The Next Step
The first level is easy. You get a sense for what people seem to do. That this guy will make himself the center of attention. Or that he needs you to know how smart he is. Or whether status is important to them or whether they value freedom or being loved or being in control more than other things. Or you see that they’re the type to set themselves up to fail. You become hyper-aware of patterns of behavior. You uncover their inner-motivations and anticipate the results. Read them, know them, outmaneuver them. It is a powerful ability that comes with all sorts of advantages. People might even pay you for it.
The second level is harder. You think about why they act that way. He needs to be the center of attention because it was hard having parents who didn’t seem to care. Maybe she wants you to know how smart she is because nobody ever thought she was. Maybe they want status because they think it will get them what they want. Or they like control because it feels so different than how they felt at a point in their life when someone should have been looking out for them but fell down on the job. But instead of exploiting this like you did at the first level, at the second level you understand it. You begin to see them for what they really are: a human being. A human being doing the best they can as best they’ve been taught. You see them with empathy and compassion. You don’t hold any of it against them.
People hurt. People are messed up. People are stuck in patterns and don’t even know they are pattens. Most of what we do is not malicious, not stupid, not selfish or ignorant. Is is, instead, a response to events whose significance we often don’t even recall. The next time you look down on someone else’s behavior—the next time you think, Oh, here we go again or _________ always does this—try to remember that. Remember that these aren’t just little personality quirks, but real feelings masked by annoying actions. These are people in pain, like we are in pain—even if it makes them act like a dick. Don’t hate or pity or pander to them. But let it remind you that they’re human.
The first level is in your self-interest. And so is the second. Because when you can start to understand other people, accept them as they are and forgive them for what they do, you can start to do it to yourself. You can expect it for yourself.
That’s deep man, real words of wisdom. Dropping knowledge like it’s yo damn job
Which level are you at Ryan?
I’m not at the second one as often as I’d like.
As always Ryan – articulate and to the point.
I’ve tried, not always successfully, to apply a similar mindset when faced with a situation when on the surface it appears you are been “snobbed off” (ignored) – half the time, I believe, it will be just the other persons shyness manifesting itself as snobbery.
As a side note; I’d be really interested in reading your ‘take’ on the whole grass is always greener limiting belief – dealing with it, over-coming it, debunking it.
Right, often what we think of as rude is insecurity.
Grass is greener? Limiting belief?
Great post. Freudian psychoanalysis is powerful stuff.
Not exactly what I am doing here, but yes it is.
Lots of people want to be at the second level. Unfortunately, desire to know what’s behind other people’s motivations doesn’t provide you with the actual knowledge.
Hell, I haven’t even come close to mastering level 1.
In a previous post, I was quite caustic, and accused you of being unsympathetic. That post was very much at the first level you described. With this, you show considerable wisdom in recognizing the significance of the second.
Which post was that?
It’s been so inspiring to watch you grow Ryan. I’m 21, I hope to be half as far as you by the time I am 24. There is nobody writing this way online right now. Thank you. Seriously, thank you.
I heard a good one the other day about the grass being greener on the other side.
“The grass is greener, but the water bill is higher.”
“*Most* of what they do is not malicious, not stupid, not selfish or ignorant.”
One nitpicky beef with this:
“Most” implies people are still somewhat responsible. The vast majority of onlookers will interpret this partial responsibility as full responsibility. The human need for closure would respond better to “all” instead of “most”.
I disagree–MOST of what people do (that we notice or impacts us) is unintentional. But SOME of it is intentional, is malicious, is stupid, selfish and ignorant. It’s important to know that. It’s important to be on guard against it. It’s important to anticipate it.
Why is it important to know where people’s behavior comes from? It’s easy enough to predict, you can tell within 5 minutes if someone’s going to be a pill or a joy to work with. If they’re going to be a pill, mitigate it as best you can but do your work and don’t seek a pound of flesh you can never get.
You’re too smart to be asking this question out of intellectual confusion. That makes me think this is an emotional or personal wall you’re having trouble seeing through.
It matters because our job is other people. We exist with, and partially for them. When you understand where their behavior comes from it becomes possible to look at it as MORE than just an opportunity for personal advancement. Instead, it becomes a lens through which you can not only connect and understand them better, but understand yourself as well.
