love's a placebo

April 3, 2019
I had a thought: Love and Support are basically placebos.

But it's not a true thought. People think placebos are "remedies that shouldn't work, but do anyway" and that isn't what I mean. Rather say: I, Kirk, have middling-poor instincts (and thus distrust) about "remedies" where the primary workings are internal to the "patient", and so are not amenable to externalized examination, and explanation - and classic expressions of love and support are in that category.

See, when people talk, it's rarely starkly forthright. They're not just telling you the objective facts, the speaker has in mind what they want you to know - and if they care about you, what they believe you want to hear. There are those touches of agenda, always.

Both of those kind of agendas (selfish and selfless) come into play when a supportive person (call them "the helper") goes into "advice mode" when a person going through tough stuff (call them "the helpee") just wants to be heard and validated. The helper wants to offer tangibly useful suggestions -
that's a more or less selfless agenda. But also: they don't want to be reminded that they might be helpless to tangibly help! (thus, the selfish aspect).

The helper needs existential fortitude to accept being in a world where their friends and loved ones suffer in a way the helper can't fix, even though the helper desperately want to. So would-be helpers need to cultivate the "internalized medicine" of listening and offering reassurance.

But man, sometimes those reassurances seem so hollow to folks like me, who look for objective, rational measures for everything.... "Everything's going to be ok", "This is temporary", "You'll get through this". The speaker doesn't objectively know this stuff is true, except in high-falutin' existential and long-run senses (to quote Keynes - "Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.")

But I need to remember, that's just me, I'm a bit of an outlier. Not everyone is as muddled by attempted rationality and external validation as me - and I need to remember the internal states of suffering loved ones may be maelstroms of irrational confusion and mislogic anyway - there's a good chance my "you're going to be ok", while still a bit of a platitude, is more true and honest than the helpee's view of the situation at that moment... and the sugar pill wrapper of real love and support might be medicine in and of itself.

(As to why I'm such a "rational" outlier - I think somehow in my youth I absorbed too much of the judge-y aspects of religion - that at the end of it all, I was going to be called into account for what I did in life, and so I trained to make my inner self and desires subservient to and explainable by the external / objective rationality that would hold sway in that final Divine Court, and thus avoid an eternity of hellfire torment.)