MindGames Chapter 2

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Chapter Two — What Is Other People’s Craziness?

Mindgames Front Cover 2Other People’s Craziness encompasses all the bad stuff other people do to you without a righteous cause. OPC springs forth from their immaturity, insecurity, selfishness, arrogance, corruption, evil, or dysfunction. It includes all the threats and aggravations you deal with every day. If it causes you grief, and somebody else is doing it, and you don’t have it righteously coming to you, then it’s OPC.

Most of us will be able to sniff out four cesspools of OPC in our lives: Family, Work, Social Networks, and the System.

Family OPC

Your dad gambles the family into bankruptcy. No matter how much your mom works, she can’t bring in enough. When they visit, he acts like nothing’s wrong. When your neighbor’s pretty wife strolls by, you watch your dad eye her up and down. Like always, your mom just goes to her happy place.

Your mom gushes over your sister’s new hairstyle, not saying a word about yours. Then she zings you with one of her classic compliments: “The pork roast is really tasty, even though it’s a little dry.” You flash back to mixed praise for your kindergarten art.

Parental OPC towers over other sources in its impact. It defaces your self-image and launches you on a lifelong quest for unconditional love and unmixed praise.

That quest easily spills over from family OPC into marital OPC.

How many gallons of emotional fuel do some couples burn each day on their spouse’s craziness in the bathroom only? Seat up, seat down. Toilet paper unrolls from the top or the bottom. Do you think your dirty laundry is going to crawl by itself into the hamper? Do you have to flood the whole bathroom when you shower? Leave some hot water for me. Don’t squeeze the tube in the middle. There’s a little lever here, and if you push it, it flushes—you should try it once in a while.

And that’s just one room.

The Psalmist boasts, “I will lead a life of integrity in my own home” (Psalm 101:2). But then he didn’t marry a certifiable nut like you did.

Nowhere does marital OPC manifest itself more than in your bedroom. Or in the bedroom of the person with whom your demented spouse had an affair. Enough said.

Sexual OPC manifests itself in pornography, affairs, promiscuity, sexual-deviance, flirtatiousness, inhibited sexual desire, fetishes, non-medically caused impotence, and a lot of other practices I might mention if I didn’t know my mom would read this book. Whatever the manifestation, if you married it, you’re stuck living with it.

So sorry.

I’m not knocking marriage. It’s a great blessing. God intends it for your pleasure. Your fun. Your healing. Married sex is a blast. Kids need married parents whenever possible. Society needs married families. Marriage is a gift from God. I love being married. And I love my wife and kids.

But marriage is also the riskiest step you’ll ever take because of the way it magnifies OPC. So choose carefully. Be willing to live with the OPC you choose, because I guarantee your spouse has been infected (with OPC—for other infections, seek medical attention).

Even so, your partner’s craziness—whether mild and adorable or severe and scary—is not your fault.

Marital OPC invariably gets transmitted to your kids (not from you, but from your crazy ex- or your dysfunctional spouse—we’re not talking about you, remember?). Despite your best intentions, infestations of OPC scurry from limb to limb of your family tree.

Don’t worry, though. Your kids will return your OPC investment with compound interest—as surly teenagers and young adults, telling the world of your vast array of failures through social media. It all comes around.

In its mild forms, family OPC can be endearing, quirky, and cute. If Grandpa didn’t leave his toenails on the end table, if Aunt Alice didn’t pull out her teeth for the kids, and if cousin Karl no longer licked the ketchup drip off the bottle, what fun would holiday dinners be? The crazy stuff—when it’s mild—makes your family worth a visit.

But in extreme forms, family OPC wreaks havoc on tender psyches and leaves a legacy of woundedness that can last a lifetime—unless you discover the secrets of rising above Other People’s Craziness.

Workplace/School OPC

When your boss drags her boatload of OPC into the office and screeches at you for a late report, all you can do is back into the corner of your cage and lick your wounds like a stressed-out Schnoodle. You need your job, so you grin and bear it, day after day. This makes you edgy when you hit the gym or finally get home to your spouse and kids. But it’s not your fault. Honestly, you’re a decent person and nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen.

Job satisfaction in America has plummeted over the last three decades. A majority of employees are dissatisfied with their careers.

Could OPC account for this? Could obsessive bosses, pressured by stressed-out upper management, make workplaces a living hell for humble underlings who just want to make a decent living and be able to afford rib-eyes once in a while?

Let’s not even get started with technology. Devices. Operating systems. Painful upgrades, spreadsheets, texting, syncing, networking, and the I.T. department.

