#28 Stealing

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Paul McAleer: Hi. You’re listening to Designing Yourself. This is Paul McAleer.

Whitney Hess: And this is Whitney Hess.

Paul: And today one of the things that we really wanted to talk about was this idea of being empty and the idea of stealing and not stealing and really what that means. And, it’s funny because as usual we were talking about this before we started recording. And it’s really kind of hard to pin down a little bit because I think we can both agree that the idea of stealing in and of itself, that physical act, is wrong, right?

Whitney: Well, it is certainly unlawful. And so, as a result we likely think of it as being wrong. And in many religions and in spiritual traditions I think it would be considered immoral as well. But it’s still a tough thing to define.

Paul: Yeah. So, that’s the thing that we were kind of grappling with here, is this idea of how do you define this idea of stealing and working against that idea of stealing and non-stealing specifically?

So, one of the things that I read recently and found really interesting was this concept of taking it beyond just the physical. There’s the idea that, yeah, there’s - when it comes to stealing a physical thing, there are laws and there are moral questions around whether that’s right or not.

And then the other side of that, though, are the non-physical components of that. Like, if we are basically seeing ourselves as empty in some way or deficient in some way and we kind of want to fill that somehow, it’s a little harder to stick with. It’s a little more "woo woo," as I would be wont to say.

So, the idea, though, is that if I am feeling down on a day, for instance, I’m feeling really low, I might want to be high-energy for some reason or put myself in a place where I feel more “normal.” And so, I might look to steal that energy from somebody else. That means I might want to put them down. I might want to try to act like I’m in charge of them in some way. I might like to yell at them or correct them or do something to kind of boost myself.

And, within the context of what I’ve seen about this idea of non-stealing, I really see that in that same light in that in that case I’m really taking somebody else’s energy away from them in a sense and trying to make it my own. Even though I may or may not succeed, that’s something that I might do in that situation.

Whitney: I think this is incredibly common in relationships mostly because we’re not conscious of it. And so much of what we talk about, you and I, is about becoming conscious about these things because once you have an awareness, then suddenly you recognize how often it’s happening, and now you have the power to do something about it.

But in relationships, even in my relationship with Fredrick, which I would consider to be in the upper echelon of relationships, if I could be so bold to make such a claim, but I feel like we have such a phenomenal relationship. And I find that this happens with us often where we’re very used to relying on one another for the other person’s energy or the other person’s enthusiasm or support.

And, there are times when one of us is experiencing a high because of something that’s going on with work or something that’s going on with family or friends or just something is like really building one of us up. And the other one isn’t feeling so good and is trying to experience that same high to be there with the other person but just can’t.

And like a jealousy of some kind can develop. And then exactly what you just said seems to happen kind of automatically if we’re not paying attention to how we’re feeling, and instead we’re entirely focused on how the other person feels. And it can be like just as small as, you know, picking a fight over something that is completely inconsequential. And again, this is like a sort of automated thing. So we’re not even aware that we’re doing it.

And now suddenly that other person who was like filled with joy is now irritated because we made them irritated, you know? And now it’s like this little bit of satisfaction, like oh, I still can have control or I still can, you know - I can level the playing field or something, versus this feeling of a lack that comes when someone that you care about so deeply - and sometimes this happens even in work situations where a colleague is experiencing something that you’re not experiencing.

There’s this feeling of, oh, well at least I could steal away that person’s energy even if I’m not benefitting from it. So, I guess I wonder if there’s some kind of difference in stealing when it comes to taking away from someone even if we ourselves are not benefitting from it. Or is it only stealing if we get the benefit of the thing?

Paul: That’s a great question. And I see it as stealing no matter what because the way that I hear that with that scenario and with a coworker, for instance, that you gave, and thinking about my own times when I’ve done these things, it feels like it’s something that should benefit me, right? Because if I’m feeling bad or if I’m feeling a certain way or I’m feeling attached to the way that things should be in this current moment or what have you, then if they don’t go that way there’s a part of me that absolutely wants to correct that, that wants to try to get it as close to that way as possible, right?

And so, it will - and if I’m - I’m saying “it”. If I give it permission to do that, if I give that part of me permission to go ahead and do that, there is a - I wouldn’t necessarily say a full satisfaction, but there is something that that part gets out of it. That part is thrilled then that, A, it got that attention, and B, it could go ahead and try to pull that energy from somebody else, you know, putting aside the right or wrong question for a moment.

