CAVEAT: Don’t think of this a sanctimonious rant. I’m happy if you disagree with any or all of it. I don’t think my opinion is better than anyone else’s. These things were on my mind and I think they make for good points of discussion, so please discuss.
I am a fairly misanthropic person, I’m sure you know this if you know me, or have read anything I’ve written before. However, in my misanthropy, I try not to be an arsehole. I don’t always succeed, I am but a human. I’ve noticed over the last few years that the tendency for the human race to take everything personally and for that view to be utterly polar in some direction or other is now the norm. You may disagree with some or all of this, but these are things I think people could do more of to make the world a little bit nicer to live in. I’ve tried to do these things as much as I possibly can over the last few years and found myself a considerably happier and less stressed person:
1) Question everything – Nothing created by human hand is entirely free from bias. In actuality, almost nothing you read on the internet or in the published media comes even close to neutral. If you read something sensational somewhere, especially if it appears in a link in social media, take five seconds of your time to verify it before throwing in your oar. Make sure you use more than one reference as well. If the only place you can find any information about a thing is on the Daily Mail website, it’s probably fabricated.
2) Walk a mile in another man/woman’s shoes – No-one thinks they’re the bad guy,though some people have a very skewed, even twisted world view, granted. Empathy is a property that is often found lacking in modern society. The media has trained us to think about everything in black and white, resolving everything into two opposing viewpoints with no middle ground. Nothing in real life is like this. If someone has done something ridiculous, stupid, evil, etc. Stop and have a think about why for a second, before spouting bile and vitriol. The answer might simply be because they are as evil and twisted as they seem. It might just be that they don’t share your world view, and what they think is quite reasonable from a different point of view.
3) Feel free to sit on the fence – One of the most perplexing things I’ve ever known is the enforced stigma about having moderate opinions. Almost everywhere in every field, the idea of ‘sitting on the fence’ is considered a weakness. Form a solid opinion on one side of an arbitrary line, or you’re inferior, or worse, your opinion is invalid. I say bullshit. As I mentioned before, nothing is ever black and white. Everything is shades of grey. That doesn’t mean to say though of course, that you have to sit on the fence. Pick a side if you like…
4) Avoid straw man arguments – It is in vogue, especially by politicians and the media, to push differences of opinion into straw man arguments. A prime example at the moment is the US gun debate. One side says: “We should tighten laws on the ownership of guns”; the answer is always “No because taking our guns away violates our Second Amendment Rights”. The argument was never to take guns from people, but to make sure the laws surrounding the sale of them are adequate. This straw man illusion makes it look like you have addressed an argument, when in fact you have deflected it. It is an illustration of either misunderstanding or willful misdirection. Either way, it’s crap.
5) Don’t be so selfish – Most people wouldn’t consider themselves selfish and can probably provide overwhelming examples to prove it. They give to charity, they get up on the bus for old ladies to sit down, they sacrifice their own time to help out family members etc. That’s all admirable, well done, I applaud you. There a certain side of us though that tends to compartmentalise what we feel is an acceptable level of selfishness though. Some prime examples at the moment are the cyclist vs. motorist debate. Both sides of this argument are formed almost entirely by how the other side inconvenience the person in question. If it’s a motorist, cyclists get in their way. If it’s a cyclist, motorists are inconsiderate. I’m not saying that this will fix anything, but the fact is, roads are there for the usage of all vehicles, so consider everyone. The same goes for people pissed off because people on certain benefits have more money coming in per month than they have. Yes it’s a terrible state for the country to be in, but it’s actually incredibly rare. The media loves to sensationalise this because it’s easy to make it personal. Don’t turn on each other though. Understand why. There are some people, yes that are unscrupulous scroungers, but that’s actually a small minority, feel free to be angry at them. Most people though have valid reasons, ranging from old age, to disability to just bad fucking luck. Stop seeing it from your own point of view and see it from someone else’s.
6) Never, ever, ever, ever generalise, ever – People are some of the most unique accidents in the history of the universe. Infinitely complicated, every single second of your life is filled with experiences that make you different from every single other human that has ever lived and ever will. There is no way anyone could ever dream of having the exact same experience about anything as anyone else. So don’t pretend you can group people together arbitrarily and predict their behaviour. “All cyclists are irresponsible,” “all motorists are dangerous,” “all gun-lovers are violent psychopaths,” “all people on Jobseekers’ Allowance are scroungers,”etc. It’s bollocks and you know it is. A certain percentage of the human race are arseholes by the anyone’s personal definition. Simple. If you carve up humans into any cross-section, be it all women, all Christians, all football fans, all teenage girls who go fishing on Sundays and only listen to Bachmann Turner Overdrive, any way you see fit to carve up humanity, you’ll find that the percentage of people you consider to be an arsehole is pretty much constant. Equally, the percentage of people you have no opinion whatsoever will be fairly static and thus the people you are likely to love. I realise that this in itself is a generalisation, but you understand the point. Arseholes are everywhere, classifying groups as arseholes is futile.
7) Stop taking things personally – Now, if someone swaggers up, spits on your shoes, pushes you in the mud and calls you a bastard, then yes, take it personally. However, people have a tendency to take anything that could apply to them as something that absolutely does apply to them. Back to the cycling example (because I consider myself both a motorist and a cyclist), as soon as someone says something remotely critical of a single cyclists’ behaviour, you will find an army of folk ready to feel they have been personally wronged and jump on the vitriolic bandwagon. The criticism may have been moderate and reasonable, but that always gets eclipsed by the need to shout about something. It’s very rare in life that someone is out and out abusive to your face. Most of the time it’s not personal, so don’t make it so.
8) Quit with the passive-aggressive thing – The world is not perfect, conflicts happen. Conflicts never get resolved however, unless you address them. If you’ve got beef, that’s cool. But for the love of bacon, just come out with it. You don’t need to violently ejaculate a tirade of vitriol about it, be reasonable, be calm and detail the reasons behind your beef with the person for which you have the beef. Passive-aggressivism just makes things worse almost without exception. It breeds contempt, it incubates hatred and gives birth to unresolved conflict.