And O.S.H.A. and regulators and environmental laws.

Then what about customers? Some of them are great. Thank God for them. But others crawled out from under a rock just to torment you.

What low form of life would return tires to a store he didn’t buy them from? When a customer in Fairbanks, Alaska returned four car tires to Nordstrom’s, the clerk reached into the till and refunded the money. Nordstrom’s has never sold tires. The customer gleefully accepted the refund, most likely guaranteeing his reservation in the hottest part of hell.[i]

Bad customers are what happen when implacability collides with miserliness and then splits to form a bad-tipper and an early-bird diner. They’re not looking for dinner. Or a supplier. Or merchandise.

They’re looking for a mommy. And you have to suckle them. It’s your job. So sorry.

Same with the ant colony commonly known as school. All you want is to get an education and have a good time (not necessarily in that order). Yet you spend your days distracted by that creepy classmate from Sociology who leers at you when he thinks you’re not looking and always ends up at the same table as you in the cafe-gym-natorium. You’ve told your R.A., but there’s nothing she can do.

What about the girl who flirted with you and dumped you? Or the guy who flirted with you and turned out to be gay?

Schools breed OPC like Petri dishes breed staphylococci.

Enough crazy energy comes at you from your workplace or school to fuel a rocket ship to Mars.

Unfortunately the OPC doesn’t stop there.

Social Network OPC

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, dating sites—even stretching back to misty memories of MySpace—social media strains every day, laboring to birth its prolific brood of craziness.

But it’s not just online.

A few years back, while working in a previous church, I was served a healthy heaping of Social Network OPC in the form of a Homeowners Association. I had just arrived at my office, a forty-minute commute from home, when my wife phoned, sobbing. She was 35 weeks pregnant with our first child, so my emotions leaped to DEFCON one. Between sobs, my articulate, bright attorney and wife blurted out something like, “The men from the… ah… ah… homeowners’ association came and said… sniff… that our new fence… snort!… doesn’t conform to the bylaws… blachawahwah… and we have to tear it… down… waaaaahhhh. I want to… ahhh… moooooove… ahahahah…”

Welcome to life in a suburban subdivision. We had just spent $1,800.00 on a new fence around the back yard of our new house. My next-door neighbor lodged a complaint that it didn’t conform to the precious bylaws. Never mind that I had cleared the fence design with the President of the homeowners’ association three times via phone. It didn’t matter. Three mealy-mouthed male officers of the homeowners’ association knocked at my door during business hours, armed with tape measures, knowing that I’d be gone and my wife would be home alone.

Never mind that the fence was beautiful—split-rail cedar with a black wire mesh. Never mind that it exceeded the neighborhood standard of chain link. Or that, due to a sloping yard, only four feet of it was visible from the sidewalk. Or that the sacred bylaws required said fence if we had dogs (how I wish my wife had just released the hounds).

Never mind all that. Some nosy neighbor didn’t like it, so the Knights of Fence Rectitude Templar convened in a smoke-filled room in the dark of night to plot their foray to my front door so they could pronounce their findings to my vulnerable wife not seven days into our new home.

“Your fence posts are one inch too high. Tear them down.”

I am not making this up.

After the smoke cleared—fence intact—I found out to my extreme gratification that my neighbor’s wife really laid into him for making a pregnant woman cry. He later extended an apology, which I accepted with punishingly detached cordiality.

My wife is still working on forgiveness. Our daughter is in high school.

Wherever two or three people are gathered, Social Network OPC will be in their midst.

Think of social networks as all the places you go or browse when you’re not working, attending classes, sleeping, or at home. Wherever people congregate, OPC flourishes: in every store, subdivision, gang, gym, club, tavern, coffee house, synagogue, forum, website comment section, and church. It hangs out in singles groups and senior citizen centers. High school youth-groups and church-based small groups.

Even your friends have it. Shall we recount the times our friends have let us down? Sure, why not! There was the time my ex-best friend flirted with and planted a reputedly juicy kiss on my ex-girlfriend. And the time one of my wife’s ex-best friends gossiped a spiteful slander about my wife to a friend of a friend of a friend and it got back to us from 2,309 miles away.

OPC is OPC, even from your friends. Your social networks teem with it.

But it gets even worse. Because you don’t just have to deal with other people’s craziness, sometimes, the system sends OPC your way too.

Systemic OPC

A congressional aid told me of a paper mill in a nearby town that wanted to harvest the unscorched timber in the aftermath of a forest fire. Delay would make the timber unusable.

Enter the Federal Forestry Department.