So, in that case, there’s still that idea that, OK, I did this. And I did it. Great. And now I feel better. But holistically I don’t feel better at all. And again, the other person’s going to probably feel a lot worse in that scenario.

So, in those cases I still see that even if things don’t go up the way that I fully plan, you know, if I - if in this very vain attempt to feel better about myself I take somebody else’s positive energy and kind of try to feed off of that, and it doesn’t really work well, boy, I still don’t see that as a good thing overall. But for that particular - 

Whitney: Right, because you’ve taken it from the other person.

Paul: Right. But for that particular part of me that really felt that need that something was deficient and other parts of me thought, oh, this is the way they really get it, then that feels like a mission accomplished type of moment where it’s like, whoa, we did it. Awesome. We’re great. Even though holistically, again, not really feeling great in that scenario.

And, you know, this is all feeling really kind of fuzzy to me, so maybe I’ll slap a concrete example on this just as a for instance, right?

Whitney: Yeah, because I’m having a hard time believing that you ever do this. So, I want to hear an example.

Paul: OK. Well, so I think one other way to think about it is this, say. So, one example would be that if I come in to work and I’m having a bad day, my morning starts with possibly my dog or my son not listening to me for whatever reasons, right? I might have already tried to reinforce this idea that I’m the dad, I’ve got everything under control, and this is how it’s going to play out. Like, this is going to be our morning schedule. We have to get to the school by X hour and I have to get to work by this hour, etc.

And if things don’t go according to that plan, there’s a part of me that may carry that around into work so that I come into the office, my coworkers are here, and they’re all feeling - you know, I can kind of get a sense of the vibe of the room, probably. But they might be feeling neutral to positive or maybe even negative.

But for example let’s say they’re feeling pretty good. And I come in and I take this vibe with me, right? So, instead of feeding off of that positive energy now that my coworkers might have - they might be in good spirits, talking about the weekend or what have you, I come in and I’m old grumpy cat here, and I say, hey, I had kind of a rough morning. Weekend was OK. I’ll be pleasant about it but then kind of bury myself in my work, right?

So, I’m still fighting with that scenario where I’m feeling like this day, this morning isn’t necessarily going according to this magical plan that part of me made up. And I’m also not really looking at what’s going on in that moment either. So, in essence I’m trying to pull away some of that positive energy that those people have, right?

And part of what I see here is this weird dependence and independence thing because in the one hand, yes, I’m fully dependent on how other people are feeling to get a sense of the room, sense of how the day may go, etc. And for some people it’s going to matter more how they feel and how it affects the way that I feel.

But then there’s also that question of being independent and not letting it affect you as well. So there’s a weird little dynamic that's happening there. But in those days when I feel really kind of down on myself in that morning or just feeling like things are not going my way, whatever my way is, that’s something that can absolutely have an impact from either my coworkers or them on me as well.

And it may be just something really small that sets it off earlier in the morning or even the prior day if I let it sit within me for a while. Does that clarify things a little bit?

Whitney: Yeah, it does. And I think that that’s a much more kind of common example because I think everyone can relate to that. And it isn’t something that you’re doing out of malice, which I could never imagine you doing at all, which was kind of why I was like, what do you mean by that?

But, what I’m getting from what you're saying is that this kind of independence or dependence thing, I actually see it as being that we’re all dependent on one another and that even when you call it independence I think what you mean is accepting that you’re not having a good day, that there is something you don’t have today that other people do, and that being OK and feeling like, you know what? Today is just my day to be in a slump. I’m going to let it go. I’m going to work with it rather than fight against it.

And I’m going to acknowledge that other people are doing OK today, at least from an outside perspective that I’m seeing them. Maybe they’re going through their own things, but I’m not going to try to take that away from them. And I’m not going to let that impact me even more negatively. And maybe even recognizing that other people are having a good day or that they’re high-energy will be away to get me out of my slump.

And in a way I see that as being even more evidence of our interdependence or our interconnection rather than our independence. It’s like saying, you know what? Actually, there’s really no gain that’s possible from stealing whatsoever. And perhaps stealing is a lack of recognition that when you steal from someone else you steal from yourself as well, because we all are connected. And we all do depend on each other.

