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.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.