It’s 7am, your alarm goes off, you groan and slowly open your eyes from a night of lousy sleep. In a half-zombie like state you get yourself together for work and head out the door.
You’re driving to work on a single lane road and someone in front of you is driving very slow with no other cars in front of them. You honk and think to yourself “what an asshole, go!” Moments later, someone else flies by you in their car going twice the speed limit and catches you by surprise, you think “what a pyscho, what the fuck are they doing?!”.
You get to work and the receptionist looks dead eyed and mumbles a hallow “good morning” that neither of you really want to hear. She looks at the ground and mumbles that you’re late for a meeting. You roll your eyes at her and think how she’s always such a downer.
Your colleague asks for your help on a project that was due yesterday, but he claims he was too busy to finish and you think “what were you doing, you knew this was due today!”
You leave after a long day of work and are stuck in traffic side by side with all these massive SUVs, everyone inching along, cutting in and out of lanes Office Space style, and all you can think is “I want to get away from all this and get home now!”
You realize you have no food at home and have to go to the store to grab food for dinner. You ask someone who works there where you can find the frozen foods section. The guy shrugs his shoulders and you shoot him a “dude don’t you fuckin work here?” glance. You finally find what you want and the line is long as hell and all you want to do is get it through it and get home.
After what feels like forever, you finally arrive to the front of the line and the lady at the cash register is old and moving extremely slow. She slowly scans each item, has trouble getting your change, and doesn’t even bag your items. You grab your food from her and the women puts her head down and moves on to the next customer.
Each person in the above is a part of a common day to day frustration. Your situation may involve different components, different commutes, different work, and encounter different types of people, but more or less you deal with thoughts of how other people inconvenience you, get in your way, and are ultimately, assholes.
This is your story. And your story usually involves a lot of other people. Or as you often unconsciously label them, “other inconsiderate assholes.” Now you may not label people inwardly or outwardly as exactly that, but regardless of what you may call them, that’s usually what is boils down to. Mean, selfish, obnoxious, rude, inconsiderate, jerk, idiot, asshat (personal favorite), annoying, dick, crude, bitch, impolite. Whatever you may label them, it really all boils down the same, you think there’s an asshole. Maybe not always, but in a situation where someone seems to inconvenience you, they were.
But what about that person, that “asshole.” What about their perspective? What about their story?
We’ll never fully know the story of the people around us. Many of them may be strangers or colleagues like the example above. But even our friends and family often don’t share their true stories, issues, and struggles, and so it’s often left up to our interpretation (which is usually wrong and deluded).
It’s easy to go into our self centered auto-pilot during the story above and only see our own story and those “assholes” in our way. But what if we decided to see the story different, what if we decided to think about each of those other people and what they may be going through.
Maybe the person driving slowly in front of you had recently been in a terrible car accident and it was their first time driving in months and they were terrified. They were trying to get their life back together and finally built up the courage to drive again, but your tailgating and honking behind them scared them shitless.
Maybe the person who flew by you in their car was a soon to be father who’s wife was sitting next to him moments away from giving birth to their first child and it was in fact you who was in his way.
Maybe the receptionist is a single mother, who had been up late that night working a second job just to make ends meet.
Maybe your colleague forgot about the project because he’s been a complete depressed wreck after his wife decided to divorce and leave him.
Maybe that kid working at the store was on his first day, is trying to overcome extreme social anxieties, and nervous about his first new job because he needs it to pay for school.
Maybe the old woman behind the counter had been up night after night for the past few months sitting by her husband’s side as he battled with cancer. He just recently passed away and now she has to take up this job to keep afloat financially.
Now I realize many of the situations above are fairly rare and a bit extreme, in fact, odds are low that you will incur people like this in your day to day.
But the point here is you have a choice in how you wish to see the story.
You have a choice how to think and view the world around you. I am not telling you how to think. I am suggesting to you the idea that you can choose if that person is an asshole or a fellow human who may be struggling with something you don’t understand. You can break your auto-pilot default views of the world and people around you and create an alternative.
All of the above are still situations being dealt with in the world around you every single day and you often have no idea. But it all comes down to what you want to consider. Do you want live in your world where everyone is an inconsiderate obstacle that is in your way, or do you want to consider something else? That maybe there dealing with similar pains and struggles, or that their pains or struggles may be far worse then yours.
Everyone on this planet is battling with issues that you know nothing about. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own story, our own problems, that we don’t look around or even think about what other’s might be going through.
Don’t you think everyone else waiting in line, late at night, buying groceries also wants to get home? Don’t you think everyone else sitting in traffic wants to get going just as badly as you. There is no prick just sitting there in their car driving at 10mph because he is intentionally fucking with you. But that’s how we feel and think. We actually have thoughts that “this person is doing this because they are an inconsiderate asshole”. That is the only logical explanation in your mind.
But here’s part of the problem. First without understanding why we are like this, the fact that we are actually wired to, by default, act out of selfishness, it leads us to further anger and frustration (Yes, many of our natural default settings is to view other’s as inconsiderate assholes in our way). The second, is that it’s damn hard work to keep the feelings, struggles, and thoughts of other’s in mind. In fact, I’d argue it’s impossible to do all the time.