And there’s no way to fill the void inside of us by taking something from someone else because we will never feel like we deserve it. We will never feel like it’s truly ours. And we will always be left with the memory of who we took it from, both physical and in the case that we’re discussing here kind of on an energetic level and a relationship level.

So, I wonder if the idea of thousand shalt not steal kind of as a religious and societal concept is really in the recognition that when you do steal you steal from everyone. And that includes yourself, not just the individual you targeted.

Paul: Yeah. I love that concept because it goes along with the idea of being attached to something that’s not in the present moment, right? Because if you are - for instance, if you are feeling bad about the way things do or do not turn out or the way things are or are not right now, you could see it as you’re actually stealing from that opportunity you have right now to just be in that current moment and accept it and even get to a point of celebration of it as well, right?

Whitney: I love that.

Paul: Because in those moments you are not necessarily really present. You are somewhere else. You are thinking and feeling down about yourself about why things are not the way that they should be. And that is kind of a form of stealing because then those moments that you spend in that, you don’t get them back.

And, you know, I think one important thing here too is to note that there’s - depending on the situation, there’s a time for mourning, and there’s a time to be sad. And there are absolutely times when it might be easier to not be in the present moment for whatever reason. It may be very challenging. It may be very sad in the present moment. We may be able to take ourselves to a happier place, for instance.

So, that is to say, I guess, nobody’s perfect. But again, this ideal, I think, to shoot for then is, again, not stealing from yourself currently, which also then, as you put it, serves to not steal from others as well, you know? If you see us as interconnected, which I agree with, we all have this energy. And we all have this shared identity and this shared consciousness, too.

And so, there are ebbs and flows of emotion and feeling and things that just happen within this bigger pool. So, if you see that we’re connected, then yes, sometimes these things are going to come up. And sometimes they’re going to pass as well.

And, you know, I’m curious what feelings you have in those moments, if you’ve experienced that as well. Just kind of what goes through your mind, and what do you feel when you really see yourself - and I guess I’m very presumptuous - if you do see yourself stealing these moments essentially from yourself or from others in those moments.

Whitney: I’m really fascinated by this concept that stealing is when we are lacking presence of mind because, yes, I can certainly identify with it. And what I think it is for me, and my sense is that probably what it is for others as well, is it is a moment of judgment. We are putting ourselves as judge. And we are evaluating our circumstances. And we are determining that we have less than someone else or that someone else has more than they deserve, or we have less than we deserve.

And I’ve of course had those moments feeling like, well, why does that person get all the opportunities? They’re not even that good. They’re not even that nice. They’re not even that smart. I mean, the irony is amazing. But of course I’ve had those feelings. And the opposite being true - I deserve more than this. I deserve better than this. And then, feeling really motivated, I guess would be the word to use, to actively change that.

And if I’m understanding, you know, what you just said correctly, and the thing that I’m really hooking in to here, is this idea that in those moments we are stealing from ourselves in that we’re not recognizing what we could get out of sitting with that feeling and not judging it, seeing, you know what? There are these other opportunities out there, and it’s not my time. Apparently, it’s not my time. It’s that other person’s time.

Happy for that other person, and happy for me. I’m not going to be upset with my circumstances. I’m just going to accept them for what they are. And if I take this moment to reconnect with me and to be fully present and to be mindful of my behavior and my emotions, then this is practice. What a great opportunity to practice.

And I really - I like that idea as a way of kind of combating the stealing because perhaps all stealing is precipitated by - if that’s the right word - by judgment of someone having too much or of me having too little. And I’m trying to think of specific examples in which I feel that I’ve done this. And my lack of ability to zero in on something is probably evidence of my lack of awareness of when I’m doing this.

But when I think about me and stealing I’m immediately reminded of my wonderful grandmother, Ruth, who was my dearest friend and passed 10 years ago. And I hate to speak ill of her, but I will. She was notorious for taking the sugar packets off of the restaurant table and putting them in her purse, notorious. She saw - like, any time we went to a diner or restaurant and there was extra sugar packets on the table, she took that whole thing and she dumped it in her purse.