I love my country. I sing along with the national anthem at sporting events. I am an unashamed, flag-waving American.

But federal departments are another story.

The Forestry Department, a.k.a. the Federal Department for the Protection of Dead Things, worried that if the mill harvested dead trees they might kill nearby dead vegetation. Plus, it wouldn’t be good for the dead trees.

Logging permit denied.

Now, who’s to blame for such insanity? A department. The Congress. The local Forestry Department division. The problem is that everybody’s just doing their jobs. The mill operator was spitting mad, but had nobody to be mad at.

This California paper mill continues to import trees from New Zealand to produce paper.

Crazy.

Call it the System or The Man or Fate. When something’s driving you crazy, and you can’t put a name to it, turn over a few dead logs and you’ll find Systemic OPC.

I’ll put disease and random crime into this category too. Racism. Sexism. All the other –isms and phobias. Ditto with hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. They may be called “acts of God,” but you’re unlikely to get much satisfaction if you yell at him.

Who’s to blame? The System. The Man. Nobody. Everybody.

I am so sorry.

It’s not your fault. Others may blame you. They may look down their superior noses and whisper of your foibles and failures. But not me. I don’t blame you. I don’t shame you. I’m on your side. Crazies on your left. Crazies on your right. I get it. I’m proud you’ve made it this far without becoming a newspaper headline.

* * *

Other People’s Craziness is a genuine phenomenon and I’m here to make it certifiable.

And, really, no heaps of guilt or shame. In the spirit of full disclosure, toward the later chapters of the book, we’ll start pointing out what you can do. No, OPC is not your fault, but dealing with it becomes your responsibility. Bummer, I know. I’ll be gentle.

And take hope! You can tap into power you never knew you had. Esther’s story shows the way.

So click off the glaring lamp. Arise from the hot seat. Step away from the third degree. You’re free to go. It’s not your fault. The butler did it. Your fence conforms.

Now, let’s dig into an enduring story and start spreading blame for the misery in your life where it really belongs: on lots and lots of other people.

* * *

Check Ups

I’ll follow each chapter with a couple of “Check Ups.” These are practical applications designed to spark group discussion or personal reflection.

Check Up 1: Understand the source of OPC—we live in a fallen world.

Other People’s Craziness doesn’t have rights to our world; it’s an alien invader. God created a perfect world, and set the human race in a perfect environment. We blew it, corporately speaking. Our original parents fell into sin, and dragged everyone and everything down with them. Don’t be too hard on Adam and Eve, though. Every day you prove that, if you were in their sandals, you would have made the same apocalyptic choice.

We can’t blame God for it. He is not the author either of sin or its evil twin, OPC. We asked for it.

Sin introduced a moral twist into the fabric of all creation, including us. Old-time Christians called it a “corruption of nature.” Today we call it “original sin” or “the old sin nature.” Whatever you call it, it’s the source of OPC and we brought it upon ourselves.

This fallen world is a morally broken pain machine.

And you’re stuck inside it. So sorry.

This means that the OPC events in your life are not unrelated bits of bad luck. They are, instead, the gnarled outgrowths of a single malignant root: sin. The good news is that God has a single solution, wrapped up in his Son, Jesus. More about him later.

Because sin, evil and OPC are invaders—and not core attributes of human nature—God can exterminate them without altering our essential humanness. He can restore our original innocence. He can reverse the effects of OPC. That’s his plan, but it’s going to take a while. So hang in there; a better day is coming.

FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION: Does the Bible let us blame God for evil? What does James 1:13-16 say about that? Discuss or journal a time when you blamed God for some OPC that afflicted you.

Check Up 2: Don’t be surprised by anybody’s capacity to be crazy.

OPC is pandemic. Don’t be shocked when it slithers from under its rock and strikes.

Even at our best we can’t restore Paradise. The world’s brokenness hovers like a dark cloud over every silver lining. No matter how noble your neighbor, pastor, or spouse may be, they are still tainted by sin, and therefore capable of big-league craziness.

Unless you reconcile yourself to the fallen condition of the world, you’ll join the Order of the Perpetually Peeved. Never satisfied, you’ll zero in on the flaws of others like a heat-seeking missile.

The only way to stay afloat on this OPC-ocean called life is by accepting the inevitable. St. Peter taught: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Don’t be surprised; your sanity depends on it.

FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION: What does 1 Peter 4:8, 9 tell you about the universality of OPC? Discuss or journal 2 or 3 ways in which OPC has dramatically affected your life. Journal some life stories that illustrate each variety of OPC: family, workplace/school, social network, and the system.

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