You may read this or hear similar advice and for the next day or two, you’ll be a little more considerate, patient, and accepting of others. You may consciously start choosing to believe a story contrary to your default “everyone is an asshole except me,” setting. However, usually shortly after you’ll get caught back up in your usual thoughts and stories of everyone being an asshole. Hell, I’m writing this, and yet still guilty of falling back into this mindset, all the time.
But if we’ve grown up knowing that we need to be considerate of others and what they may be dealing, why do so rarely do it and why is it so hard to keep up? Why are our brains wired in a way that the moment someone inconveniences us in the very slightest, we instantly label and berate that person in our mind or even outwardly, that they are a selfish, inconsiderate asshole?
I’m glad you asked, let’s get to the question at hand. Why you’re an asshole. (If you just thought “well I’m not an asshole” shut up, just listen, you are, shhh it’s okay, I am too, and we can work on this)
The Actor Observer Bias
The actor observer bias, basically be definition in one sentence says that we are all assholes.
To summarize the actor observer bias, let’s use another example. Let’s say you’re standing on the sidewalk about to cross the street. The light turns yellow and then is about to turn red, so you start stepping out into the road. As you do, a car speeds up to make the light and runs through it, causing you step back and wait for the car to go by. You’re immediate thought as the observer, is that the person speeding through the light was wrong, and that they’re a selfish asshole. However, if you put yourself in the same exact scenario and situation, where now you are the driver, the light is turns yellow and you decided to gas through, you would see it as no big deal at all.
We all do this, everyday, and often have no idea. We see someone do something that annoys us, and then do that exact same thing and think nothing of it.
Why? Because we’re entirely self-absorbed. We don’t go into making a decision with the mind state “I’m a total asshole for doing this.” No to you, it’s totally fine and justified. But so help you god, when someone else does the exact same thing, you will look at them like they’re a total dick.
Everything happens through your perspective
When you really think about it, it’s easy to see why we are so self-absorbed and inconsiderate of what other’s are thinking and doing. Everything in your life happens from your perspective. Everything happens from your point of view, in front of you, behind you, next to you. Everything that is experienced is through your eyes, what you see, experience, your thoughts and interpretations, your senses, your mind.
There is no experience that you have had that you weren’t the complete center of.
So it’s easy to understand why we are so selfish. We rarely consider the thoughts, feelings, and actions of other’s, not because we’re oblivious to the fact that other people have similar struggles, but because we often have so many of our own problems in our mind, that it’s very difficult to constantly think about the problems everyone around us may be dealing with as well.
And even when we do, even when try to consider the feels, struggles, and problems of others, it’s almost impossible to fully know and understand what is really happening, and why they are doing it, because simply put, we are not that person.
There are no two people on the planet that are going through the exact same thoughts, struggles, and experiences. We may have similar struggles, but the way in which we preserve and deal with them will never be the same between two people.
No one is consciously an asshole
As I said earlier, it’s always important to remember that no one is consciously an asshole. Even those people you know that truly always seem to be angry dickheads, are not conscious assholes (even though it can feel like they are).
What I mean by this, is that no one consciously does something for the pure sake of being an asshole. Even if it seems their sole intention was to berate you, be mean, break you down, there is always something deeper going on. A cry for attention maybe, a lack of social awareness, low self esteem, trying to impress someone, etc. Whatever it may be, there is always a method to the apparent madness.
Now I’m not saying this means you need to constantly accept and put up with someone else’s inconsiderate bullshit just because they may be going through a hard time. No, just like you are often unaware of what other’s may be going through, people are often equally unaware of their own level of “assholesness” (not a word? it is now). We are terrible judges of how our actions and words affect others and sometimes have no idea we are being assholes ourselves.
You ever say or do something that you thought was completely light hearted, playful, and innocent, only to look back and realize it was a total dick move? (Me to my own question: “uhh all the time”) I bet for every one time you catch yourself in that realization, there was another hundred instances where your light hearted actions or words, in reality, came across aggressive and mean.
Awakening to a life of less assholes
Please don’t think I am sitting here writing that this is a way you need to constantly think. Because as I mentioned, it’s hard. It’s hard to constantly keep the needs and considerations of other’s in the forefront of your mind. It’s hard to override your default auto-pilot mind that views other’s as inconsiderate assholes, that continually get in our way, and tell yourself a different, more understanding point of view.
There are some days where you flat out will not be able to do it. There will be days where you just can’t seem to tolerate people and Bob from HR spills coffee on you and then scolds you later for telling a risky joke in the office because its “unprofessional.” (Fuck Bob,Right?)
Seriously, fuck Bob
What I am saying again is that you always have a choice. You don’t have to see people and the world this way. Your mind completely free to make up any and all realities and stories about people around us. Why not make them more pleasant?
Maybe it’s just trying to be just being a little more considerate, a little more patient. To be a little more self-aware, to be open to the idea that maybe someone’s else’s pain is more then yours. To the idea, that maybe that person shoving past you has a sick or hurt kid to get home to, and it is actually YOU who is in HIS way. To be a little more in tune with your fellow humans around you..
Maybe it’s thinking a little more about what you say and do. The affects of your words and actions are so much more significantly powerful then you have an idea, I promise you that. I’m not saying you need to spend your life tip toeing around trying not to offend anyone. I’m just saying your words and actions have a far bigger impact on others then you know.
Think that maybe, just maybe, that person is not an asshole. Maybe they are going through something hellish right now, a breakup, divorcee, illness, injury, death in the family, depression, anxiety.
You always have a choice how to perceive the world and others.