INFECTION: AVOID THE UNHAPPY AND UNLUCKY
You can die from someone else’s misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.
TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW
Born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1818, Marie Gilbert came to Paris in the 1840s to make her fortune as a dancer and performer. Taking the name Lola Montez (her mother was of distant Spanish descent), she claimed to be a flamenco dancer from Spain. By 1845 her career was languishing, and to survive she became a courtesan—quickly one of the more successful in Paris.
Only one man could salvage Lola’s dancing career: Alexandre Dujarier, owner of the newspaper with the largest circulation in France, and also the newspaper’s drama critic. She decided to woo and conquer him. Investigating his habits, she discovered that he went riding every morning. An excellent horsewoman herself, she rode out one morning and “accidentally” ran into him. Soon they were riding together every day. A few weeks later Lola moved into his apartment.
For a while the two were happy together. With Dujarier’s help, Lola began to revive her dancing career. Despite the risk to his social standing, Dujarier told friends he would marry her in the spring. (Lola
had never told him that she had eloped at age nineteen with an Englishman, and was still legally married.) Although Dujarier was deeply in love, his life started to slide downhill.
His fortunes in business changed and influential friends began to avoid him. One night Dujarier was invited to a party, attended by some of the wealthiest young men in Paris. Lola wanted to go too but he would not allow it. They had their first quarrel, and Dujarier attended the party by himself. There, hopelessly drunk, he insulted an influential drama critic, Jean-Baptiste Rosemond de Beauvallon, perhaps because of something the critic had said about Lola. The following morning Beauvallon challenged him to a duel. Beauvallon was one of the best pistol shots in France. Dujarier tried to apologize, but the duel took place, and he was shot and killed. Thus ended the life of one of the most promising young men of Paris society. Devastated, Lola left Paris.
In 1846 Lola Montez found herself in Munich, where she decided to woo and conquer King Ludwig of Bavaria. The best way to Ludwig, she discovered, was through his aide-de-camp, Count Otto von Rechberg, a man with a fondness for pretty girls. One day when the count was breakfasting at an outdoor café, Lola rode by on her horse, was “accidentally” thrown from the saddle, and landed at Rechberg’s feet.
The count rushed to help her and was enchanted. He promised to introduce her to Ludwig.
Rechberg arranged an audience with the king for Lola, but when she arrived in the anteroom, she could hear the king saying he was too busy to meet a favor-seeking stranger. Lola pushed aside the sentries and entered his room anyway. In the process, the front of her dress somehow got torn (perhaps by her, perhaps by one of the sentries), and to the astonishment of all, most especially the king, her bare breasts were brazenly exposed. Lola was granted her audience with Ludwig. Fifty-five hours later she made her debut on the Bavarian stage; the reviews were terrible, but that did not stop Ludwig from arranging more performances.
A nut found itself carried by a crow to the top of a tall campanile, and by falling into a crevice succeeded in escaping its dread fate. It then besought the wall to shelter it, by appealing to it by the grace of God, and praising its height, and the beauty and noble tone of us bells. “Alas,” it went on, “as I have not been able to drop beneath the green
branches of my old Father and to lie in the fallow earth covered by his fallen leaves, do you, at least, not abandon me. When I found myself in the beak of the cruel crow I made a vow, that if I escaped I would end my life in a little hole. ”
At these words, the wall, moved with compassion, was content to shelter the nut in the spot where it had fallen. Within a short time, the nut burst open: Its roots reached in between the crevices of the stones and began to push them apart; its shoots pressed up toward the sky. They soon rose above the building, and as the twisted roots grew thicker they began to thrust the walls apart and force the ancient stones from their old places. Then the wall, too late and in vain, bewailed the cause of its destruction, and in short time it fell in ruin.
LEONARDO DA VINCI. 1452-1519
Ludwig was, in his own words, “bewitched” by Lola. He started to appear in public with her on his arm, and then he bought and furnished an apartment for her on one of Munich’s most fashionable boulevards. Although he had been known as a miser, and was not given to flights of fancy, he started to shower Lola with gifts and to write poetry for her.
Now his favored mistress, she catapulted to fame and fortune overnight.
Lola began to lose her sense of proportion. One day when she was out riding, an elderly man rode ahead of her, a bit too slowly for her liking. Unable to pass him, she began to slash him with her riding crop. On another occasion she took her dog, unleashed, out for a stroll. The dog attacked a passerby, but instead of helping the man get the dog away, she whipped him with the leash. Incidents like this infuriated the stolid citizens of Bavaria, but Ludwig stood by Lola and even had her naturalized as a Bavarian citizen. The king’s entourage tried to wake him to the dangers of the affair, but those who criticized Lola were summarily fired.
