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Mister "E"

by Melanie Anne Phillips

One Saturday, my boyfriend and I were driving down to San Diego for a party and stopped to pick up Mister "E", a friend of Andy's who was riding with us. Andy and Mister "E" belong to the same martial arts organization. When Mister "E" opened the door to his small, bachelor pad apartment, I couldn't help but notice that his walls were covered with martial arts pictures and weapons, leaving space for little else. This degree of focus always raises a flag with me, so I resolved to keep my mind open to Evan's conversation during our 2 1/2 hour trip and see if I could ascertain what was truly motivation this single-minded behavior.

Mister "E" was somewhat curt and abrasive, highly opinionated and negativistic. On the way to the car, Andy asked of me a question that clearly divulged that it was my car, but Andy would be driving. When we arrived at the car, Mister "E" stood back expecting me to take the back seat, so he could take the front. At the time, I thought it was just a chauvinistic assumption, but was later to see what was really driving his actions.

Of course, me being me, I would have no unspoken restrictions alter my desired course, so I simply told him, "You get the back seat." He was irritated, but covered it fairly well, adopting a mannered excuse for n ot having assumed the arrangement on his own, and squeezed into the back of the tiny sports car.

No sooner had we pulled away from the curb, but Mister "E" began to contradict whatever Andy or myself said. First we had to decide if we should stay on the side street until the next freeway connection, or go back to the first freeway and use it to connect to the second. Andy and I opted for the side street approach, and Mister "E" denounced it as a poor choice.

Once on the freeway, we needed to choose staying on that one, or taking a connecting freeway. I opted for staying on that one, Andy agreed, as soon as we hit some traffic and had to slow down, Mister "E" began complaining that we should have taken the other freeway.

At first, I became perturbed with him, but said nothing as he was Andy's friend. But after he kept harping on the same theme, I simply told him, "At this point we have two choices: we can keep going or go back and take the other freeway" (indicating my desire for Mister "E" to stop trashing the choice I had made, as going back was obviously a poor alternative since we had already come so far). Mister "E" replied, that maybe we should go back. Both Andy and I ignored the comment, as it was so unreasonable as not to warrant response.

Every time Mister "E" tried to dump negative responsibility, guilt, or insecurity on me, I tossed it back at him, and eventually he left me alone. But only to pick on Andy. And Andy, being the gentle sort he is, refused to be drawn into an argument. Eventually, Mister "E", seeing he could not diminish the pleasant mood that Andy and I were sharing, took to silence in the back seat and stopped talking altogether.

We stopped at one point for hot tea at MacDonald's, and when we returned to the car, Mister "E" waited by the door again for me to get in first. I once more said, "You're still in the back" and he grudgingly climbed in.

As we reached the party, he left the car before we had parked, claiming the need to use the bathroom. For the rest of the five hour evening, he came nowhere near us until he finally approached Andy to say he wanted to get his things out of the car, as he had met another friend he wanted to ride back with and talk to. This approach was made in the middle of an important speaker's presentation, and Andy, being non-abrasive, left the party to accommodate Mister "E"'s wishes The rest of the evening went smoothly, and we did not see Mister "E" again that night.

I had not thought of Mister "E" during the remainder of the evening, but the following Monday morning, after a psychology class, I began to turn my attention to the initial question I had as to what would drive Mister "E" to focus so heavily on his martial arts. Piece by piece, all that had happened began to fit together in a unified understanding of this antagonistic man.

Mister "E" is in his late twenties or early thirties. He suffers from unfocused feelings of inadequacy. They are unfocused because they underlie all that he thinks and does. But since in Mental Relativity, one side of the Equation will always be defined and the other diffuse, if his feelings of inadequacy (inequity) are diffuse, the balance to that inequity (single-minded devotion to martial arts) will be defined.

