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Qualities That Keep You in a Sick System

The attention the sick systems post is getting is, ah, rather overwhelming. I'm so, so happy that y'all have found it useful in what clarifying what happened to you. I'm sad and astonished that so many people had the same experiences. When I wrote it I was thinking of a few extreme situations I've found myself in or watched friends flounder through, so I considered sick systems rare and deeply pathological. What y'all are saying, both here and in conversations around the net, is that almost everyone has gotten stuck in a sick system at some point in their lives, and that they're an inground part of life in some slices of the world.

Something is wrong.

This is where I'm supposed to follow up with What to Do to Fix the World, but the answer is: nothing. You can't fix a sick system from within unless you have power, and you can't fix a sick system from outside, period. You can't compel people to leave. You can convince them to leave, but the moment that convinces them is individual, like enlightenment striking a monk because his master made a joke about a spade. And when a stuck person chooses to leave, it will be long, long, long after they should have gotten out.

So instead I offer you a list:

Qualities That Keep You in a Sick System

A strong work ethic
A need to be useful to others

You don't need to lose these qualities to get out. But if you're stuck and trying to figure out what's keeping you in, remember that people rarely get stuck because of their vices. They're usually caught by their virtues.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2010 05:11 am (UTC)
Welp, those last few lines rang awfully true. When I think about my dad, and the shit he put me through, I think it was mostly because I was a good kid who did what she was told and didn't talk back.

Knew that kind of thing never did anybody any good.
Jun. 16th, 2010 05:41 am (UTC)

Well that explains a lot. *sigh*
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 16th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
This was exactly what I was about to say (you too? I'm currently glaring at my Father's Day card, but it makes it easier to send it that it's the first communication I've had with them since the Mother's Day card), so I'll just say "Totally true and totally cosigned."
Jun. 16th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. Breaking family loyalty and refusing self-sacrifice was how I got out of my parents' system. I stayed longer than I should have to help the people left behind, but then I realized that they were adults, they had power, and they made a choice not to use it to free themselves. So screw 'em.

I wish they'd escape. But if they had escape in them, they'd be long gone.

Disappointing and pissing off toxic people isn't a flaw, it's a necessity. As is occasionally ending the world. It's good to remind ourselves that there's the world we build up out of other people, and then there's the real world, and these two things are not the same.
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)
*Siiiiiigh* Sad. Ugly. And in my experience, absolutely true.

Jun. 16th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
You've definitely hit the nail on the head - those are exactly the qualities that kept me in one of my former jobs for way, way too long.

People used to ask me why I stayed in such bad conditions for so long, and I never had an answer, so I'd joke that it was temporary insanity... These two posts at least help me understand it a bit better.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
SickSystem + Clutter
This stuff is so timely for me, that I joined LiveJournal just so I could leave a comment.

I think you've touched a nerve. Touched it, shoot, I think you've dug the thing up and exposed it to the light of day.

Good writing, good insights, and I'm going to have to go back soon and read your "clutter" postings too.
Jun. 17th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC)
I think the best way to fight a sick system is to get out. This is tough right now. If people won't play then the system would fall apart. At least I hope so. It's just awful that so many people can relate to this.
Jun. 22nd, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
This is very true. I think that's why the endings to many Hollywood comedies are so satisfying: There's that moment when the evil person is unmasked, and everyone around him or her turns on them. Cue the looks of scorn, the pithy comment that someone's been waiting the entire movie to make, then everyone turns away en masse and walks off into their new, abuse-free lives. We want to see that moment on the screen because it never happens in real life. Never.

You're right, the best way to fight it is to not be there. And that's the hardest part, because it's natural to want to do something about the situation, and there's nothing to do.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
Reading this after the hefty dose of school reform research I've been reading for the past year makes me think that the entire US public education system is a sick system. Sadly, the government policies (NCLB, charter schools, etc.) that are being pushed as cures will just make the system sicker for many, many people...
Jun. 22nd, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
I don't know the background of the problem, but I can see how it's an easy setup. The core problem is untouchable: There's no way to legislate people into valuing education, and successful cultural approaches are small-scale by nature. Governments can't stand small-scale approaches. MUST FIX EVERYTHING AT ONCE RIGHT NOW! So they respond by tightening screws, on the theory that if hard work brings success and you can force people to work hard, then you can force them to be successful. Awesome. So you add massive stress to the system. If you can make everyone fear for their jobs, even better. Throw in some zero tolerance policies so you can force people to forfeit their judgement and violate their own consciences--and make sure the policies also have some good results so that people feel guilty about trying to bypass them. Add the low pay, burnout, and red tape of any low-level government job, shake well, et voila! Statewide sick system.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 22nd, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
I think the feeling that you are needed is one of the most addicting feelings.

Terrifying thought. The need to be needed can turn you into a great teacher, a great therapist, an amazing activist, the kind of person who changes lives. Or it can turn you into an enabler, and you can spend your life destroying yourself, the person you're enabling, and everyone who doesn't have a choice but to depend on you. And like you said, every (inevitable) failure can train you to try harder the next time. Abusive patterns are amazingly, horrifyingly well designed to self-perpetuate.

What we need is training in healthy selfishness. But of course, the people ho need it most would be the last people to sign up.
Jun. 20th, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
Your words resonated
Sometimes people cannot perceive something until it is described succinctly and accurately, which you've done.

I've left several sick systems, and found that for the people left behind, I could speak to them, or leave clues, but they often stayed enmeshed for a while longer.
Be patient, though and you can get a chance to help them out.

6 years after I broke away from mom, Sis came to me crying from a mom visit. I gave her practical advice like: don't let her control your transportation - pay for a rental vehicle. Spring for dinner at a fancy restaurant - she's politer in front of strangers, and even more so in an upscale place. Create a forced limit to the event, make plans to see a supportive friend afterwards, so you have a firm reason to leave and go where you can recover.

Escaping from the sick job... my mentor did it gracefully, my departure was less so, but I've got a great new job, but we left a woman behind. So after an evening of good food and drink, we considered the problem of how to free her. Job loyalty and lack of diverse experience are an issue, as well as pressing family problems that keep her tired. Mentor recently turned down a job that would be great for our left behind friend, so we plan to start talking about the minutiae of daily life in the new job, to get her comfortable in the idea.

The plan may take a few months to implement, but that's kind of the speed the heart's emotions run at anyway.

P.S. We did try to find a way for her to get away for a week, which can be just long enough to clear her head of the craziness, and realized that family obligations blocked such an escape. Still thinking about options though.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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