Monday, May 10, 2010

'Honey, I just want you to be happy. (As long as I benefit.)'

Working now on another long piece for Skeptic, this time about happiness (and the cultural obsession with same), and I came across this quote from acclaimed science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein:

Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
Hmmm. Wonder what the codependency crowd would have to say about that...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Remember Steve, the key phrase is that he wrote science fiction!

RevRon's Rants said...

Years ago, I accompanied a friend to a few ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, and one thing that really stuck with me is how, in their focus upon not being "codependent," participants were strongly discouraged from recognizing - much less, acting upon - the fact that we humans are socially INTERdependent. Even acts of kindness were discouraged, interpreted as denying the recipient's right to perform an act themselves. I didn't last very long.

IMO, one who is unwilling (or unable) to place another's happiness above their own under any circumstance is likely to be either profoundly narcissistic or deeply lonely... perhaps both.

Stever Robbins said...

I don't know if I agree with that definition of love. I may be nit-picking, but I think it's much healthier to say that when I love someone, their happiness is very, very important to me. I don't know that essential works for me. I was a pretty happy guy before ever being in a long-term relationship, and I suspect that if the relationship were to come to an end, I'd be very upset and sad, but eventually would return to being happy.

I thought that co-dependency was more about adopting explicitly destructive behavior in an effort to make someone else happy or appease their anger.

Lapsed Pastafarian said...

He also said "One man's religion is another man's belly laugh.

RevRon's Rants said...

Stever, I didn't mean to imply that love requires the complete dissolution of one's own well being into that of one's partner. However, I do believe that a loving person would be willing to sacrifice (or at least compromise) their own preferences at times, simply to please their lover. Sorry if I was unclear.

As to the definition of codependency, I think that it has devolved significantly within the framework of the self-help / 12-step culture, to the point where virtually any act that might encroach upon another's complete autonomy is considered "codependent" and therefore, undesirable. The participants that I have observed in many of the 12-step groups tend to carry the concept of independence to an extreme.

I've actually been chided for opening a door for a female attendee. I apologized, and stated that I was raised to believe that such a gesture was merely a polite way of showing respect. My confrontational "friend" opined that I was really making a statement about the person's inability to do for herself. At that point, I just gave up & said, whatever." :-)

roger o'keefe said...

I agree with you here. When you commit to another person you are then a unit, two parts of the same whole, and you stop thinking just for yourself. One of the tags at the end of your post, "narcissism", should be somewhere in the title of the current generation. This is the kind of subject that really drew me in to your book. There's no sense of commitment anymore, people walk in and out of relationships on a whim or when something better comes along. Hollywood leads the way, modeling this behavior for the rest of America. It's sickening to me, frankly.

RevRon's Rants said...

I think the commitment is there more than you'd think, Roger. It just doesn't get much press. I'm friends with a bunch of kids (well, at least they are kids to me!), and the hook-up crowd is far outnumbered by those who are looking for something real and lasting in their relationships - both platonic and romantic.

That said, however, it is our firm duty to bemoan the shortcomings of the generations that follow us... just as our parents' generation wrung their hands about us. At least we don't refer to them as whipper-snappers. :-)

Frances said...

And that was really the righties' greatest victory. Convincing most of America that kindness was "enabling", and altruism was begging to be taken for a ride.

Anonymous said...

I think that the context of the use of the concept of codependance is important.
One of the problems of growing up in an alcoholic household is that the children are conditioned from birth to take on and deal with the problems and the emotions of the alcoholic parent. The child's developing brain does not have the capacity to do this, or the maturity and experience to cope with such a burden. The child is actively discouraged if not forbidden by the environment he cannot avoid to form his own psychological boundaries, the prerequsite to the development of an autonomous individual adult.

The aim of ACoA and AA is to make this lack conscious and to remedy this to some extent. At such a late date and so long after the fact, that requires erring on the side of the gross and extreme expression of individuality. All new learning takes a crude form before the learner becomes comfortable with the new skill and can refine the expression of it and discriminate in its appropriate use.

Who among us sprang fully formed and perfect from Zeus' brow?
I'm not even a fan of AA but we are all 'works in progress'--it is our only saving grace.

Anonymous said...

I recently heard this quote from a married female friend - "A happy wife is a happy life"

I'm not a man or married so I can't tell if its true or not - but I thought it was applicable here.

RevRon's Rants said...

"At such a late date and so long after the fact, that requires erring on the side of the gross and extreme expression of individuality."

