Monday, May 3, 2021

The Influencers In Your Life

We are all influenced by other people in one way or another.  Very little of what we think up are original ideas.

A friend of mine recently decided to sell her house.  She had the deal all lined up and mentioned on a phone call to her daughter that she was going to sell the house and the daughter went ballistic.  "Mom, you can't sell that house!  We have so many vacation memories!  And the price you are selling it for?  You're giving it away!"  And so on and so forth.  So Mom decided to take the house off the market - for now - and miss out on a 2008-like Real-Estate bubble which may burst any day now.

Why did the daughter scotch the sale?  Why did Mom listen to her?  Hard to tell, but I suspect the daughter maybe had ideas - perhaps even subconscious ideas - that someday that house would be hers, tax-free and paid-for, and she would retire to it - and here is Mom, being all greedy and whatnot, complaining about the cost and upkeep and spoiling all the fun.  Worse yet, Mom is talking about moving close to daughter so they can visit more often!

Almost across the street, the same scenario is playing out, with a different result.  Here, Mom is pushing 90 and has three homes to maintain, which is not unheard of where I live.  They got the tax bill for the home here - since they are not residents, they get socked with the full amount - and the house "needs work".   Daughter says, "Mom, sell the home!  My husband and I built an in-law suite for you, and you can move in there for free and do what you want, and not have to worry about houses and taxes and whatnot!"   But in an interesting reversal, it is Mom who wants to keep a house she hasn't been in for over two years and refuses to sell.

I feel bad for her, as at her age, things can go South in a real hurry, as we have seen often here on Old People Island.  Better to sell "too soon" than "too late" in my opinion.  Leaving on your own terms is far better than having someone else clean up after you, once they've hauled you off to the rest home when you are found living in your own filth.

I know other folks who live near or with their parents, well into their 60's and beyond.  Several people have moved here and had siblings move here near them.  I think my own brother-in-law would do it, if he could swing the dollars (and he could, if he really wanted to).  I'm not sure we'd be hanging out all the time together - I'm not that kind of person.   Others, well, they've been "best friends" with Mom and Dad or siblings, since they could walk. Some are even in business together.  And yes, I am more than a little jealous.  My family was a race-to-the-bottom, where everyone got what they could get out of the deal, and we all rode Dad like a government mule.

Part of the problem for families like mine is that you don't have this peer-to-peer relationship with your siblings and elders.  Many parents see children as possessions (particularly in some cultures) and no matter how successful or wealthy you become, they still view you as the kid in diapers, pooping his pants, who will "never amount to anything" and thus what you have to say is of no consequence (until, that is, they want you to fix their computer or smart phone).  Older siblings are similarly problematic in some families - they view themselves as older and wiser than you, and since they will always be older, well that's a game you will never win, until they die, that is.

Yet, some people cow-tow to family arrangements like this - again, particularly in some cultures. Arranged marriages, career choices, where to live, who to live with, and so on and so forth, are all dictated by the parents from the get-go.  Woe be to the child who "does their own thing" - their choice of spouse and career will bet the constant subject of criticism.  Even in America, some children feel "obligated" to do what their parents said to do in life - even when they are well into their 30's and 40's and beyond.

As I have noted before, I know people in their 70's here on Old People Island who live in terror of their parents who are in their 90's.  It seems so unfair to me - these are people whose day in the sun won't happen until they are nearly dead themselves.  In some instance, this never happens, as the stress of appeasing parents who are never happy with them, sends them to an early grave.

This got me to thinking - always a dangerous pastime - about how we influence others and are influenced by others.  One reason I don't give advice is that an offhand comment you might make one day is taken by others as some sort of mantra.  They spend years following this "advice" you never gave, and if it doesn't work out, they blame you.   It is a scary thought, if you think about it.  You say something to someone and they jump off a bridge as a result.   Is this your fault?  Maybe it is better to keep one's mouth shut!  Oh, wait, 4,552 posts. Sorry!  Please don't jump off any bridges - figuratively or literally.

Even if we don't follow an "influencer" on YouTube - who is blatantly hawking products - we tend to be influenced by the opinions of others such as family members, friends, people we meet, and even strangers.  What's more, we seem to seek out such advice or cultural norms or normative cues in everyday life and with major life decisions.  The YouTube influencer exists not because "Corporate America" is ramming them down our throats, but because people willingly follow such folks online and relish in the products and services advertised.   Some people seem almost ecstatic to be "influenced" - as if being lead into the slaughterhouse was some sort of special treat.

The answer isn't, of course, to ignore normative cues or intentionally set out to defy them - that makes even less sense.   But I think if we can recognize when we are being influenced, either on a personal level or a commercial one, we can understand our actions and thoughts more clearly.   Are we buying the lumbering SUV because we really want one, or because our neighbor has one?   Are we hopelessly in debt because we want to be, or because we heard a neighbor admit "I'll never pay off my mortgage!" and assumed this was a norm in life (and sadly, I fell for that one, at one time - told to me by a mortgage broker, no less!).

As for the two ladies who want to sell/not sell their houses, I am not sure how to handle such a situation.   What is interesting to me is not that these adult women want to make a decision about their properties and possessions, but that their daughters felt they needed to push the issue.   While we all might want to "help out" Mom and Dad, they are indeed adults, and if they want to make poor choices (in every sense of the word) who are we to tell them otherwise?  And like any advice given, there is the downside that it may all go horribly wrong - or that the parent may claim so.  "You made me sell my house!" one will cry, while the other will say, "If only I had sold my house before the market collapsed!  Now I'm trapped here!  It's all your fault!"

Being an influencer - even on a personal level - is a path fraught with peril!