When I was 20, my friend introduced the psychological test The Cube to me. I had to relax and focus on my mental awareness. My friend talked me through the scenery. I found myself in a desert. I saw a sand desert (like an extended beach) with dark yellow sand dunes and a dark blue sky. The atmosphere was pleasant and calm. The line of the horizon was more or less in the middle of my image. Now, the first object appeared: a cubic structure. Immediately, in front of my inner eye, a monolithic black massive cube stood firmly and unshakably in the desert sand. It had a metallic flawless surface that nothing could ever scratch. Certainly, it wasn’t hollow, even though we would never be able to find out. The second item was a ladder. I found an old wooden ladder leaning on one of the cube’s walls, about half the height. It was slightly damaged, with missing and broken rungs. Actually, it looked a bit like the old ladder in our horse barn. Now, a horse entered the picture. An impressively majestic black horse, rearing like the one on the Ferrari logo. It stood in a slight distance on the rear left of the cube. The next thing, a storm, didn’t want to fit into my desert. There was no space for a storm, it felt wrong. After a bit of hesitation, I settled my unease with a twister that roamed around at the horizon on the right. It added up to the impressive scenery by being at save distance (certainly never coming closer) and by being an impressive natural phenomenon itself. The last element that I had to add to the picture was flowers (or only one, if that seems more appropriate). A well arranged flower bed, yellow-red flowers surrounded by red bricks, appeared in front of the cube. It felt a bit misplaced, but was much more acceptable than the storm.
After returning to this world, my friend explained to me that all the elements in this image mean something and tell something about me. The desert depicts my soul, the cube is me (or the image I have of myself, my ego), the ladder symbolises friendships, the horse is my partner, the storm represents my perception of problems in my life, and the flowers stand for my (future) children. I learned that my soul is balanced and grounded, that I have a huge ego and strong self-confidence, that the main connection to my partner is admiration and that I wish her to have a strong and independent character, that my life is obviously free from any troubles and problems, and that my ideal concerning my future children will be to take good care of them and let them flourish. I skipped the ladder, here, because I want to talk about this particular item, since this article is about friendship. I may talk about the other insights in other blog posts, maybe. Or I leave it to your interpretation.
The ladder was short (in comparison to the cube), useless and weak. It leaned on the cube and didn’t seem to attract anyone’s attention, like a forgotten tool or discarded trash. The book that my friend used to interpret my picture suggested for this case: Friendships don’t mean much to me. It is rather me who is a stronghold and listener for others who see me as a friend, but not vice versa. My friends don’t lift me up or support me reaching different (higher) spheres. The fact that my ladder is old and broken might hint at past disappointments or other negative experiences with friends. Moreover, while my self appeared indestructible, eternal and firm, my friendships appear labile, perishable and transient.
I can’t tell whether psychology tests like this one make any sense or have any empiric foundation, or if they are not better than astrology and horoscopes. I know from my own experience, playing this game with many of my friends, that it very often resembles the life situation or worldviews of the proband. A woman with huge problems at her job (causing her a broken partnership) had a very strong and devastating storm in her image, blowing away her horse. Another friend who made the conscious decision never to have kids had the flowers trampled down and eaten by the horse. A friend that I would characterise as a dreamer with emotional weaknesses had a fragile glass cube floating above the sand. Let’s just assume for a moment that the depictions somehow represent the actual attitudes and personality traits of the image-maker. In my case, the ladder I visualised made very much sense to me!
I was never a dominant person that had a large group of peers and buddies around. Dominant and loud people scared me. My circle of friends has always been rather small. As a teenager, I had my Pannonia friends, my band mates, and around 5-6 good friends in my class at school. I had no friends in my village except the two boys in my class at Gymnasium. I was boy scout and member of the table tennis club in Hoetmar until the age of 14, and after that didn’t keep any contact with any of the boys and girls there. After Abitur (final exam of Gymnasium), most of the friendships faded away, because I didn’t really feel any urge to maintain them. In many cases I was happy that I didn’t have to meet those idiots anymore, in other cases they were happy that they didn’t have to meet me anymore. I remember, six months after end of Gymnasium, I complained to my best friend Jonas that he and some others meet up but never invite me. He replied that he felt like I don’t fit into that group and that the others don’t have a good image of me. Honestly, I never found out what is wrong with me. I can’t remember being rude or mean or offensive. I guess it has to do with the massive black cube…
The same happened after graduating from university. The few friendships I established – I was never a member of the Club of Cool People – just faded away after some time. When I left Germany in 2013 for Asia, I didn’t feel like leaving any important friendships behind. With modern communication facilities (social media, chat programs), I tried to keep in touch with some friends, but the mutual interest dropped rapidly after being out of sight. At my new (and current) home Taiwan, I only have rather superficial friendships with language exchange partners and (ex) band mates. The interest in what I have to share (for example in this blog, or on facebook) is close to zero. I guess, most people in my friend list on facebook unfollowed my posts. The focus of my current life is you (Tsolmo) and your Mom, besides my books, my music, and my writing.