This is clearly the case with Mister "E". His feelings of inadequacy are so all pervasive, they seem to come from all directions. He cannot deal with a diffuse enemy, so he has adopted a single area in which he hopes to excel and thereby refute the holistic inadequacy he feels. Of course, this approach never works, as the true inequity that underlies the diffuse inequity is really a defined thing. And any attempt to resolve it by focusing somewhere else will only perpetuate the underlying pattern that is responsible for his feelings of inadequacy. Nonetheless, he sees power in his martial arts and seeks approval of self by others through that path.

In order to adopt an attitude linking his self-worth to his martial acumen, he would need to be the very best martial artist of all, or to become its most zealous disciple. Finding his skills to be less than the very best, he was left with option 2. This caricature-like devotion to his concept of a martial arts "master" was not reflective of the true fine ideals of the discipline as practiced by Andy, but is warped and unbalanced by the need to balance Mister "E"'s own unbalanced perspective.

So, Mister "E" equated "rank" and "status" with worth. And when we initially came down to the car when picking him up, sitting in the front seat, rather than behind a woman, was assumed if he were to have his status proven or boosted. My insistence, as an assertive woman, that he take the back seat placed him in second class status with Andy, and therefore below me in status.

At first he tried to discredit me, not by arguing with my choices, but by complaining that they had been poor ones. Since I rebuffed his efforts in that area by reminding him that he may be right that the choice may have been poor, but no purpose would be served by fretting over it after the fact, he turned to Andy for satisfaction, hoping to have better luck in buoying his self-image.

In keeping with his chauvinistic attitude (part of his distorted view of the martial arts credo), he rationalized his inability to undermine me by telling himself I didn't really matter anyway, as I was Andy's girl and Andy, therefore, was to blame for hi s problem. With this projection, he started in on Andy. But as I have noted, Andy is not easily perturbed, and when Mister "E" failed to irritate him, he gave up all together.

Now, once we arrived, Mister "E" could have dealt with his problem in one of two ways: he could have confronted us with the unfairness and asked to sit in the front on the way back (an argument I would have had to bow to) or he could have simply decided not to let it bother him, and enjoyed the evening. But Mister "E", unable to expose his own feelings of inadequacy, could not bring the subject up directly as an argument or complaint, for then he would feel he had exposed his low sense of self-worth. Of course this would not have been true, as we would simply have looked at the issue of fairness. But since he had already linked the situation to a rebuff to his value, he could not directly confront it.

As far as the other choice goes, to simply accept the situation was also not possible for him, since he felt diminished by the experience and needed to rebuild his own sense of value. How long he pondered the dilemma I do not know, probably until just before he approached Andy later in the evening. Eventually, he realized that by finding another ride, he could avoid further damage to his feelings, and also inflict revenge on us in a way that would not leave him open to attack, but at the same time re-balance his self worth, by making us the rejected ones instead of him. Now this is a sad case, as hurt feelings are the prime motivator for this poor man. His life must have little joy in it. And the saddest part of all is that it needn't continue this way

If I had known of this aspect of Mister "E" sooner, I would have taken the following approach with him instead. Rather than being combative and turning his negative comments to me back toward him, I would have accepted his criticism and gently reminded him that we all make mistakes and its okay to do so. This would be a clue to him, a tool or a seed that he need not knock himself with every failure. By accepting others he could learn to accept himself.

Beyond that, I would have found several occasions to honestly compliment him on his nature as a human being, all the while not focusing on compliments to his skills in martial arts, as I would not want to strengthen his belief that his approach is successful in resolving his troubles.

Certainly, I would not be turning his life around by these simple tacks, but I would be adding some positive ingredients to the mix that must be sorely lacking from his normal daily interpersonal consumption. If, then, I were to meet him in the future through Andy (which is now unlikely, due to the approach I did use) I could continue to offer him the raw material he needs to build a positive self-image. Over time, a real impact could be made.

So, should the opportunity arise to bring a little more happiness to Mister "E" in the future, I will opt for that course, knowing it is its own reward.

Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips

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