by Nancy Humphreys
In my first article in Daykeeper on the Law of Attraction, “Why bad things happen to good people,” I told the story from Spain about how Native Americans, never having seen sailing ships on the water, did not even see Columbus arrive. When he suddenly appeared, they mistook him for a god instead of a man. I noted that ignorance (and its close cousin, denial) can interfere with getting the Law of Attraction to work the way we want it to.
I’ve been trying ever since to think of a good contemporary analogy to that “Columbus” story. Watching the double header of the television show “Kitchen Nightmares” last week, I saw one. This TV show features famed chef Gordon Ramsey as he tries to resurrect failing restaurant businesses and the families who own them. In the first episode, Gordon succeeded. In the second, he failed miserably.
The second episode concerned a restaurant with three owners. As we were introduced to the owners and workers we immediately learned that the staff considered one of the owners to be a total “liar”. He was also quite nasty, not only with staff, but also with customers. His initial quarrel with Gordon was over the definition of Maine lobsters.
Gordon immediately made it clear to viewers that the lobster served at the restaurant was Canadian lobster, a type much cheaper than the featured “Maine lobster specialty.” The problem owner argued with him, scornfully tossed out a Latin name he said applied to both the Canadian and Maine lobster, and then insisted Gordon was wrong.
Gordon was quite taken aback. He obviously knew he was right, so he didn’t pursue the issue. He simply brought in Maine lobster and showed the chefs how to prepare it. As Gordon went about cleaning up the mess on this show’s loser restaurant, the problem owner went right on telling him he was wrong and predicting failure.
My first thought was of co-workers I’d had who resisted change as if it were the Devil. Then I thought of those, often family members, who sabotage others who are trying to lose weight. I put the problem owner in that category. Gordon, on the other hand, attributed the constant carping and criticisms to the man’s “ego.”
As the restaurant opened and started to succeed, the problem owner showed up and loudly announced to friends and other diners how the place was going to be a failure. He said after it failed, he’d go back to what he was doing before. This is a common reaction by some of the restaurant owners on Gordon’s show in the beginning. But this was at the end of the hour.
The restaurant had been remodeled beautifully. The menu reconfigured and staff tested and found capable of making the change. Customers too turned up, as they hadn’t in the days of the fake Maine lobster. Yet here was the problem owner still doing his best to cripple his restaurant. When Gordon interviewed him, he lied about everything the camera had been catching him saying.
Gordon talked with all three owners. The problem owner continued to deny any progress and mocked him, “The great Gordon Ramsey is WRONG!” Gordon, clearly frustrated at not being able to break down the man’s ego as he’s done with other difficult restaurant owners and personnel, this time to the man’s face, attributed the problem to the his ego.
The man didn’t reply. Suddenly I noticed the gleam in the problem owner’s eye. And there it was again as he continued to engage Gordon in increasingly ridiculous and malicious debate by which, with no sense of shame, he more and more revealed his own ignorance. I recognized that gleam. Everything fell into place. I’d been wrong in my assessment of him and so had Gordon.
I was not surprised by that. As I learned last year when first I read the book by Harvard medical school psychologist, Dr. Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door, it’s really hard to spot sociopaths [formerly called “psychopaths”] if you aren’t one.
Says Dr. Stout,
The difference between normal emotional functioning and sociopathy is almost too fantastic for those of us with a conscience to grasp, and so for the most part, we refuse to believe such a hollowness of emotion can exist. And unfortunately our difficulty in crediting the magnitude of this difference places us in peril…when we are confronted with sociopathy. We are afraid, and our sense of reality suffers. We think we are imagining things, or exaggerating, or that we ourselves are somehow responsible for the sociopath’s behavior....
Where had I seen that gleam before? I’d seen it in the eye of a coworker who had set everyone at my small workplace against each other and her by the time she was done. She lied copiously and outrageously. She spent unauthorized funds either on herself or on hiring people to do the work she was supposed to do. She wasted hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars and everyone else’s time. She was nasty, manipulative, and shredded nerves and egos everywhere.
