Monday Musings 222 - The Procustean Bed, Work and Relationships
Procustes, in Greek mythology was someone who had a queer sense of hospitality. He would entertain his guests well and then make them lie on a bed. If they were longer than the bed he would chop off their legs and if they were shorter, he would stretch the victims till they equaled the length of the bed. In today’s times we do not need a Procustes to do this. Each one is sufficient to inflict this to himself.
Essentially the bed of Procustes indicates perpetrating the violence of chopping or stretching self to what we ought to be or have. What we were meant to be or have can go take a walk! What we are and do have be damned! Ironically and tragically it is not Procustes who is perpetrating this violence on unsuspecting victims but the ‘I ’who is doing it.
This violence is most visible in two spaces – at work and in relationships.
All of us have notions of what is our ideal work with ideal designation and with ideal money. Usually it is at variance with what we have. So we become active Procustes. We mindlessly and incessantly chop parts of it that is not up to our liking. We ignore those aspects of it which are such a terrible drain even if that is core to that work. We abhor certain activities which are a part and parcel of that role which are not what we enjoy but if removed it has the potential to adversely impact the role itself. We want to do only parts of it – either the creative side of it, or the leadership side of it – and rarely the administrating side of it or the networking side of it. There are parts of our jobs that we would be so happy to hand over to Procustes!
Apart from the procrustean chopping, there is also the tragedy procrustean stretching at work. The perpetual desire to want more keeps us perpetually dissatisfied with our current situation. The notions of success at every stage, heavily deriving from our own sense of ambition and fuelled by peer comparisons, keep us precariously on the edge of dissatisfaction. What we do not have from our work is the single largest source of angst today, may be with the exception of relationships – of all hues.
The Procustean tragedy corrodes relationships too. There is always an expectation mismatch that is plaguing it. Something that is supposed to only be the source of joy, companionship and bliss becomes a source of unending grief. We want more when we cannot have it – the bed is only so long! So begins the soul destroying task of stretching – of putting ourselves through the very excruciating process of wanting more, in the process either ignoring or giving up what we had the fortune of having. Strange are matters of human want!
Yet other times we want to chop off certain things about a relationship that we do not like. It’s like saying I do not like Violet from the rainbow and let me remove it. Even a child knows that if you do so, you have deformed the rainbow and the rainbow will not exist anymore. Yet again we risk what we have at the altar of what we want. Strange are the matters of human want!
The Procustean bed has an explanation in poetry.
Ye Dil bhi ek bachhe ki manind hai
Ya to ise sab kuch chahiye, ya kuch bhi nahi
(The heart is like a child – either it wants everything or nothing)