Works in progress: People


We invite people into our lives, and some of them end up being a lot more like work than pleasure. It is not that we never get pleasure from these people-as-work. Much like having a real job, there is a lot of satisfaction to be derived when things are going well, when some endeavor is successful. But much like a real job, there are a lot of deadlines, a lot of traits and parts that you just don’t want to face or deal with. It’s a potent mix of good and bad… so good sometimes that you thrive and enjoy all the challenges and successes to the point that you can’t tear yourself away, so bad sometimes that you bitch, moan, complain and cannot fathom finding one ounce of usable motivation to continue.

Much of our investment in another is predicated on the idea that s/he will change or better him/herself. Unfortunately, experience shows that people rarely, if ever, change. A man may swear up and down that he is ready to “elevate his game”, step up to the plate, improve his odds, invest in his future, hang around with a better class of people, channel and focus his energies appropriately, live a different kind of life, but the patterns are already carved in stone. Change is both difficult and frightening. Expecting it, counting on it, is a fatal mistake and not one you can ever bank on. “It could change/it will never…”.

Am I getting a return on investment here?
It would be unfair and inhuman to calculate a ROI in material or monetary terms. In human relations, there is no such breakdown. However, to ask whether we spend more time happy or unhappy, content or constantly wringing the hands in agony, is valid and sensible (insofar as we can be sensible in relationships). We rarely display the kind of cold-hearted wisdom in les affaires du coeur that we apply to business, but perhaps we should. Would we continue to pour time, effort, resources into an enterprise teetering so precariously on the edge of failure in business?

It is not about the straightforward accounting of monetary resources. It is about so much more when human emotions are entangled. A case in point: it was stated by one party to a relationship that, if he had the means, he would never deny anyone close to him what they needed and would always be supportive. This is an easy statement to make when one has no means at all to test the theory. The listener listened and wanted to counter, though remaining silent, "You don’t need ‘means’ to be supportive emotionally. That would be FREE. But you weren't and never are. How do you expect me to believe that you would be any different with money?" (This was perhaps not fair, of course, because emotional support is a much more touchy and difficult offering. Some among us will give away our last dime but can be pretty stingy with the, admittedly, more difficult nuances of emotional support.)

The idea of the human return on investment boils down to the simple fact that two parties are open to, and want to, give of themselves on whatever level is needed, with whatever resources they have at their respective disposal. When one gives and gives from all the reserves s/he has, and the other mostly just takes (thoughtlessly, not thinking of the needs of the other), there is no return on the investment. One party, the investor, is really not getting what s/he needs. At all.

In human terms, though, the urge to take care of another person, regardless of how little they give back to you, is sometimes so strong that the ROI equation ends up being meaningless.

One thought on “Works in progress: People

Leave a Reply