Tuesday, August 30, 2011


First Angle:

In late february Janice and I had lunch and an argument. It was the second such confrontation in as many months. Janice had had a habit of second guessing, and critiquing my decisions in life ever since I had gained the necessary consciousness to start making them. Basically every time I made a decisions about where to live, what to do with my life, how to spend my savings etc. she would approach me with 'have you thought about this?' and 'what if you want to have children someday what about then?'

This post though isn't about Janice, she just made an assumption that lead to behaviour that is unsupportive. The rational Janice, and many people, including myself share goes like this: "Isn't there value in me finding possible holes and weaknesses in your plan, so you can then make more informed and therefore better decisions?" this is known as the 'Black Hat' in Edward De Bono's '6 Thinking hats.' or more commonly as the 'Devil's Advocate'. There are situations where one has a position forced upon them where it is better to have somebody try their hardest to shut you down to be better prepared for future possible resistance.

We can also assume that many people who pursue their passions are driven by a constant desire to get better, to better themselves and thus welcome criticial feedback. Thus I myself played devil's advocate for years as my preferred form of 'giving support'.

The limitation of all these assumptions is wrapped up in the support-givers ego. We flatter ourselves by thinking we are that rare honest and intellectual friend whose criticism can be delivered as a breath of fresh air amongst a sea of sycophancy.

The truth is, Devil's advocates are common as dirt. For one thing, most people with rare exceptions, extremely rare exceptions are there own worst and most ruthless devil's advocate. Openly supportive and encouraging people are so rare they are to be cherished.

Much of my life's greatest achievements are the fact that I have surrounded myself with these rare gems of these people.

We must trust that people re better qualified to criticise themselves and more willing than we will ever be. In playing devil's advocate we are supporting the the side of them that holds them back and hesitates. As mentioned before when somebody takes a position in life that isn't voluntary or is unfortunately necessary, trying to shoot down that position in a safe environment is of value. But more often people are taking some kind of personal risk, when people are taking a risk, that risk will weigh enough on their minds already, success and happiness requires risk taking and here we should be encouraging, using our intelligence and honesty to point out how the downside risk is not as big and ugly as it appears.

Second Angle:

If somebody supports our free expression and noble pursuits they are a supporter. If they support our self destructive behaviours they are an enabler.

These two terms have been designated negative and positive meanings arbitrarily they re one and the same thing. Lorenzo Di Medici was as much an enabler of Leonardo Da Vinci as Nancy was a supporter of Sid Vicious.

The limitation of supportive people, is that often they are unconditionally supportive. I mean most partners will get angry if you undertake something obviously self destructive like using heroin, but I mean they support you taking a job, then support you quitting it. They support you, no matter how inconsistent your approach to life is.

The genuinely supportive people are somewhat astringent, they have an opinion about what is best for you, because they (if not you) have observed enough of your behaviour to know what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. Their support is conditional that you exert energy on the useful stuff.

They create a secure base from which they encourage you to go out and take risks. The most common form of support though can be the kind that has you slowly decay into misery.

This is the support that encourages you to stay in your comfort zone, to do whats easy. It is the support that says 'it's okay you can work this job a couple of years and just save money' and 'So you gained a lot of weight, I still love you!' here instead of acknowledging that the individuals wellbeing is best served by finding a chalenging career and maintaining some kind of fitness regime, they are encouraged not to think or worry about their own mortality, and that we only get one shot at achieving true happiness in this life.

Third Angle:

When I am supportive I am self-serving, in part. I think life encourages largely through our education system and economic models a view that success is a competitive venture, that one person's success is by default another's failure. Only so many people get into Medicine and Law courses, the lesser's must content themselves with Dentistry and Actuarial studies. Only one person 'wins' Australian Idol, only one team can hold the premiership cup aloft, the other sits on the oval crying with their head in their hands.

By and large I reject this view. I have a karmic approach to success (though I also know I need to succeed based on my merits, the intrinsic merits of my work that is.) I try to support anybody who is producing something, that makes something, that is creating something of themselves that they offer to the world. I try to accept these gifts whereever able.

I was not always this way, I seldom exerted the effort to go and see what the bravest and best of us were producing. I don't know when or why but one day I just started holding myself personally accountable. I needed to feed my own optimism.

Have you ever been to somebody's party where there was a poor turnout and they fretted more about who wasn't there than who was? That has been me, eventually I realised that I myself generally never bothered to attend parties, and thus had no real right to expect people to attend mine.

In the same way, to believe that I can succeed as an artist, in drawing comics I need to believe that my audience can and does exist, that there are people who will make the effort to come and see our performances, and buy our wares. Once I became such a person, it was much much easier for me to believe that people like me do exist.

I genuinely want people to succeed, sometimes supporting people is easier than other times, but even if I can't relate to the subject matter, that particular expression of that particular artist, I still want them to succeed, I try to think of friends who would enjoy their stuff or help them better than I can.

I don't even give my suport with reciprocal expecttions, I assume this will happen, but the people I support are not necessarily the people who will in turn support me and become my audience.

I just strongly hold the conviction that we have no right to expect support if we provide none of it ourselves. We cannot hope to succeed if we don't help others succeed also.

There is room enough for all of us to be better more productive and creative people in our lives, thus we shouldn't look at the people that can potentially enrich it as competitive threats, but that there success is in some way ours.

Thus win being supportve we should encourage and enable people to be the best of themselves, not the least.

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