Why am I so bad at maintaining friendships? Option 1: I am a complete idiot that nobody can like or get along with. Feedback from my wife, from family members, from friends, shows me that I am not that bad. My flaws are at a reasonable level, like everyone has flaws. Option 2: I don’t care. This is what the ladder in the desert image suggests. Friends don’t raise me up. I do! Friends come and go, anyway. Why invest energy, then? An important aspect might also be that I am the kind of person that is very much de-motivated by criticism and personal complaint. I tend to focus on things that I know I am good at and that I know I have a chance to get praised for. I will never sing an unknown song in Karaoke because there is a chance of failure and looking like a fool. I don’t like dancing in a club but would rather play the drums on stage. I will rather choose to meet a friend who likes to hear my advice on something than a group of people who might choose to do something that I am afraid of (like going ice skating). Whenever I feel unpleasant or stressful with people, I will give up trying to be their friend. This was the case with class mates at school, with those at university, with colleagues, and even band mates. Additionally, I am a total homey! I don’t like to go out drinking (but rather invite some buddies to come to my place and have a beer here!), am too thrifty to waste money for expensive drinks or food in restaurants and cafés (but rather invite… see above), and feel most comfortable at home, doing the things that I like (reading, writing, DIY, cooking, baking,…). So, it seems, I just don’t care about friendships.
How is this linked to misanthropy? The crucial question is: Does my situation make me unhappy or even depressed, or not? It is surprisingly difficult for me to answer this, and I spend quite some time and effort on finding out. Psychologists (like my ex-girlfriend, and in many books and research articles) often point out the strong link between firm embedment in social relations and perceived life quality and satisfaction. People with either quantitatively (many) or qualitatively (good) well established friendships are happier, less depressed, more successful and healthier. If that is true, I should be unhappy and gloomy. At the same time, I wonder if it is this generalised insight from the psychologists that causes me pressure and dissatisfaction, but not my situation as such, since I don’t feel unhappy with only few friends and little social interaction. As I explained, I am happy doing the things that I do, and I don’t need friends to ease my mind, because as an introvert I do that remotely on my own. Yet, it bothers me that obviously nobody is interested in my thoughts, ideas and reflections. The quantity is not an issue, but maybe the quality is!
What is a good friend, then? I define friendship mostly via communication. A friend is someone who is willing to share his or her thoughts and ideas, and to listen to my thoughts and ideas and talk about them. Conversations with a good friend don’t need to have any limits or restriction, we can just talk what we feel like. Especially, friends may give each other direct and honest feedback, something that not so close people shouldn’t do! I want a friend who can tell me “Your idea is wrong! Look how you appear like an idiot in this or that situation!“, but also “Wow, I never thought like this! Thanks for the inspiration!“. The basis is, of course, a mutual interest in each other and the other’s well-being. Unfortunately, in the age of facebook, instagram & co., real personal interest is rare. People have 2000 friends in their list, but don’t care about any of them like “traditional” friends. People lose interest when having to read more than three lines of text, but only want to see photos or funny memes. Same as I am not good at (and not interested in) small talk about meaningless nonsense, I am also not good at (in the sense of not willing to) sharing private photos and irrelevant trivial daily-life choices and decisions (like what to eat or what to wear or what to buy). A friend is someone who can give me inspiration, sometimes confirmation, sometimes criticism. I expect open-mindedness, honesty, the willingness to use the brain, and a consciously chosen high level of ethical integrity.
It means: Maybe I would care more about friendships if there were people around me that are worth it? Now, this is a highly offensive statement, of course! And THIS is the misanthropy I am talking about! My image of people in general is so low that I don’t see any necessity in making anybody my friend. If you don’t understand what I am talking about when reflecting on mindfulness, epistemology, constructivism, ethics, good life conduct, then leave it and don’t waste my time! If you don’t appreciate my cognitive skills and my creativity, then I am also not interested in you! I am working on and eliminating my own flaws, but if you are not willing to even face yours, then I have difficulties having any respect for you! You smoke? Weakling! You wear make-up? Mindless consumer! You think philosophy is useless? End of the conversation! You hate jazz? Goodbye!
Obviously, my expectation on people is very very high! Some (my Mom, for example) interpret that as arrogance. I look down on people, obviously. I disagree. I am very self-critical! I have many flaws! I am not better than anybody else. Sure, I have skills that others don’t have, but others have skills that I don’t have and never will have! I am not above anyone, so I can’t look down on anyone. I just demand a lot! Especially smartness and wisdom. And this is the major problem, as mentioned earlier: Most personal flaws are the result of not using the brain properly. The cardinal vice that people can have, the deadliest sin, is idiocy. I try very hard to eliminate all idiocy from my personality and character. However, I can’t see this attempt in many people. That’s what I dislike about people: lack of effort on self-reflection and self-cultivation! That’s my misanthropy and the reason for me having so little motivation to build friendships.
Or, maybe, I didn’t meet the right people, for reasons that are my very own problem. Fear (of failure, of humiliation, of trouble), attachment (in the Buddhist sense, to my habits and patterns), bitterness (from past experiences). Instead, I am King in my castle. The massive black cube…
To close this topic, here is one last message to you, Tsolmo: Don’t be like your father! Probably, you won’t experience your father as a very social person, going out with his buddies, often inviting visitors, or giving friendships an outstanding value. Yet, I hope you won’t become an asocial person like me! Meet friends, invite them to our home, visit theirs, establish strong bonds that give you emotional and cognitive support! It is important for your independence and for your personal development and integrity! You may take me as an idol in some respect, but please not in this one!