Dear E & V,
“F*ck You”. Those are two words you should never EVER utter to anyone.
But you will. You will because that’s what happens sometimes when we’re angry. We utter words that are meant to sting others because we’re not thinking of their impact.
And someone WILL say them to you. Hopefully it’s just out of anger. You may also just encounter some jerk in life whose sole mission is to be a jerk and piss people off. The fact is, you will encounter a small yet significant number of people in life — both children and adults — who are so miserable that they’ll call you names. They’ll make fun of your hair or call you fat or ugly or big ears or mole face. They’ll use your race or gender or religion or nationality or job or some other arbitrary characteristic as a focal point for their derision. They’ll find your insecurities and point them out because that takes attention away from their own insecurities.
Fortunately these people will be rare in your life. On the bell curve of assholes you’ll find most people are somewhere in the middle or even opposite end:
Here is my 100% anecdotally-based distribution curve of people’s niceness. While it’s very situational dependent (people become bigger assholes when they drive, for instance, than if you were to meet them in person), most people will sit at #2. They’re pretty decent people and would save your life if it didn’t involve risking their own. #1 is where your jerks will sit — very few of them, and #3 are your saints, the people who would dive in front of a bullet for you.
So most people are decent and mean people are few and far between. Great. So if most people are in the #2 bucket, why do we have so many Twitter warriors and Facebook detectives constantly giving themselves aneurysms because somebody said something hurtful?
Because even decent people can and do make thoughtless mistakes. In fact I would say that happens to just about everybody — but whereas in the past that would be limited to just offending your friends and family, now you can accidentally offend entire swaths of internet do-gooders with a misplaced Instagram comment or a post-happy friend posting pictures of your dumb college mistakes. So instead of buying your boyfriend flowers because you jokingly asked him if he took fashion advice from Helen Keller, you now have to hire a Public Relations firm to explain that you spoke out of ignorance and apologize to the legions of internet virtue signallers.
Here’s a Life Pro Tip if you find yourself getting offended because somebody didn’t think before they hit “Submit”: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Louder and with more emphasis:
Just because you can get offended does not mean you should get offended.
First of all, what are you going to accomplish by getting offended? If you complain about another person’s offensive behavior, you come off as a whiner. You come off as self-righteous. Learn from one of the most repeated lessons from the Bible: Let ye without sin cast the first stone. Don’t be so high-and-mighty that you point out others’ flaws while ignoring your own. Even if you don’t publicly complain about the offense, you hold it in and let it stew in your brain. You let a simple bad decision on another person’s part cause you pain and suffering because YOU decided to get offended. Is the world a better place because you publicly shamed the offender or became indignant at their misguided actions? Are you going to magically reverse the person’s hurtful words because you took offense to them?
Second: You know what’s more effective than getting offended? Using this as a teaching lesson to explain to the offender why their words might cause harm to others. Explain to this person PRIVATELY why what they said is hurtful — that’s the mature way to go about showing someone why the need to be more careful about the words they use. If they’re in the #2 bucket they’ll apologize because 99% of the time they just spoke out of ignorance or there was a miscommunication. And if they’re the 1% in the #1 bucket, then f*ck ’em, as you probably won’t ever change their mind (unless you’re a #3 — you keeping track of all this?).
Nothing is EVER EVER EVER solved by starting a public witch hunt. Not only do you risk harming innocent people (again — miscommunications happen) but most of the time things get worse, not better. Divisions become stronger because people become more defensive in an effort to save face. Trolls come out of the woodwork because of the attention you’re now heaping on an otherwise unremarkable issue. You punish people for what is usually an accident or misunderstanding, and you get yourself stressed out/worked up over something that could have been a trivial issue if you would have simply handled it with an attitude of empathy (note: Just because you empathize doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person. It means you treat them as a human rather than just a viewpoint). Often times you become no better and sometimes even worse than the offender because of this war path you’ve found yourself on.
The biggest lesson here is one that Stoics (and many others) have been teaching for thousands of years:
You can’t control how other people will act, but you can control how you respond.
By getting upset over what other people say and how they act, you’re only making yourself miserable. People aren’t perfect and they will say stupid hurtful things. I’ve done it, your mom has done it, and you will do it. I’m not saying keep your expectations low, but be prepared for people to be accidental (and sometimes purposeful) jerks. If all else fails, keep this “prayer” from Marcus Aurelius in mind the next time you come across someone making fun of your haircut:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.
They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.
And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him.
We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”
You are better than the dark side. Aim to be better than the sinner by behaving like a saint when dealing with sinner.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.