And, I guess I never really saw that as stealing because it’s not as if the sugar was on the menu like, oh, yes, you could take this whole bucket of sugar on the table if you pay us $3. It was never on the menu. And it was just kind of there for us to use during our meal. And she didn’t see the issue with taking it home.

So, I think that kind of ingrained in me this idea that if something is for sale and you take it, that’s stealing. But if it isn’t for sale and you take it, that isn’t stealing.

And if I’m being completely honest, which of course that’s what we’re here to do, I have had several experiences in which something wasn’t for sale that I wanted and thought, what would be the harm in picking that up?

Like, I’ll give you an example. This is a totally benign example because I don’t want to incriminate myself. But like, when I go to the beach, every time I’m at the beach I can spend an hour, two hours, picking up seashells and rocks and stones and all kinds of things that I find on the beach. And by the time I’m done, I will have a bucket of shells.

And when I was a kid I used to do this everywhere we went. And then I would come home, and my dad would help me put them in a glass jar of some kind. And we had these shells all over the house. And I hadn’t done it for many years, but then recently I started doing it again.

And I was driving around in my car with a Ball jar of shells from a beach that we went to in Mexico last year for my birthday, so about a year ago. And all of a sudden I was looking at it, and I was cleaning out the car, and I felt deeply guilty for what I had done. Now, this might sound ridiculous because maybe a lot of people take shells from the beach.

But these were part of the landscape. Not only were they beautiful to look at for everyone else who was visiting, but it was indigenous. I mean, this had come from the sea and had washed up on the beach. And in my pretty typical human presumption, I figured, well, these don’t have any use anymore. I’m just going to take them.

But how do I know? How does any of us know what use those shells have to the shore line, to the sea life that exists? Who knows, you know? It could be a hiding place. It could be a home. It could be nourishment. It could be reinforcement to the shore line. Who knows? And, I just took that with me because I figured, well, no one else - you know, this is free. It’s just there. It’s not like, you know, they have sea shells for sale.

And I can think of many other examples. Like, I was at a - now I’m really incriminating myself. I was at a restaurant when traveling in Southeast Asia, and there was an amazing chopstick holder on one of the tables, like where you lay your chopsticks in between dishes, do you know what I mean?

Paul: Yeah.

Whitney: And it was like so gorgeous and so amazing. And I pocketed it. I did. You know, it’s like I’m kind of embarrassed to say it because it’s not like the best thing in the world to admit. But I’m like, well, that’s not for sale. That’s just sitting here on this table.

So, those are some physical examples. So, if I can think of those physical examples, and those are just a couple that are coming to mind that to me are like they’re shameful to even admit that I would be so presumptuous to think that I was owed that or that I had any rightful, you know - I can’t think of the word, but that I was in any way deserving of taking something off of a restaurant table which obviously they would have to replace or they’d be down one or whatever it was.

I can’t imagine how many examples there must be of me stealing something that’s non-physical from someone, like energetically the way that we were discussing. I can very easily think of examples where friends and family and coworkers have done that. And as soon as we started talking I was thinking about someone that we spent some time with recently who was feeling left out of a conversation that others of us were having and was constantly interrupting to tell their own story that had absolutely no relevance to anything that we were talking about, and how frustrating it was because they kept, you know, stealing the attention, so to speak.

And it was negatively affecting everyone because it was ruining the flow of conversation that we were all in. And we were kind of getting to, like, the punch line of the conversation finally. And then it just was like a huge letdown, almost. And then all of the negative feelings that we all must have felt about the person who was doing the interrupting, I’m sure I’ve been that person.

But it seems so much more challenging to think of those kinds of examples for myself than it does the physical examples which perhaps in our society we put more of an emphasis on the physical, like that stealing means a very physical thing or very tangible thing. And so, I was more conscious of when I was breaking that rule, that law, that moral, than I am in the more subtle ways in which I’m probably breaking it all day every day.

So, I admire your ability to recognize that this is something that you’ve done. But I get the sense that you probably don’t steal the attention or steal energy from people nearly as much as you say that you do or that the example would imply.

Paul: Yeah. And I appreciate that. And I’m simply not sure because a lot of the time I notice it after the fact. When I replay things in my head, which admittedly takes me out of the present moment, that’s when I really start to analyze it, right? My brain really starts to look at it and say, oh, this is what you did and this is how it affected others. And it really kind of spins things up sometimes.

