person because then we have to acknowledge that we have all done things that may have caused people to put us in the "bad" category and all we (our egos)  really want to be seen as is "good".

I'm not just an observer, I'm part of the experiment. This isn't a soapbox. I'm just trying to map out my view of life and how to live it and I can't help but to draw distinctions between how it is and how I wish it was. So this is just how I see it, and I fall into the same traps as everyone else. So while this post is part observation, and part cranial relief on a day off from work, it's also a reminder to myself. It's OK to dislike (things in people) because disliking (things in people) does not make them "bad' (a judgment none of us are qualified to make on the limited evidence we have anyway). When you see people in their whole, life becomes more forgiving and a much more comfortable place to be.

I'd be interested in hearing other peoples' thoughts and whether you have noticed any of these things, if you can either add more color to my thesis or have a different way to think about things.

I may or may not be dealing ahead of time with my treatment in death as part of my mid-life crisis. Cabana boys did not come up one single time.

On that note, my monkey mind is going shopping.

Comments (11)

  1. RB says:

    Sorry to say, but touching little boys marks one for life and apparently in death.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Well, it’s very naive to think that just because someone is charged with something, they are guilty. We will never know *if* it happened. Regardless, he was so incredibly talented and very troubled. It’s so sad to see someone so unhappy with themselves even when the world adored them. <sigh>

    I’m going to do the trendy thing and go out and download a bunch of his music. I’m reminded of just how awesome an entertainer he was. Sad, sad, sad…no matter what.

    NPR had a program today about the very subject that I brought up. Much better articulated, of course. And they had praise for people who are able to not idealize or demonize him. I’ll look for the link. Some of the callers into the show scared me a bit.

  3. Phil Weber says:

    Within the past few years, I have concluded that (with a few exceptions) the fact that a person behaves or believes differently than I do does not make them "wrong." It’s amazing to me how many people seem to wish the whole world (or country) would think and behave just as they do. How much less rich and interesting the world would be if that were the case!

    I suspect that my friends and family are growing tired of hearing about this epiphany of mine; I promote it at every opportunity. I only wish I had realized it earlier.

    Also, apropos of nothing, my mother dated Ryan O’Neal in high school. 🙂

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Phil – cool about your mother! And I agree about the other things you said. 🙂

  5. Paul says:

    Interesting ideas Heather, but I don’t think you go quite far enough. I believe that the same things that make someone great at one thing are the demons that plague them or make them evil in another context. The two aren’t separable, so if you want to appreciate MJ’s music, you have to take the insecurities, the plastic surgery, the weird stuff with kids (whether or not anything malicious happened) as part of the package. It’s the same person, and the same drivers that make him exceptional and weird in equal parts.

    What makes you good at what you do? I think I have an idea, because I believe from your writings that our personalities are fairly similar (and if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter, so let’s go with that). Take away the obsessions, the terrier with a puzzle to solve, the things others perceive as a little off-center — are the things people love and prize about you still as good? I’m guessing not.

    There is still right and wrong. There is still me pissing you off or making you feel really great — sometimes in the same day or even the same conversation. I’ll bet there are people that when you ask these questions think you’re absolutely mental.

    Maturity is understanding that we are all complex, imperfect, and more interesting for it. And the more brilliant you are at one thing, the more likely there’s a skeleton waiting to be discovered in a closet somewhere else.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Uhm yeah, I don’t think so, Paul. None of that makes sense to me.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Uhm, yeah, I don’t think so Paul.

  8. KD says:

    I’ve found as I get older that I’m much more patient and understanding of those that are different from me.  Usually, if someone pisses me off, they’re more interesting (to a point, of course) because it says something about both them and me.

    I’ve never found that learning more about a great artist has hurt my appreciation of them.  Understanding more about where someone came from and what they went through adds layers  and complexity.  The challenge, though, is to check your sources to make sure they’re accurate and unbiased.

    For the record, both of these deaths left me sad as well.  You and I are pretty close in age, and I’m sure that plays a part.  Had the poster, watched the show, bought the albums (awww… remember albums?)

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    I think I had a Shawn Cassidy poster…..dreamy! I remember playing Charlie’s Angels at recess and we would have such a hard time agreeing on which angel each of us got to be. Nobody wanted to be the Kate Jackson one. 🙂 I also started files on "mysteries" I wanted to solve. I was an interesting kid, I guess. I watched the Farrah dcumentary the other night. She fought like hell.

    I was pretty fascinated when "Off the Wall" came out. I never bought an MJ album because the music was so ubiquitous. But I am going to do it now. I forgot how amazing he was. Not at all surprised by his death. Anyone who was paying attention would have seen this coming. Now, I look at his more recent pictures and remind myself that the same person in there is same the guy in the Thriller video. I wonder if it’s a matter of an artist being misunderstood in his time.

  10. Will says:

    Very interesting post, but I am wondering if you aren’t into ‘analysis paralysis’.  I have found (being an incredibly introspective person) that a lot of what I worry about doesn’t have an ‘answer’, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it, but I do put bounds on the extent of that thought.  

    Regarding people who think MJ was a child-molester.  I believe that media like the successful fail best, so they jumped all over this story, even though he was acquitted of any wrong-doing in a court of law.  ‘But what about that kid who settled out of court’ you say – I say read the publicly available information and the ‘case’ against him was very shaky, and he had money, so he settled rather than having his sexual life open to public review.  That DOES NOT MAKE HIM GUILTY.  

    I also disagree with those who need to link the person with the art.  I don’t know jack about most painters I like – but that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for their art, same with music, film etc.  I think what we do is use ‘shortcuts’ so that we don’t compartmentalize and thus lump everything together.  

    You may want to look a the ‘ladder of inference’ writing as it talks about how and why we form opinions.  Basically, we do it because it makes our life easier.  If we can ‘brand’ someone then we don’t have to think too much about the nuances of their situations or the divide between the artist and the art.

    I think the trick is understanding that there is a balance and to try to be objective.



  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Will, I actually agree with everything that you say, except the "analysis paralysis". What’s the paralysis part? Did you mean over-analysis? And then wouldn’t reading that book (which I’ll look into, thanks for the recomendation) contribute to it? Nothing about the discussion here is keeping me from getting anything done in life. I enjoy investigating these types of things. Yeah, I do personal growth stuff for fun. But hey, if over-analyzing things is bad, then blogs shouldn’t exist, especially not this one because all my readers know that news is not an expectation here!  I like discussing things that don’t have an answer. Trust me, I don’t require answers for things that most other people do (like "where did the world come from?"), but bouncing ideas back and forth is part of my DNA. If it’s too much for some people, I’ll understand if they don’t want to be my BFF 🙂

    I’m with you 100% on the legal case. The whole idea that you dion’t settle out of court if you aren’t guilty is total bunk. Your shortcuts statement was pretty much what I was getting at (probably better said by you). We don’t want to deal with "complicated" emotions that invovle acknowledging good and bad at the same time. We are more comfortable with binary decision making.

    I’m now wondering whether people think that appreciating someone’s art actually gives something back to the artist and since we idealize famous people, we don’t want to give anything back to someone who has fallen short of our expectations. See what you did Will? You made me analyze it more. Gee thanks 🙂

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