We interact with people in ways other than just working with them Chris. We also live with them, spend time with them, and depend on them.
Maybe it is, Ryan.
But I think you might not have get my point. I’m not talking about a “mercenary let’s use people kind of way”.
I’m talking about this: I *expect* people to lie, to be jerks. (i.e genuinechris.com/surprise). It’s not a problem. I’m not gonna demand my pound of flesh when someone shows laziness or pettiness or whatever else.
The question – What does it matter if they have daddy issues, or are afraid of being obsolete? It really doesn’t. WE can see and predict the behaviors based on beacons and cues.
We don’t have to really delve deep into their character. We can operate and give them wide latitude to be themselves. We don’t need to know or postulate what caused that behavior (i.e. excepting our very close inner circle, and even then).
We live with, help out, and let them be themselves.
When I ascribe the reasons for someone’s behavior, I’m guessing I’m more likely to be wrong than right, so guessing is futility. You just gotta get along with that.
I stand corrected. Intent makes a strategic difference.
Is it irony or fate that the next post I read was on Seth Godin’s blog, somewhat related to yours?
Experiences do form a persons character. Even identical twins aren’t identical psychologically because of the varying experiences each go through. When it comes to understanding anothers feelings I have found it easy to be there for friends when they want someone to listen to them and understand them but when some have expected me to come up with a solution for them ive found it hard because that key only lies with them. Being at the second level all the time is difficult but not impossible. It takes patience and discipline.
This sounds like a Tucker Max interview Michael Ellsberg recently did.
Goes back to what commenter c said above. It’s a great talent to be able to draw on in the social mapping world as well.
Great post Ryan!
What’s the moral of the story, just grin and bear annoying [email protected]$kers because it’s not their fault?
No–when you realize it’s not their fault and that they’re hurt, scared and doing the best they can, it sort of takes the annoyance out of it. Of course, that assumes you have a soul.
What if they are not hurt or scared? What if that’s just how they are?
In my experience, not every jerk (althoug many does) has a “story” behind it, some people are just evil, saddistic, it’s in their very own essence (in the sense that a twin brother of him,who have lived a completely different life, and have been treated better (or different), would have been a bastard equally. I’m still not sure how i should behave with this last kind of people).
Hence the word “MOST”
The best way to act–and I forget who said this–is to act like you’re in control of your life and everyone else’s was outside their own determination. Sadistic or not, that doesn’t mean you have to treat them sadistically. It doesn’t mean you can’t treat them well or with sympathy or like a human being. The fact that THEY don’t ACT like one, doesn’t mean they aren’t one.
Might be off, but it reminds me of ‘Meditations’, Book 9, Paragraph 42:
“When thou art offended with any man’s shameless conduct, immediately ask thyself, ‘Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in the world?’
It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible…for at the same time that thou dost remind thyself that it is impossible that such kind of men should not exist, thou wilt become more kindly disposed towards every one individually…Besides, wherein hast thou been injured? For thou wilt find that no one among those against whom thou art irritated has done anything by which thy mind could be made worse; but that which is evil to thee and harmful has its foundation only in the mind.
And what harm is done, or what is there strange, if the man who has not been instructed does the acts of an uninstructed man? Consider whether thou shouldst not rather blame thyself, because thou didst not expect such a man to err in such a way.”
Dude. you are burdening yourself with a needlessly bad translation
The moral of the story is that you’re life is easier when you deal with such situations coming from understanding rather than countering with ego.
Someone might even just be “being a prick”, but that doesn’t mean anything about how you need to conduct yourself. Also, notice that no where in the article did Ryan mention being a pushover.
I have found tremendous success with this type of technique since I learned it. Way better service, friendships, everything.
I saw a line cook at Burgerville once and, as if he thought I wasn’t even there, he spit in my burger. I hadn’t even talked to the dude and he did it in plain sight. The one thought that occurred to me was how could he do that when I’m right there? What did I do to cause him to do that? Instead of complaining or getting a refund, I walked out of the restaurant convinced any action against him wouldn’t change his seemingly wanton behavior. One might call it cowardice. I call it ‘fuck it. He’s a human being, to.’