So, I think, though, that the interesting thing about your seashell story was that it really made me think about the way that we interact with other people and the environment because, you know, it could be argued that us being here at all is something that really interferes with other things that are happening, right?

We don’t know the natural course of those seashells, what it would have been if you had not gone to the beach and picked them up and put them in your Ball jar and carried them around and had them in the car and stuff like that - very evocative image, by the way, because I think lots of people have done that. I mean, that’s something that we do. Like, we take pine cones from the forest. And there was a rock that was in my garden that I found that was almost perfectly round and it’s beautiful. And I have no idea how it got there, but I cleaned it up and I have it on my dresser now so I can see it every day.

Stuff like that, those are things that we don’t think much about. But there’s that element of this physical object is something that I really want. And why can’t I just have it? And there are times when jealousy comes into play. There are times when desire or envy come into play for some of these things.

And I think it’s a lot easier for us with physical objects because we can put value on that in a more arguably universal sense. Like, if somebody takes - oh, now I’m going to backtrack on myself because you can’t really put a price on seashells, I guess.

But if somebody takes something like a computer or a phone or something like that, you can say, OK, well, that thing costs about $1,000 or costs $500 or what have you. And you can say that, and people immediately get that value. So, that’s clear, right? So, if somebody steals something, it’s 500 bucks, OK, you’ve got to file an insurance claim. It was worth $500. Boom.

But, in the case of the conversation that you mentioned, for instance, if somebody is looking to intentionally or not steal other people’s opportunities to talk or steal their opportunity to feel something within the context of that conversation or even just make a connection, we don’t have a universal way to say, well, that was 42 bucks right there, so you owe me 42 bucks. We don’t have that type of figure around it that feels universal because it varies from person to person.

And we’re all carrying these things throughout the course of the day. And whatever value it is at that moment may vary just depending on how we’re doing. At the start of my day coming in to work, it may have been more valuable to other people to keep that positive vibe going even though I didn’t have one. But then later in the day it might have meant a lot more to me to help preserve that positivity and in fact feed off of it for myself if I can without doing it from a very stealing perspective but more from a connection perspective.

So, I think part of it really is us being able to relate to physical objects a lot more simply because there’s an established value around that stuff. And it’s something that we feel is fairly universal even though, you know, 500 bucks for me might have a different value for you versus someone who has a million dollars a year versus someone who doesn’t have any money at all. There’s still that same system in place there.

Whitney: What I think you’re touching upon is this - like, the value that we place on giving ourselves what we feel we don’t have is sometimes significantly greater than the value that we place on just accepting and being happy with what we do have.

Our society really values getting more, like more. We want more happiness. We want more money. We want more things. We put a tremendous value on more. And I can’t help but think of Cheryl Crow’s line, “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.” And I don’t know that that’s a value that is really encouraged in our society very much.

Like, just wanting what you’ve got, that what you have already is exactly what you’re meant to have. Let’s work on appreciating and accepting that more versus this belief that if I get something else, it will make me happy. If I get that next job, if I get the promotion, if I get that thing from that website, if I get that new car, if I get that new relationship, whatever it is, then I’ll be happy.

And we know that it’s never enough. So, I appreciate what you’re saying, that there’s just like - you can’t put a price tag on any of this. And the attempt to is futile anyway. So, you know, what if we could feel that feeling that you get when you pick up the perfectly round rock and you’re so in awe of it that you have to take it with you and clean it up and put it on your dresser which, by the way, is precisely an experience that I’ve had, like, 20 times in my life, where I’m just so in awe of this thing from nature, like, I have to make it mine.

Paul: Yes.

Whitney: What if we could feel just as excited and just as in awe of nature by putting that rock back exactly where we found it? Wow. What a world that would be. But it’s just not something that is encouraged or perpetuated. And maybe this one conversation can create a sea change. What do you think?

Paul: Maybe. I think so. I think so. This has been fantastic, Whitney. This has given me a lot to think about. And it’s also made me reconsider the stuff that I was planning on buying later this week. So, thanks.

Whitney: Thank you as always. Thank you for your insights, Paul.

Paul: Of course, Whitney. And we will talk again soon.

Whitney: All right. Take care.

Paul: You, too. Bye.

Whitney: Bye.