She told me once that she needed my help in choosing a new telephone system, so I drove 50 miles to a meeting. I sat in growing discomfort with a group of Silicon valley executives. The execs were turning red in the face when she wasn’t there on time. I had no answer as to why. When she finally did arrive, she flirted outrageously. Then, just as the meeting started, she ran out, saying she had to catch her plane. When I drove back to our office, she met me in the hall. With that gleam in her eye she informed me she’d signed a contract for a new phone system with another company over a week prior!
This woman told her boss she was there working every day when the only days she came in were the few days he was there. She’d walk out of meetings to get something and never come back. Only after she changed the locks and everyone, including the boss was unable to get into the building, was she fired.
And where else had I seen the arrogant and preposterous argumentative posture of the problem owner? I’d seen it for two years at board meetings I’d attended. The board president clearly enjoyed stymieing anyone who had a legitimate question or wanted to improve things. “I see your position,” he said to one hapless new person, “but you don’t understand mine.” The man asked the president again. Why couldn’t the board remove an abandoned car with broken windows, trash and rats from the property?
The man argued that the board’s own rules said that cars left for three days could be towed. The board president had that same gleam in his eye when he explained in the most annoyed, condescending voice he could muster. “Because I’d have to stand out there for three days to make sure its owner didn’t come back and move the car. And I don’t have the time.” The poor hapless man looked stunned, then gave up.
With me the board president carried on the same kind of Kafkaesque debate. Over and over again he insisted there was no danger in wires that crossed and shorted out. I’d explained three times that the wires had not crossed or shorted. The wires had separated, overheated, and started a fire that went up into the walls. The Fire Department had had to be called. I even brought the burnt wires to show him. But the president refused to get my position, and (at that time) I couldn’t understand his. I too gave up. Later he managed to destroy nearly everything I, and someone I loved dearly, owned.
Where else have I seen that gleam? On TV, of course. I saw that gleam in the eyes of Tony Soprano’s mother when they wheeled her away after she’d revealed a secret that would most surely get her son killed. Tony was so mad he wanted to kill her, but he couldn’t get to her as she was being wheeled into the emergency room by attendants.
And I’d seen that gleam in the eye of a reality show contestant who, when asked to join work on a project with her team, told everyone she had a crippling headache. Then she went and played a noisy game with kids in the street. Seeing her out there while they were working inside, the other contestants were dumfounded.
We see sociopaths in our lives, on TV, and in the movies every day, yet we don’t really see them. That’s because we’ve been so conditioned to think of sociopaths as killers. Since the definition of sociopaths is people who have no conscience and no real empathy with others, it stands to reason that serial killers would tend to be sociopaths with no remorse for their crimes. But Dr. Stout believes most sociopaths are not killers or even criminals.
She says sociopaths are usually ordinary-seeming people who follow many of society’s rules. Some function on a very low level, evading every responsibility they can. Others work to get themselves into positions of legitimate power. Often they have grandiose fantasies about themselves as they use their power to “put one over” on those they see as inferior or those whom they resent for having some quality they wish they had. To “win” the games they play, they use any and all methods available: charm, flirtation, getting you to feel sorry for them, picking up on weaknesses, seduction, bullying, lying and yes, by arguing ad nauseam with that gleam in their eye.
We also miss seeing the sociopaths who are all around us because we think of sociopaths as a rarity. They aren’t rare at all. According to Dr. Stout, “1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty.” Yet we don’t recognize these people who are opposite from the rest of us.
