You’re The Problem
I was thinking today about how one-sided our complaints typically are. The readiness with which we’ll take but refuse to give. Livid at a driver who takes too long at a light. Whoops, I spaced out there for a second, when we do it ourselves. Ask for rides to the airport whenever you need one. Meanwhile, you take a mental note of the gas gauge and watch the clock when you’re waiting curbside for someone else.
It’s funny how backwards we seem to have in. Really, in our complaints about others, the blame is spread out over a large group—it’s not this driver you’re reacting to but cumulatively this time plus the time it happened last week at a different light and a thousand other times since you’ve been driving—and yet, when it comes to the other side of the equation, it’s the opposite. We are the one who asks too much of our friends AND we are the one who gets distracted and holds up traffic too often. That’s not how it is in our heads though.
Think about how often we expect empathy and don’t think to give it. Someone is rude to you, it’s not acceptable. When you are rude, it’s because you’re tired, you didn’t mean it, because the process has been frustrating. We ask without consideration and can’t even consider why someone else might be asking of us.
In some respects this is just routine selfishness. But it’s also rooted in the misguided way we keep score. We keep a tab, subconsciously mostly, for all of humanity. Ratcheting up our attitude or disillusionment each time we’re imposed upon or screwed over as though the world was working in conjunction against us. And then, we deliberately forget our own impositions on this world—how many that we have taken and taken or been the problem.
It would be better and we would be happier (and more generous) if we worked on flipping this. Look at each individual instance for what it is, a trivial and singular encounter but look at everything that you do as part of a collective and closely watched account. As one philosopher put it, pretend that everyone else is hemmed in by predetermination but that you, and you alone, have been given free-will. Because when you give up the misguided notion that they are in control and focus solely on the fact that you in fact are in control, the whining petulance stops and the magnanimity can begin.
When you say “a collective and closely watched account,” are you looking for patterns, mistakes/wrongs you commit over and over again? And how do you avoid it just becoming a routine beating up of yourself? I’m curious because I’ve been trying to be more “present,” but it seems like you suggest here that a more long-term perspective is important as well.
Yes, that’s what I mean. Think about it like this: try to give every person you interact with the benefit of a blank slate but subject your own behavior to strict and regular analysis. Account for yourself and let others do the same–they don’t need you to pile on.
This is entirely consistent with living in the present. You take each encounter with others to be your first, giving them all the courtesy you’d extended to someone who’d never asked you for anything or ever wronged you. With yourself, remember how much you ask for and how often you screw up and let that determine what you thnk you’re entitled to.
This is great. Thank you so much.
“[T]take each encounter with others to be your first, giving them all the courtesy you’d extended to someone who’d never asked you for anything or ever wronged you. With yourself, remember how much you ask for and how often you screw up and let that determine what you think you’re entitled to.”
Goes into my quotes file!
This is pretty much what I’ve been dealing with and the post basically put it into words. I see this with personal relationships. We judge the people in our lives based on a long arc of things they did. I guess it’s normal, because a history of behavior is a good sign of what that person will do next. The problem is that we expect people to see us ‘for who we are’ at the present, like it’s some easy thing to do. They are supposed to begin with a blank slate. It’s hard to do this, and when we realize that, we can stop expecting it from other people.
I work in customer service (among other things– as is often the case in a startup) and I think it makes you consider so much more carefully your own tone and words when you find yourself calling the bank, the cable company, whatever. Because you know what it’s like to field questions and complaints from irate or impatient consumers; you know the person on the end of the phone line has limitations based not on their competence but on the policies of their company or the flow of information or the actions of another department. It’s the same if you’ve ever been a waiter, or a bar tender, or a receptionist, etc.
Ryan, ever looked into mindfulness meditation? It goes pretty well together with stoicism (as far as my poor understanding of it goes), and some of the themes of life as flux etc.
There is a Russian deputy who brings controversy in all what he is commenting (forgot his name sorry). He does not hesitate to offer radical views, make “whining petulance”, well, everything that could be outrageous he is eager to say.
Do you think this behaviour could help oneself because it could trigger change for good?
It would help who change for good? Him or me?
I’ve been really guilty of this lately, thanks for the post. I needed to be rebuked for it, and it was unlikely to be coming from anyone I knew.
The other part of the equation is that there are certain sins/crimes/breeches that we may fixate on.
