The Elevator Test

I grew up in poverty, chaos, and profound violence.

I spent so much of my childhood convinced I wouldn’t actually survive it, it still often surprises me that I did. More than surviving, I’ve even built a love-filled adult life with a gentle partner and kids who know what I experienced without, blessedly, “knowing” it as I did.

Why put quotation marks around “knowing”? The answer is often clearer, in my experience, to people who’ve already endured life-shattering violence than those who have not, yet:

There are different ways of knowing.

In security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, he writes at length about the power of intuition to enhance safety. Far from being silly and spun from misguided fancy, “when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  1. It is always in response to something.
  2. It always has your best interest at heart.”

Unfortunately, for people without close personal exposure to violence, these words can seem abstract. Trivial. That intuition could provide meaningful data that thought-filled analysis alone cannot often runs counter to their personal experience of the world.

Not having seen the beast up close even once, let alone spent years in its presence, they misunderstand where it lives, how it moves, and what it looks like. Continue reading “The Elevator Test”

Empathy, hijacked

Until two weeks ago, I misunderstood psychopathy.

I believed that all psychopaths were serial killers, and vice versa. I also believed that their numbers were infinitesimally small.

They were, in other words, not worth much consideration, for the chance they’d impact my life personally was negligible.

My path to learning otherwise began with a simple question: What’s it called when someone treats you not as a human, but a need-meeting device? I figured there had to be a word for it, but I didn’t know what that word was.

Fortunately, I happened across a book that answered the question in a single, succinct sentence. In The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success at Work and in Relationships in a Shortcut World, Dr. John Townsend writes, “When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of a desired commodity, that is objectification.”

There was my word: objectification.

I was surprised. Seeing this definition, it was immediately clear I’d misunderstood objectification as strictly sex-related. That misunderstanding had barred me from identifying prior experiences with objectification for what they were.

Armed with the word, I began searching for information on people especially prone to objectifying others. What would these people look like? What other kinds of behaviors might appear together with a propensity to objectify?

I found a few articles on “social predation.” In these articles, I found affirmation that objectification as a routine behavior doesn’t often travel alone.

The people who routinely exhibited this suite of behaviors were “social predators.” Having never found that term before, then, I looked up “social predation.” How had I never heard of it? The answer quickly became clear: when traveling together, this suite of behaviors is more commonly referred to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy.”

I needed more information than I could glean from a couple of articles. I needed a framework. In short, I needed a book.

I first read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, in which the author uses the words “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” interchangeably.

As I read, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. Continue reading “Empathy, hijacked”