The man the world made

My sister worries for me. She’s midway thru becoming a fully qualified nurse and since learning a bit about medicine has come to speculate on the effects my circumstances are having on my health. Stress wears you down, she says. Dealing with conflict and acting under duress day after day is bad for the blood pressure. It’s the perpetual nature of the immense pressure I’ve had to contend she tells me, kindly, and typically, proclaiming that it will cut years off my life span.

I respond as graciously as I can. I point out, much to my own surprise, that there appear no outward signs of this stress. How often do you see someone take on a stressful role and turn grey in the space of months? Quite often. I’m no more grey now than I was at the beginning of the year. My face remains unlined, my eyes undimmed. I point to the fact that I’m actually good at this, and always have been – and indeed to her own words about my relaxed state of mine.

Still, I do worry. Not that I would ever admit that.

Just in the last 24 hours I’ve realised how much I hate what I’ve become. I’m not down on myself. I think I remain fundamentally the same person. What I mean is that circumstances have eroded many of the things that I have thought so integral to me as a man. At the same time they’ve forced to the surface elements of myself I’d rather keep in the background.

I think I have to admit that I’m a feisty character. I don’t think it’s necessarily evident from the moment you meet me. I think I come across as reasonably relaxed and easy-going, though perhaps thoughtful to. The feistiness emerges when it must, which these days is more often than not.

When I’m feisty I’m defiant and combative. Sometimes I’m belligerent. This whole experience, I’ve discovered, has given me a blunt, heavy edge. Threats have no affect on me, except perhaps to rile me up more. It’s no fun being backed into a corner, but trapped there I’ll turn and fight my way out. I’m fortunate that I’m dialled to the more aggressive end of the meter. Some may question that, but it’s my conviction that this innate resistance has allowed me survive. I don’t like being told what do, even when it’s the world telling me.

All the same, I am weary of it, and made sour by the person it has made me seem. I was brought up with a very particular set of values. Most of them I absorbed from parents and a family who set great store in doing the right thing. Occasionally they were made explicit. I grew up with my father’s dictums ringing in my ears. From him by example and in his words I came to understand the importance of determination, and the pleasure in striving for something beyond your reach. My mother was equally concerned that I upheld humane notions, equality, compassion, good manners, courtesy. They seem very old world now.

I’ve been proud to be that person. For the most part it has come naturally to me, as lessons learned in youth generally do. Now though, and not for the first time, I am faced with conflict on all sides. I’ve learned that the values I learned way back when are archaic notions out there in the rough and tumble of the real world. When you’re in the position I am it’s the rare organisation that treats you with the courtesy you expect.

Just in the last 24 hours I’ve done battle on multiple fronts. I had to deal with a finance company who went back on a deal we’d made with no compunction at all. Their representative was rude and indifferent. It puts me in a still more difficult situation, and I was disgusted that they would act so dishonourably. My reaction to them encompassed that breadth of feeling.

I’ve been in dispute with my (ex) accountant. Yesterday it degenerated – on his part – into an unprofessional and ultimately personal attack on me. I think I have right on my side, and I suspect he knows it. I brushed off his cheap shots – they have no effect these days – and when I responded did so in measured and polite tones. That’s the best way to communicate effectively, besides, nothing is more annoying than dealing with an unflustered foe when you’ve just gone and lost your shit.

Besides these I have the ATO to deal with, as well as a whole bunch of other demands I can’t possibly meet. Some people, it has to be said, are reasonable and considerate, but many more couldn’t give a toss. I’m sick of trying to make ends meet when they are actually poles apart, but if I were not so feisty I think it likely I’d have been brow-beaten into submission by now.

This is not who I am though. I’m honest and reliable and trustworthy. That’s what I was brought up to be. It’s what has always been important to me – to act with honour and grace, to be good to my word, to be true. Yet circumstances make that near impossible. I am left with hardly a card to play with. I try to stay true to those values, but in a world that doesn’t care and with hostility all around me it seems quaintly old world and irrelevant. No matter how I act I am now tainted. I’m judged not by my conduct, nor by my intentions, but whether I can deliver to those who demand it of me. I can’t, and so I am judged harshly as a man.

This is the final un-pinning of self, I think. Ultimately what you have is yourself, and for a man such as me particularly that is so important. I’ll do my best and I’ll continue to fight, but I feel myself losing traction and respect in the world I’ve lived in for so long. It’s not my doing, but I can’t help but feel diminished as a man – and not only because I’m unable to meet my obligations, but because the world doesn’t care if I have dignity or believe in being honest. If I can’t give them what they want then, with few, but gleaming exceptions, I’m a no-hoper unworthy of their courtesy.

It says something pretty poor about the world as it is today. I do, I feel shabby.

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