Says Stout, “...when such a person is around us in our lives, even on a daily basis, we are often oblivious to [his or] her activities. We do not expect to see a person direct a dangerous, vicious vendetta against someone who in most cases has done nothing to hurt or offend [him or] her. We do not expect it, and so we do not see it, even when it happens to someone we know—or to us personally. The actions taken by the…sociopath are often so outlandish, and so gratuitously mean, that we refuse to believe they were intentional, or even that they happened at all.” When I finally got up the nerve to tell the boss my coworker wasn’t showing up to work very often, he denied it and accused me of lying.
Even when they self-disclose the truth about themselves, we don’t see their reality. When people asked why, after learning of the second plane attack on the remaining Twin Tower at the World Trade Center, President Bush remained seated and kept listening to the children in the Florida classroom read aloud the book My Pet Goat for over seven minutes, Karl Rove covered for his boss by saying, “maybe he didn't want to alarm the children.”
When asked shortly afterwards about his recollection of 9/11 George W. Bush claimed to have seen the first plane crash into the tower on TV before he went into the Florida classroom (an impossibility as it wasn’t broadcast until much later). He didn’t yet know America was under attack, and he recalled remarking, “well, there’s one terrible pilot.”
We heard it and later saw it on You Tube, but we couldn’t comprehend it. Surely no adult to whom we entrusted our lives and the lives of our loved ones would care more about impressing a group of children than about fulfilling his responsibility to the Americans whose lives were being shattered that moment by the most horrific attack on civilians in the entire history of our country! And even though he made up seeing the first attack, surely no one’s first reaction to the agonizing deaths of passengers on a plane and people inside a skyscraper it hit couldn’t possibly be to see it all as a joke? Could any President, any person, really be that uncaring?
When we do start to see sociopaths, we feel uneasy, we deny what our own eyes have seen, and we often project our own motives or our own shadow selves onto them, trying without success to explain their inexplicable behavior. Gordon Ramsey and no doubt, many viewers of "Kitchen Nightmares," saw the problem owner as having an “ego” or perhaps being a control freak. They couldn’t understand his continuing negativity. Surely no one could actually want to destroy his own restaurant!
On the other hand, some people do see through sociopaths’ charm and/or their bullying behavior, but, having only partial knowledge of what it means to have no conscience, make the mistake of thinking they can outsmart a sociopath. You can’t beat a sociopath at their own game.
As the sociopath said, “I get your position. You just don’t understand mine.” And most people don’t. Sociopaths live to destroy—they destroy the trust, relationships, harmony and happiness that others with consciences and empathy for other human beings strive to build. And yes, a sociopath would reveal a secret that would result in the death of their own son or daughter. They really don’t, can’t, care. There is no way to “win” against a sociopath unless you too are one.
When you run into a sociopath you do well just to hang onto your sanity and keep intact what you’ve got. As I mentioned in “Why bad things happen to good people,” both ignoring or focusing on an obstacle in the road makes us run into the very hazard we want to avoid. Sociopaths are a good example of “obstacles in the road” we must learn to recognize and then look away from in order to go forward with our lives and our dreams.
Or as Dr. Stout puts it, “Living well is the best revenge.”
In the end, Gordon Ramsay, realist that he is, at last knew he was defeated. As he left the floundering restaurant for the final time, he told the other owners that their business would fail as long as the problem owner was around. He advised them to buy out their partner. Then he got in his parting shot. In a voice dripping with disgust, Gordon let the problem owner, and all of us, know: the problem-owner’s Latin term for the supposedly-same Maine and Canadian lobsters was pure hogwash!
Copyright © Nancy Humphreys 2008.
A Tip for Current Times
A final note for those practicing The Secret: A friend shared her technique for keeping money worries at bay. On the new moon of each month, she finds an old blank check, perhaps from an unused account, and fills it out. She leaves the date blank. She writes her own name in the payee blank. For the amount she writes "P.I.F." Below, where the amount is spelled out she writes Paid In Full. She signs it The Law of Abundance. Then she puts the check in a drawer.
I think this is a great idea. It gives us time to reflect and remember—the ultimate source of money and of our wealth is neither banks nor the government.