Recognizing Ryan may disagree with me on this, I would like to just put it out there that since Darwin and Einstein explained the basics of evolution and physical causality, it is an ENTIRELY anti-intellectual position to ASSUME that people can have ANY CONTROL WHATSOEVER for whom they are.
But this misses the practical point; the point is not about casting judgement; that’s not our role anyway; it’s really about appreciating the weight of the idea on an individual, personal level. Not just being empathetic in theory, but in practice.
Nice post. It is really interesting to see the response that some of your readers have had here. I had to make the similar journey myself, yet I was guided by a gifted teacher who encouraged independence of thought and action – to which I am grateful.
Being able to understand that we do not know the extent of why someone does what they do and then forgive and release what we perceive to be wayward behavior is part of the plan.
However, the stage beyond that, as I understand it, is to literally split from the simple “actor in the film of life” to being both “director” and “actor”.
The actor still relies on the external “uncontrollable” elements of story, other characters, events, etc. But the director can see the cosmic picture, decide the correct protocol and control the actor’s response.
That gets us to a zero excuse method of living. Which for me, was and is always the goal.
Once we get to that level (still working on that one), it doesn’t matter what people do and why they do it. It simply is what someone did. Forgiveness is not needed because no transgression can actually take place. Compassion, on the other hand, keeps us engaged and in a place of understanding, rather than the cold, manipulative demeanor that could be taken.
Events (external) < Response (internal)
When we can internally generate what we desire from a still and conscious level, we can rid ourselves of the bane of being swayed as much by external stimuli. While this seems markedly Buddhist, I also have seen this at the route of all the great traditions, including those of the Stoics.
The idea is improvement through the stripping away of unnecessary energy spent and excess wheel spinning, so we can focus on what we deem as important.
Anyway.. just a quick point. Thanks for the articles!
What do you do past the second level Ryan? What do you do when you understand why people do things, and yet still do them?
Do you forgive them because they make mistakes and we make mistakes (both consciously and unconsciously)? Do you say that we all do bad and thus we must be forgiven?
Frankly, I don’t want to be forgiven for my wrong doings. And I don’t think that, in respect to good acts, I should forgive wrong ones. Doesn’t the constant forgiveness of a wrongful act (because, their will always be more) silently scream that wrong acts are in fact forgivable?
In a sense we are human, and we will fault and we do hurt, but for me the way to better ourselves is not to say that we are human and that we fault and that we hurt, the way for us to better ourselves is to say that we can do better, we can do righter, and that anything less than perfect is wrong. (Doing all this knowing you’ll never achieve the ultimate good/perfection of course.) Tell me one person who achieved something we didn’t think humanly possible who wasn’t unbelievably and unnecessarily self-judgemental, cruel, hard on themselves?
It’s a strange paradox. But I guess it all depends on which you hold higher goodness, or kindness.
… Anyways, just a thought.
Real forgiveness isn’t a decision, though, in my experience. We don’t say “I am going to forgive myself for X” and then experience miraculous relief of all of the suffering that comes with judgment, blame, and guilt. They will come back, as soon as our conscious attention is brought to bear on something else, our unconscious mind returns to its natural state. Real forgiveness comes when we really recognize, understand, and accept our own and others’ shortcomings with a compassionate heart. Through this, and a little bit of grace, forgiveness can be found.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget what has happened; the illusions we bought into that lead us to do what we did to another, the suffering another has caused us in their ignorance. In fact, real forgiveness and compassion may allow us to understand the significance of the human weaknesses that created the circumstances that created a need for forgiveness.
I don’t know that goodness or kindness are mutually exclusive in finding forgiveness. Forgiveness can be a liberation, just as judgment can be a motivation.
This post definitely just ‘clicked’ with me. You’re ability to transcribe your thoughts astounds me. I have been at the second level and it brings such a peaceful feeling, I wish I were capable of sustaining it. I noticed a couple comments mentioned the same difficulty. Maybe I’m only lacking the discipline but are there any methods you have found helpful in keeping that second level mindset?
I don’t think discipline is the issue. It’s hard to not take things personally–to not feel like they are doing something TO YOU. I wish there was an easy trick or tip. I think awareness and mindfulness are the only options though.