In his own time Simon Thomas was a great doctor. I remember that I happened to meet him one day at the home of a rich old consumptive: He told his patient when discussing ways to cure him that one means was to provide occasions for me to enjoy his company: He could then fix his eyes on the freshness of my countenance and his thoughts on the overflowing cheerfulness and vigor of my young manhood; by filling all his senses with the flower of my youth his condition might improve. He forgot to add that mine might get worse.
While Bavarians who had loved their king now outwardly disre spected him, Lola was made a countess, had a new palace built for herself, and began to dabble in politics, advising Ludwig on policy. She was the most powerful force in the kingdom. Her influence in the king’s cabinet continued to grow, and she treated the other ministers with disdain. As a result, riots broke out throughout the realm. A once peaceful land was virtually in the grip of civil war, and students everywhere were chanting, “Raus mit Lola!”
Many things are said to be infectious. Sleepiness can be infectious, and yawning as well. In large-scale strategy when the enemy is agitated and shows an inclination to rush, do not mind in the least. Make a show of complete calmness, and the enemy will be taken by this and will become relaxed. You infect their spirit. You can infect them with a carefree, drunklike spirit, with boredom, or even weakness.
A BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, MIYAMOTO MUSASHI, SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
By February of 1848, Ludwig was finally unable to withstand the pressure. With great sadness he ordered Lola to leave Bavaria immediately. She left, but not until she was paid off. For the next five weeks the Bavarians’ wrath was turned against their formerly beloved king. In March of that year he was forced to abdicate.
Lola Montez moved to England. More than anything she needed respectability, and despite being married (she still had not arranged a divorce from the Englishman she had wed years before), she set her sights on George Trafford Heald, a promising young army officer who was the son of an influential barrister. Although he was ten years younger than Lola, and could have chosen a wife among the prettiest and wealthiest young girls of English society, Heald fell under her spell.
They were married in 1849. Soon arrested on the charge of bigamy, she skipped bail, and she and Heald made their way to Spain. They quarreled horribly and on one occasion Lola slashed him with a knife. Finally, she drove him away. Returning to England, he found he had lost his position in the army. Ostracized from English society, he moved to Portugal, where he lived in poverty. After a few months his short life ended in a boating accident.
A few years later the man who published Lola Montez’s autobiography went bankrupt.
In 1853 Lola moved to California, where she met and married a man named Pat Hull. Their relationship was as stormy as all the others, and she left Hull for another man. He took to drink and fell into a deep depression that lasted until he died, four years later, still a relatively young man.
At the age of forty-one, Lola gave away her clothes and finery and turned to God. She toured America, lecturing on religious topics, dressed in white and wearing a halolike white headgear. She died two years later, in 1861.
Regard no foolish man as cultured, though you may reckom a gifted man as wise; and esteem no ignorant abstainer a true ascetic. Do not consort with fools, especially those who consider themselves wise. And be not self-satisfied with your own ignorance. Let your intercourse be only with men of good repute: for it is by such assot iation that men themselves attain to good repute. Do you not observe how sesame-oil is mingled with roses or violets and how, when it has been for some time in association with roses or violets, it ceases to he sesame-oil and is called oil of roses or oil of violets?
A MIRROR FOR PRINCES. KAI KAUS IBN ISKANDAR. ELEVENTH CENTURY
Lola Montez attracted men with her wiles, but her power over them went beyond the sexual. It was through the force of her character that she kept her lovers enthralled. Men were sucked into the maelstrom she churned up around her. They felt confused, upset, but the strength of the emotions she stirred also made them feel more alive.
As is often the case with infection, the problems would only arise over time. Lola’s inherent instability would begin to get under her lovers’ skin. They would find themselves drawn into her problems, but their emotional attachment to her would make them want to help her. This was the crucial point of the disease—for Lola Montez could not be helped.
Her problems were too deep. Once the lover identified with them, he was lost. He would find himself embroiled in quarrels. The infection would spread to his family and friends, or, in the case of Ludwig, to an entire nation. The only solution would be to cut her off, or suffer an eventual collapse.
The infecting-character type is not restricted to women; it has nothing to do with gender. It stems from an inward instability that radiates outward, drawing disaster upon itself. There is almost a desire to destroy and unsettle. You could spend a lifetime studying the pathology of infecting characters, but don’t waste your time—just learn the lesson.
When you suspect you are in the presence of an infector, don’t argue, don’t try to help, don’t pass the person on to your friends, or you will become enmeshed. Flee the infector’s presence or suffer the consequences.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much….
