I went to visit a friend recently. We got talking about our childhood experiences. There were many similarities between us, angry fathers, violence, emotional abuse, the general terror that comes from living day to day with an unpredictable aggressor five times as big as we were.
But there was one significant factor that influenced our different responses to fear. You see my friends father would become aggressive when he couldn't find stuff, like his car keys. So she made damn sure she knew where everything was. She's the same now, she's one of the most 'efficient' people I know. There are down sides to being this efficient of course. Firstly she cannot switch off, she's constantly on high alert, always checking e mails, having to be in control of not only her own work but everyone else's too. Her work life balance is unhealthily weighted in works favor. The partners at her firm think she's brilliant, she does twice the work but gets paid the same as the other employees in her position. Our culture celebrates her for this.
My father set me up to fail, he'd set me a task, like polish my boots. If my boots weren't polished to army specification, a tough standard for a pre schooler to meet, he'd become sickeningly angry and violent. Everything I did was a disappointment and consequently a danger. When he was around I couldn't refuse to do the tasks he set, but when he left us (or wasn't around) and couldn't enforce his demands I stopped trying. I'd look at a task and my body would tell me 'don't touch that, you'll fail and that's dangerous.' That's the opposite response my friend has. Our different responses are driven by the same childhood desire to avoid physical and emotional abuse.
My friend has always been a good employee. As for me well I believe I'm now an asset to my work and my world in a wider context. But it took me a long time to get here. And I'm still improving. I'm still reluctant to be pro active and try new things. As a result of all this trauma I was unemployed for a significant part of my early working life. My main career has been to survive and try to unravel all the effects of abuse. However I eventually got to a place where I felt I had something to contribute. At that point I tentatively joined the work force.
As a result of my experience I find myself driven to vehemently defend people who are continuously criticized by our administration for not functioning 'normally.' There are reasons people are unemployed, addicted, homeless. Those reasons aren't because they're useless, lazy or stupid. It's because they don't have the same tools as those who are fortunate enough to thrive. And how do we treat these damaged souls? With punitive measures, by cutting benefits and services. If we want people to thrive we have to treat them with the dignity and respect that's been missing from the rest of their lives. But no we'd rather give tax breaks to the rich and go to war than look after our fellow human beings. I implore everyone to defend all of those less fortunate than ourselves, to not judge people who don't or cannot match societies behavioral norms. Just who do we think we are?