Understanding Everyone Else (hint, you won’t manage it, but they’ll appreciate the effort)

So, there you are, sitting around a table at a party, or talking to people at work, or even in a pickup bar.  There comes a point where you realize that the people around you are talking about the same things every day, all day (if this happens to you in pickup bars, you seriously need to consider doing something else with your free time) – and the things they say seem to consist mainly of stuff that only a game show studio audience (or mammals of similar intellect) could possibly find interesting.

It’s kind of hard to know how to react in these cases.  Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second: what we actually want to do is to tell them that they should look into purchasing a brain, or getting out and seeing a little more of life.

Try to resist that temptation.  The people you offend may not be worth much as companions, but they can make your life miserable in trivial ways as long as you have to have contact with them.  Not worth the aggravation.

A better strategy would be to try to understand the people around you.  Why, exactly do they insist on talking about Pharrell Williams’ hat (deduct 100 points if you knew who Pharrell Williams is without clicking the link)?

Simple: the people around you have negligible inner lives.  Their idea of heaven is waiting for 6 o’clock to roll by and then going home to watch TV.  On weekends, they get hammered and have sex with strangers who never call them back.

OK, we admit that there’s some merit in this last bit, but still…

Try to see it – or at least analyze it – from their point of view.  It is likely that most people reading this blog will have had structures shattered at an early age for some reason or another; many of those reasons will have to do with travel, but other motives are likely present, too.  That means, essentially, that you will be more flexible to understand other points of view (you may not agree with them, of course, but that’s another discussion entirely).

But imagine that you are not you.  Imagine that you grew up in a small town somewhere – not necessarily in the US, but anywhere.  You went to school there, you spent your childhood summers fishing in the lake with your friends, and your high school summers making out on the shores of that same lake.  You know exactly what’s right, what’s wrong and how the world works.

It doesn’t even have to be a particularly small town.  Hell, I’ve seen this in people who live in ten-million-strong cities.  Many people seem to need to make the world around them as small as possible, even when the evidence is shouting at them that it’s a reasonably big place.

The above doesn’t paint the whole picture.  In that simplified model we are leaving out parents, and the guy at the general store, and the local newspaper.

Oh, and religion.  Don’t forget about religion.

While it’s sometimes fine for young people to wonder if there might be more to life than what they know, it takes a particularly strong personality to face down a bunch of people he loves and admires who are also armed with millennia of experience in the art of telling people what to think, how to think it and even when to think it.  “Normal”, under these conditions, becomes a very limited set of characteristics.

You, of course, are different.  You know that there is more out there, that being flexible, open-minded and learning about everything is a wonderful way of life.  You want to share it, want to expand the minds of people with small horizons, and you get really frustrated at unnecessary mental blocks.  Even slightly structured people can get on your nerves.

So what do you do?  If you’re like me, you can’t resist tweaking them.  You will make little comments based on the exact opposite of their assumptions or (and I don’t recommend this, as it’s a time sink of epic proportions on the comments front) write a guest blog post about how they are wrong about everything on a site with major traffic, in a nicely dismissive tone.  Yes, the temptation to make them jump is very strong… and the situation is made worse by the fact that the reactions are often extremely entertaining as well.

But my advice is to resist the temptation (do as I say, not as I do, and all that).  The reason has nothing to do with getting along with others and playing nice and everything to do with the fact that it’s a waste of time.  Anyone who’s gotten to adulthood with an excessively rigid set of values isn’t going to change, and the fun of watching them grow angry grows old after a while (OK, some people are extremely funny when angered, but even so).  Plus, there’s the added benefit of people liking you more if you do resist.

So, now that you at least have a slightly better understanding of where everyone else has their heads at, I’m certain you will be much more pleasant to be around.

Oh, who am I kidding?  Just send me the anecdotes when you do tweak them.  I’ll laugh at most and probably ask you for permission to post the better ones here.

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3 comments

  1. You’re on to something with that bit about being much more pleasant to be around. Seriously, the happier everyone around you is, the happier you will be.

    If you’ve seen The Family Man, think of that moment when the other guys at the tire store are talking about the Knicks, and he says, “Are you kidding? They suck!” There’s an awkward moment until he suddenly realizes he’s not at the top of the pecking order here. So he says, “But they’re due.”

    I guess it’s a “choose your conflict” kind of thing.

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    1. I would advise one to avoid conflicts altogether, unless you do it purely for entertainment value. On the whole, the people who can be tweaked aren’t going to offer much in the way of reflective argument, and you aren’t going to convince them to expand their minds much unless you are having the discussion with a child, who will be much more open-minded by nature.

      Like

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