This year, I have resolved to be nice(r) to people. You see, I have a terrible confession; I can, at times (a lot of times) find myself being mean and nasty about people, often other drivers when I am in my car, I criticise them for being too slow, too fast, not changing lanes, being in the wrong lane, not indicating… I judge them on their driving skills in the most critical way.
I am not alone in this is negative judgment and meanness. if you spend just a few moments scanning through the static of your Social Media feed I am sure you would come across at least one post that has some misanthropic statement, here is just one example that popped up on my Facebook feed as I was writing this:
Meanness Is A Virtue?
Meanness has become something of a virtue. Just think of some of those phrases that get chucked about, “I don’t suffer fools gladly” and the like. Compassion and kindness is almost considered weak, with such phrases as “Nice guys finish last”. There is even a trend at the moment (well it has been going on for some time) to idolise Sociopaths and Psychopaths, with books like “The Wisdom Of Psychopaths” extolling the virtues of those lacking empathy.
What Drives Us To Be Mean?
Other than this odd social pressure to be judgemental and mean, I think there is something more fundamental going on that makes us mean; we are projecting our own insecurities, frustrations and existential angst on to the people around us. We are prickly, bad tempered, impatient and judgemental because we, ourselves, are not happy.
First Things First, Be Nice To Yourself
If we were truly comfortable and accepting of ourselves and our own lives, then (in the nicest possible way), we wouldn’t care what is going on with the people around is. Just think about it for a moment; when you are in a really good mood, you tend to be more patient, forgiving and tolerant. It’s only when things get on top of you that you lash out.
Eric Hoffer once said (in his book “The True Believer”) that “a man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”
So, find something in your life that is worth doing, something meaningful (to you) and do it. It doesn’t need to be massively world changing, just something you love and can be a bit nerdy about, something that excites and thrills you, and focus on that.
In ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), Kelly Wilson talks of Self Compassion; about treating yourself like someone you actually love and deeply care about (controversial, huh?!). If you were looking at your self and your life as someone who loves you would you be pleased or worried? Would you be encouraging them to continue with this lifestyle or gently suggesting that they change their ways? Look at your life as a loving third person, from this perspective, look at what you would encourage yourself to do (and do it). Focus on making positive changes in your own life, not judging others.
I have also found therapies such as EFT really work well (Which has gone out fashion a bit recently. I have no clue how it works and was a massive cynical of it until I gave it a go and used it on a few of my clients and found incredible results…)
Accept Your Decisions
As Albert Camus once said, “Life is a sum of all your choices”. We often regretful of the choices or decisions we have made, we look back at choices and wish we had done something else.
If we were perfectly at ease and accepting of the choices we had made, we would be happier, nicer people.
As Jetsun Milarepa, the famous Tibetan Yogi once said, his religion was to “live and die without regret”. Which was not an excuse for hedonism, but to accept the decisions you have made.
Try this little experiment that I learned from Robert Anton Wilson, who learned it from Alan Watts, who learned it from Aleister Crowley:
Find a place and and time when you will not be disturbed for 15 minutes or so and say to yourself, “I am sitting here doing this exercise because…” and list as many causes as you can. Keep working backwards.
For example, you’re doing this exercise because you read about it in this blog post. But why are you reading this post? How did you find it? Did somebody share a link with you? Was it a search? What caused you to search for this post? If you just happened across it on social media, what were you doing on social media that day? What made this post stand out?
If you found this through a search because you are interested in Slow, Mindfulness, or whatever, how did you get interested in these topics? Did someone influence you? What things have happened in your life or upbringing that made you interested in these topics?
If you keep going back, you will start asking some quite profound questions like, how did your parents meet? Why is this planet capable of supporting life, and why the kind of life that conceives of these types of experiments?!
Repeat this exercise at least three times in about a week or so (leaving a few days between) trying to answer differnet questions. You will start to notice all the coincidences, synchronicities, random chances and things that are and were totally beyond your control that has bought you to where you are today. You will (hopefully) start to realise that you could not ever know what would have happened if you made a different choice, so there is no point thinking about it, just focus on what you are doing right now.
We Are All Fools!
The rebel psychiatrist R.D. Laing refused to believe in insanity, saying that insanity was a “perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” and thought we were all insane in our own way. It is important to remember this when we find ourselves negatively judging other people or people’s behaviours. We have all made mistakes, we have all done foolish things. We are judging someone by a snapshot, by a tiny moment in their lives, by a behaviour that lasts a moment and from that we make a value judgement about that person as a whole.
It’s also important to remind yourself that we are all doing the best we can, with the information and ability we have available to us. No matter how stupid, foolish, daft or idiotic it seems to us, to them it is the only appropriate response given the resources that they have (if it wasn’t they wouldn’t do it).
I Love You!
An old friend of mine, when cut up in traffic, would scream in rage, “I LOVE YOU!”. Her reasoning being that words become thoughts, so if you repeat something often enough you will start to think it. Thoughts become actions. So if you think something it will change the way you behave and feel. So by screaming, “I LOVE YOU!” at anyone that annoys you, will start to act as if you love them (in a platonic way, of course) and feel that sense of love. I have no idea if the logic of that argument holds up to psychological scrutiny (although knowing what I know, it makes a lot of sense), but I have found when I do this, it changes my state almost instantly.
Being Nice Is Its Own Reward
I have a simple rule, I try and leave everyone in better state than I found them. It’s part of my job as a trainer and coach, but also it is also a life philosophy of mine (which makes it doubly worse that I get so annoyed and mean about people at times), even it is as simple as just being polite to the person on the checkout at the local supermarket and making them smile. Making other people feel good makes me feel good.
If you are being mean to people or making nasty judgments about them in your head or otherwise (bitchy comments behind their backs, etc) the only person you are making feeling bad is yourself. Why waste your time feeling bad about what somebody else does? That causes stress, and stress causes all sorts of problems.