Or how to stop being an asshole.
I keep thinking that it can’t be that hard not to be an asshole. There has been a lot of stuff coming up about bullies and trolls on the various and assorted social media sites. I’m lucky, in a way, because I have such a small (and generally like-minded) following that no one has ever been nasty to me in an online forum. But I read about it happening to other people and for every death threat delivered in a comments section, I have the same thought: when did this become okay? And how hard is it to just not be an asshole? Clearly, it’s harder than I think it should be.
Step one: Recognizing if you’re an asshole.
If you have ever threatened someone’s life or physical safety or that of his/her family over an idea, a belief, a game, an opinion, a TV show, a tweet, an article, a religion… Okay, let’s start again. If you’ve ever threatened someone’s life, physical well-being, or that of their family (to include pets) you are an asshole. The only possible exception is if you threaten (or cause real bodily harm to) someone who is in the act of harming you or someone else. For example, the guy in Texas who beat the assailant of his child to death… he is not an asshole. If you are in the military fighting a war, you are not an asshole. These are the only exceptions.
Losing your shit over things you are guilty of is another good sign. Road rage over someone not using their blinkers when they change lanes, when you also don’t use your blinkers? You might be an asshole.
If the only socializing you do consists of tearing other people down, you are probably an asshole. If you are mean to people you don’t know just because you can get away with it, you are probably an asshole. If you think someone reacting to offensive language by becoming offended is their problem, you are probably an asshole.
I’m sure I could come up with other symptoms, but that covers quite a bit of territory.
Step Two: Deciding you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life being an asshole because, let’s face it, the world just doesn’t need any more schmucks.
Are you happy? Do you have meaningful friends? Do you have lasting relationships with members of the sex you are attracted to? Do you feel an incipient longing to create something that lasts instead of just tearing everything down indiscriminately? It may be time to recognize that you’d like to become a constructive human being.
Step Three: Developing compassion.
Oddly enough, this starts with your relationship with you. Go easy on yourself. Stop saying such horrible things about yourself when you make a mistake. Take a deep breath. Recognize that you are fighting a hard battle, and credit yourself for making it this far. Then expand that circle of compassion outward a little. That guy that just cut you off in traffic. Probably doing the best he can with what he’s got. The lady who can’t make up her mind in Starbucks: fighting a difficult battle and doing what she can to make it through. That person you’ve never met on the internet with an opinion you disagree with. Probably just wants to make the world a better place to the best of his ability. Go easy on yourself. Go easy on other people.
Step Four: Take nothing personally.
See, 99.999% of what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them. Unfortunately, this means 99.999% of what you do isn’t because so and so said thus and such. Taking nothing personally goes hand in hand with taking absolute responsibility for yourself and your words. No one can make you mad. No one can make you anything. You choose your reaction. We’re all trying to make it through with a collection of challenges and difficulties that are uniquely our own. We’re all generally so absorbed in our own concerns, we have a hard time seeing other people. That goes for you too. Notice it in yourself when you’re getting ready to fly off the handle. Notice it in people who you disagree with. Their feelings and how they handle them tell you about who they are, not who you are. Your feelings and how you manage them tells the world who you are and says nothing about the person you are blaming for your reaction.
Step Five: If you would be mad if someone said it to your mother, don’t say it to anyone else.
I’m pretty sure that doesn’t need further explanation.
Step Six: find something you’d like to build, something that makes the world a better, safer place, and focus on that.
If you don’t like people, do something for animals. Whatever it is, find a constructive place for your energy, something that benefits someone or something other than yourself.
That’s it. Practice a little every day and eventually, you too can become a nicer person. Just start with the no death threats thing, because the fact that someone has to say that out loud is just sad.