I’m reading The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. The book is about how to recognize and deal with the sort of everyday monster who won’t stab you with a knife but will stab you in the back at work, cut you off at the knees in your endeavors, or be a murderously awful family member or neighbor.
Having gotten close to way too many sociopaths in my younger and dumber years, I’m well armored against the type (knock wood). Still, Stout’s book does have some good information, including reports on recent brain studies of sociopaths.
Perhaps the most useful part is Stout’s “Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life.” As I read her list, it struck me that Stout was giving good advice not just for dealing with conscienceless, empathy-lacking individuals, but with institutions, too. Especially the One Big Institution we all know and love so well.
Here are the 13 rules in Stout’s words with commentary in mine. Nothing here is meant to imply that Stout would agree with my interpretation; she probably wouldn’t. But the rules are still good, no matter what sort of psychopath you’re dealing with.
THIRTEEN RULES FOR DEALING WITH SOCIOPATHS IN EVERYDAY LIFE AND GOVERNMENT
1. The first rule involves the bitter pill of accepting that some people literally have no conscience. ‘Nuff said, yes?
2. In a contest between your instincts and what is implied by the role a person has taken on — educator, doctor, leader, animal lover, humanist, parent — go with your instincts. And need we add police officer, district attorney, judge, legislator, minister, bureaucrat, ATF agent, or general media-annointed “expert”? They want you to see the facade, not the reality. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you!” — Oh my!
3. When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has. One pile of BS might be an innocent cowflop. Two says there’s a herd of bulls in the vicinity. Three really fresh piles says you’re going to get stampeded if you don’t get out of the way.
4. Question authority.
5. Suspect flattery. Oh, you Glorious Little People, you. They love you so at election time.
6. If necessary, redefine your concept of respect. Being terrified of somebody doesn’t mean you respect them. Or should. On the contrary.
7. Do not join the game. Don’t reduce yourself to the sociopath’s level. Don’t play his headgames. Don’t vote for him. Don’t buy into what he says should be your standards or your values. Don’t waste your life trying to figure out why he does what he does or how to stop him. Just write him off and walk away.
8. The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.
9. Question your tendency to pity too easily. OMG, how they have used that one to get their way!
10. Do not try to redeem the unredeemable.
11. Never agree, out of pity or for any other reason, to help a sociopath conceal his or her true character. The individual psycho says, “Please don’t tell.” The government psycho says he was hiking the Appalachian trail. Or that he found WMDs in Iraq. Or that he honestly, truly believed that waterboarding wasn’t torture. No mercy for those folks. No mercy. At. All.
12. Defend your psyche. Don’t give up on humanity or freedom just because government is so overwhelmingly filled with liars, users, and control freaks. They want you to give up, to become inert, to say, “It’s hopeless.” Because then they rule. But …
13 Living well is the best revenge. Yeah. Let’s do that.