Opposites

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell


Tony gets it wrong

Tony is a self-made man. He runs his own, small marketing company. He made good money from it. In the boom years. Tony is quick to make decisions. He sees the world in black and white, and has firm, unwavering opinions. On everything. He has a gut feel for things, he tells himself, so does not need to dwell on the detail. He lives life at a fast pace and does everything with a sense of urgency. He is a risk-taker and proud of it. He hates people who dither and moan. They should just get on with it, in his view. They should be more resilient, more decisive. Like him. He does not ‘suffer fools’. “The world is made up of winners and whiners,” he says, and he is a winner. He is short-tempered and quick to anger. He will manipulate and mislead people to get what he wants. “This is not about making friends,” he has been known to say. “It is about making money.”

He points to his office, his smart suits, his Mercedes as signs that he knows what making yourself happy is about. Meanwhile, his personal life has fallen apart, he is having an affair, he has a poor relationship with his children, and his marriage is crumbling.


Julie gets it wrong

Julie is cautious. She needs a lot of reassurance before making any decision, no matter how small. Her decision-making is good, but she overthinks things and always needs persuading, pushing even, to take that leap. She is passive, quiet and unassuming. Although she is very bright, she was in a dead-end job which she ultimately lost through depression. “Anyway, no one on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time in the office,” she tells herself.

She is self-deprecating and polite. To a fault. She takes no space for herself; she would rather leave the space for others. She is giving, thoughtful and kind. She is a listener and is prepared to sacrifice her own interests for a friend in need. Julie hates it when people tell her what she should or should not be doing – implying she should be more decisive or assertive. She is not interested in ‘solutions’ she will tell them, she is interested in ‘empathy’. She points to her close friendships as proof that she knows what making yourself happy is about.


They both get it wrong

Julie is married to Tony. They are opposites that attracted at one point, but the strain has been growing recently and the relationship is in trouble. The two should complement each other. The one focused on work, on getting stuff done; the other more interested in people and relationships. But they don’t. They are constantly sniping at one another, spiralling towards divorce.

Tony is irritated at Julie’s lack of assertiveness and thinks she should ‘toughen up’; Julie is frustrated at Tony’s gaucheness and thinks he should be kinder and more considerate. They are both right about each other, yet completely blind to the faults in themselves. She thinks she is just being thoughtful, prudent and considerate when she is actually being indecisive and complaisant; he thinks he is being big and tough when he is just being selfish.

They criticise each other so they can feel better about themselves, of course. But neither one is happy … Julie is depressed and in counselling; Tony is increasingly angry with the world, lurching from one fight to the next.

We cannot depend on someone else to ‘complete’ us; we each need to take responsibility both for our strengths and our weaknesses, and responsibility for finding something approaching a balance.

“Work hard and be nice to people.” Anthony Burrill


Published by Peter Runkel

Being quite reserved, I have always been interested in those people at the other end of the spectrum - the ones with an unswerving self-belief, sometimes apparently quite out of proportion to their abilities. I wanted to be like them - their lives seemed so much easier by comparison. Now, having thought about it, I’m not so sure I do. I think they have also got it wrong, just in the equal and opposite way. And it's actually about finding some sort of balance.

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