The notion that in order to overcome a destructive behavior pattern, one need dive headlong into its opposite - and equally destructive - behavior pattern is refuted by any number of proven successful techniques. That is why systematic desensitization therapies have long been preferred over the more traumatic flooding process.

While I acknowledge the profound value of the AA model, I think its application to so many non-addictive behaviors is too broad, and that many participants get involved in order to "cure" dysfunctions that would be infinitely better addressed through other methods - under the direction (or at least on the advice) of a trained professional. As it is, far too many non-addicts find themselves growing increasingly dependent upon the "program," trading one set of destructive behaviors for another.

If the 12-step model were as effective in overcoming destructive (but non-addiction-related) problems as some believe, there wouldn't be such a widespread prevalence of the "13th step," where those who have supposedly overcome their own dysfunctions tend to prey upon the vulnerability of the newbies - a element that is all too common in cults.

SustainableFamilies said...

OK So I have two parents love AA and I couldn't disagree with more with a way of looking at addiction and decency, however if it works for people than that is totally their business.

I used the harm reduction model when I worked with homeless fold dealing with drug addictions, and it seems to make more sense to me, and to be a much more empowering system wherin the person dealing with the addiction is not asked to grovel and confess they have no power and no control which is simply not true.

Here's the thing, for hundreds of thousands of years as a species life was comparatively hell. It actually may have been BETTER in some ways, I mean look how happy gorillas seem and they don't have houses. (Wait, do gorillas seem happy? Ok I haven't really hung out with many gorillas...)

Anyway, kids raised themselves all the time. In order to survive one or tow parents HAD to be involved in the beginning but the kids started behaving like grown ups as soon as possible.

Meaning, I think as kids, we actually CAN handle taking care of our parents. I see people do it all the time. It's just that dealing with taking care of your parents and being responsible for their well being can reduce abilities to function in a world based on ability to sit in class and obediently regurgitate math problems and churn out busy work which can just all seem rather meaningless when there are bigger issues to face.

As usual I feel like I've gotten way of topic, but I enjoyed myself and I hope you all did too.

I believe as humans we should be there for and take care of each other, when it's possible to do so in a way that doesn't lead to anyones destruction or suffering. I don't think that being there for other people is a form of suffering. I think that's just plain silly. And people might be there for each other in different ways, meaning if I tend to be emotionally supportive, another person might not provide me with the same exact emotional support, but they might be good at making me laugh and that's fair trade. It's just about both wanting to contribute to care about each other mutually even if the ways of showing it are different.

End.

renee said...

Short(ish) story - I promise:

Ninth grade religion class with Fr. J.:

He defined love as the following: "Love is the active care and concern for the life and growth of another." I have NO idea why I remember this, almost forty years later. Lots of good, positive words in there I guess.

On the other hand, he also fully dissected the acronym that stood for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" in the same class.

Years later, we learned he had had more than one affair with female students during his priesthood. We should have guessed that, based on his curriculum.

Steve Salerno said...

Renee, every time I hear another story about priestly dalliances, my heart aches. We've become very jaded in this generation--and Catholicism never really "took" with me anyway, despite my parents' best efforts--but I remember what religion meant to so many people of that generation. For them, it must be shattering to be in their golden years and hear the Pope come out and have to make speeches about pedophilia...

Btw, nice photo.

Anonymous said...

People have to safeguard and ensure their own happiness first and foremost. Half the time you do things you think will make other people happy and it doesn't work anyway. The only person you really know or have the best chance of knowing is yourself, therefore, it only makes sense that you would look after your own needs. If your own needs intersect with someone else's and they "benefit" too, so much the better.

No one should be squeamish about this. I know women who have spent their whole marriages trying to ensure their husband's happiness and then the men walk out anyway. And what do the men say when they walk? "I'm just not happy here."

Look out for Number One, and don't apologize for it.

RevRon's Rants said...

The flip side is that there are an awful lot of folks who strive to please their spouses (or honestly think they are doing so), only to discover that said spouse's primary objective was to "look out for #1," and who did so sans apologies. I'm one of them.

I know people who experienced similar situations and ended up bitter and frightened. I found it much more satisfying to try become aware of my own part(!) in hurting the marriage, then moving on, rather than emulating the behaviors I found hurtful, just to protect myself from another hurt. That "suit of armor" has knives inside.

Karl said...

Last week in Australia there was a conference on happiness. One of the keynote speakers had an edited transcript of his speech in the paper. I couldn't have said it better myself

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/is-happiness-beyond-our-control-20100510-uo2e.html

Steve Salerno said...

Karl: Thanks for sending that link. Interesting and helpful.