Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
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Dumpers and Martyrs and None of Us Saints

There were a lot of contenders for this week’s column. The inevitable arrival of paid maternity leave on the list of scuttled government initiatives because of the global economic crisis was one. Minister Stephen Conroy’s decision to capitulate to the demands of the religious right and censor everyone’s internet access was another. And there’s a piece inside me just screaming to get out about what former government leaders must really think about the quality of reporting on the ABC given their decision to participate in The Howard Years, the first episode of which screened on ABC TV this week.

But I’ve decided to throw politics to one side and to focus instead on matters far closer to home. To point the bone at wrong-doers far too commonplace in my world-the dumpers and the martyrs.

Dumpers are those who treat the wide range of people who “do” their “personal care” as emotional sinks. Cashed-up folk who act as if the men and women they have paid to train them at the gym, cut and colour their hair, trim and paint their nails, massage away their pains, peel and scrub their faces and wax their backs or bikini lines are also being paid to pamper their psyches.

Dumpers say things like this. “I was thinking about getting a bit of fringe because I wanted something different. I am starting to look my age.” They say, “You know what it’s like in London. And now the service is even worse.” They say, “I went to that new gym I was telling you about. Very reasonably priced but it was a bit rushed. I just want to go afterwards and have my coffee and my afternoon but I just don’t know. It’s so hard to know what to do.”

They say these things to hairdressers whose best friends will never grow old because they died that week in a car accident. They say them to manicurists who have never been to London and will never go because they can’t afford to take a holiday. Ever. They say them to personal trainers who have mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy their own gym, but may now go broke because their wives just left them.

Do dumpers know this? Most of them do, and if they don’t, they should. They should because finding out requires nothing more then the temporary shutting of their own trap, and the responding to the other like they were an actual human being with worries and aspirations of their own, rather than a creature who exists for no other purpose then to service their needs.

Which brings me to the martyrs. Dumpers act like their most trivial psychological desideratum is weightier than any needs of those lower down on the food chain. Martyrs pretend they have no emotional needs at all, then spend the time and energy necessary to achieve world peace in manipulative efforts designed to get those needs met. How many grandmothers does it take to change a light bulb? Oh don’t worry about me, dear, I’ll just sit in the dark.

Martyrs snatch your coffee cup while you’re still packing up from the meeting, then sigh and flounce as they do the washing up. They insist that that the favour you’ve asked is no trouble, then spend the rest of your natural life sniffing about ingratitude when the medal and monument fail to arrive.

Refusing to ask for what you want, or to say no to what you don’t, is a sure-fire recipe for dissatisfaction, but that’s OK because it is the inevitable moral failures of others on which martyrs get off. They get emotional satisfaction, in other words, from being the unrecognised do-er of good deeds.

My friend, who grew up with a martyr, says you can’t win and you need to stop trying. Instead, he advises, try to have fun. Leave long lists detailing your requirements. Dirty as many dishes as you can. “They’re going to feel hardly-done by, anyway,” he says, shrugging. “Might as well make ‘em work for their pay.”

Publication History

Dumpers and Martyrs and None of Us Saints, Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)
23 Nov 2008

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