I do not know the man I should avoid so soon as that spare Cassius…. Such men as he be never at heart’s ease whiles they behold a greater than themselves, and therefore are they very dangerous.
Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare. 1564-1616
KEYS TO POWER
Those misfortunates among us who have been brought down by circumstances beyond their control deserve all the help and sympathy we can give them. But there are others who are not born to misfortune or unhappiness, but who draw it upon themselves by their destructive actions and unsettling effect on others. It would be a great thing if we could raise them up, change their patterns, but more often than not it is their patterns that end up getting inside and changing us. The reason is simple—humans are extremely susceptible to the moods, emotions, and even the ways of thinking of those with whom they spend their time.
The incurably unhappy and unstable have a particularly strong infecting power because their characters and emotions are so intense. They often present themselves as victims, making it difficult, at first, to see their miseries as self-inflicted. Before you realize the real nature of their problems you have been infected by them.
Understand this: In the game of power, the people you associate with are critical. The risk of associating with infectors is that you will waste valuable time and energy trying to free yourself. Through a kind of guilt by association, you will also suffer in the eyes of others. Never underestimate the dangers of infection.
There are many kinds of infector to be aware of, but one of the most insidious is the sufferer from chronic dissatisfaction. Cassius, the Roman conspirator against Julius Caesar, had the discontent that comes from deep envy. He simply could not endure the presence of anyone of greater talent. Probably because Caesar sensed the man’s interminable sourness, he passed him up for the position of first praetorship, and gave the position to Brutus instead. Cassius brooded and brooded, his hatred for Caesar becoming patliological. Brutus himself, a devoted republican, disliked Caesar’s dictatorship; had he had the patience to wait, he would have become the first man in Rome after Caesar’s death, and could have undone the evil that the leader had wrought. But Cassius infected him with his own rancor, bending his ear daily with tales of Caesar’s evil. He finally won Brutus over to the conspiracy. It was the beginning of a great tragedy. How many misfortunes could have been avoided had Brutus learned to fear the power of infection.
There is only one solution to infection: quarantine. But by the time you recognize the problem it is often too late. A Lola Montez overwhelms you with her forceful personality. Cassius intrigues you with his confiding nature and the depth of his feelings. How can you protect yourself against such insidious viruses? The answer lies in judging people on the effects they have on the world and not on the reasons they give for their prob-Image: A Virus. Unseen, it lems. Infectors can be recognized by the misfortune they draw on them-enters your pores without selves, their turbulent past, their long line of broken relationships, their un-warning, spreading silently and stable careers, and the very force of their character, which sweeps you up slowly. Before you are aware of and makes you lose your reason. Be forewarned by these signs of an infec the infection, it is deep inside you. tor; learn to see the discontent in their eye. Most important of all, do not take pity. Do not enmesh yourself in trying to help. The infector will remain unchanged, but you will be unhinged.
The other side of infection is equally valid, and perhaps more readily understood: There are people who attract happiness to themselves by their good cheer, natural buoyancy, and intelligence. They are a source of pleasure, and you must associate with them to share in the prosperity they draw upon themselves.
This applies to more than good cheer and success: All positive qualities can infect us. Talleyrand had many strange and intimidating traits, but most agreed that he surpassed all Frenchmen in graciousness, aristocratic charm, and wit. Indeed he came from one of the oldest noble
families in the country, and despite his belief in democracy and the French Republic, he retained his courtly manners. His contemporary Napoleon was in many ways the opposite—a peasant from Corsica, taciturn and ungracious, even violent.
There was no one Napoleon admired more than Talleyrand. He envied his minister’s way with people, his wit and his ability to charm women, and as best he could, he kept Talleyrand around him, hoping to soak up the culture he lacked. There is no doubt that Napoleon changed as his rule continued. Many of the rough edges were smoothed by his constant association with Talleyrand.
Use the positive side of this emotional osmosis to advantage. If, for example, you are miserly by nature, you will never go beyond a certain limit; only generous souls attain greatness. Associate with the generous, then, and they will infect you, opening up everything that is tight and restricted in you. If you are gloomy, gravitate to the cheerful. If you are prone to isolation, force yourself to befriend the gregarious. Never associate with those who share your defects—they will reinforce everything that holds you back. Only create associations with positive affinities. Make this a rule of life and you will benefit more than from all the therapy in the world.
Authority: Recognize the fortunate so that you may choose their company, and the unfortunate so that you may avoid them. Misfortune is usually the crime of folly, and among those who suffer from it there is no malady more contagious: Never open your door to the least of misfortunes, for, if you do, many others will follow in its train…. Do not die of another’s misery. (Baltasar Gracián, 1601-1658)