What we fixate on is just a relic of our upbringing. My mother won’t speak to anyone that uses the word “fuck,” and that’s about as arbitrary as racism.
One man’s temper may be another man’s exaggerations. I’m not given to saying testy, mean things to people, but I’ve got other warts.
I have to remind myself – constantly – that just because I don’t do X and so and so does, that doesn’t make me better/more mature/more refined.
Right, and even if it was you can leave them to it.
Hi – who was the philosopher you refer to in the last paragraph? It’s an interesting idea and I would like to read more of whoever it is.
I believe it was Bertand Russell
Seems like the Fundamental Attribution Error plays a big part in this.
I’ve found that it’s not just along lines of ‘me’ and ‘everyone else’, though, it’s along the tribalistic Self and Other lines. For example, you might be willing to accept that circumstances caused your brother, or the people with the same political leanings as you, to act in the way they did – but a stranger, or that guy at work you don’t like, acted because they’re a fundamentally bad person.
These lines are pretty fluid, though – as you suggest, a friend you’ll side with one day will be the Other the next time you’re stuck waiting for him, and it seems to rearrange itself as is needed to protect the identity of the individual. “I must always be right”, it seems is the mantra, so it’s good to remind yourself that you’re not, that circumstances often don’t extenuate, because you’re no different to anybody else.
Ryan thank you for making this point. Focusing on the actions of the self as if one had free will while others didn’t. Cliche as it may be, I have to draw the analogy to the Matrix when the character is moving faster than everything around him. When your surroundings are predictable, they essentially are moving in slow motion.
I was just imagining if you subsituted “I” in for all the “you’s” in your essay and changed the “ours” and the we’s to my and I/we. Substituting all the imperatives as i think or I find that … and if you renamed it “I am the problem”. how incredibly powerful would that post have been.I am new to your blog and love it thanks ryan.
I’d be interested to hear what other people think about your point. I typically speak in the second person for two reasons. One, to step back and talk TO myself rather than about myself and two, to stress that these are shared issues and have a general application.
I think that it’s implied. I write to myself or, at least normatively.
There’s nothing in the world more boring than a blogger that talks about himself, and his experiences ad nauseum. (A close second is one that creates strained metaphors…as if Darth Vader can guide me to using Twitter better or something).
“I am the problem” is compelling. “We are the problem” is also compelling. It would work in this post. It does not work in most of the other posts, and it would weaken the voice here.
“You are the problem” is explicit, and most people realize that this is also a confession of sorts.
I see what you mean. If your post was called I am the problem, and written in that way, people mightn’t realize that what you are relating is not just unique to you but something we can all learn from. I really like your insights and it is a small thing.
If i was to say, “when someone cuts me off when I am driving, I feel anger rising within me.” I am putting myself out there a bit more than if I was to say, “you know when you’re driving and a guy cuts you off in traffic, you can get so angry”. In the second way, there are assumptions in it. I am saying it’s common, everyday, we all experience it. You should understand me, because I am no different from any normal person. In the first sentence, i am relating my experience leaving the other person free to interpret it anyway he wants without pressure or assumptions. if the listener responds in the first sentence with “man there’s something wrong with you, you need anger management classes,” I may find that annoying and that’s the risk I am taking by communicating in this way. With the second sentence, the listener is under some pressure to agree, and if he gives me any grief, i could say “man if you don’t get angry when that happens, maybe there is something wrong with you, everyone gets angry!”. Here is an example. “I feel my communication is more powerful when I speak from experience, I feel like I am lecturing other people, pressuring them to understand me and agree with me when i communicate with the 2nd person and 1st person plural. There is no disagreement when I use the first person, and I can only speak with authority on my own experiences and not on other’s experiences.” This is my perspective. I am not talking about universal truths nor being an authority on anything. I experience the world in this way right now and the listener may experience the world in that way too, or he may not experience it in this way and there’s nothing to disagree with nor assumptions to buy into.
I say “you and your” all the time. this is an idea I heard on a self improvement program product I listened to ages ago, and have been thinking about lately. In it, he said that, when we come from our own experience we are powerful influential communicators, but when we advise and lecture people, it is less effective. Throughout the whole program he corrected everybody who began their sentences with “we” and “you”, as they began talking about their problems in their lives. He seemed to think it was very important.