I don't know about you but I've always considered myself special. Actually, I knew I was special. I was different than the rest of you poor slobs. I was nice. I prided myself on being a "good girl."
I can't believe that I'm the only one who thought this way. I think most of us pride ourselves on being a nice girl or a good guy. Occasionally I run into that rare man or woman who says I'm not a nice person. I'm a bad guy. I am a bitch. But far more frequently we like to think of ourselves as nice, as good. We wouldn't do those things that bad people or mean people do. We'd never engage in things like talking badly about other people, listening to gossip or secretly feeling superior over someone who has failed. This is how I saw myself. When I was accused of this my response was text book.
"But I'm a nice girl! Other people talk about me!"
I really believed this.
But then I examined my behavior.
Someone gave me a look that made me wonder if I was perhaps being a bit unfair. So, I began observing myself. I noticed that I complained that my pain was worse than others. I remembered the time I literally had a "whose life is worse" contest. Hardly my finest hour. My mom definitely wouldn't have been proud. It became clear that I did these things too. I acted like a "mean" person even though I never would have considered myself to be one. I would talk about others and and then deride others for doing this same thing without even realizing the irony of it. I was doing exactly what they were doing but I was worse. I was a hypocrite, an asshole. The worst kind, the kind who is being an asshole while criticizing others for being one.
Ouch. Recognizing this behavioral pattern hurt.
Where does this come from?
So, why are we assholes? (I'm pretty sure there are more of you like me.) I think part of the reason is because when we're feeling down, scared or unsure, criticizing others can give us a temporary boost of self esteem. It's a false boost that brings on the boomerang effect making us feel worse, until we do it again. So begins a pernicious cycle. The social media era only makes our fumbles and foibles more apparent and…easier to mock.
It's also easier to look at what someone else is doing wrong than to look at yourself. When you focus on what others are doing wrong you don't actually have to change yourself. You can feel superior. Because if you look at your own shortcomings then you have to do something about it. Otherwise you are an asshole and you would never be that right? It's funny how we delude ourselves. This is like looking in a funhouse mirror except the distorted vision we see has a halo over our heads.
We do all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to keep this inner self image of an angel despite our behavior indicating otherwise. We jump through a lot of mental hoops in order to preserve this self image. We build a perception of self as what we'd like to be but don't always back that up with our behavior. That's the blind spot.
We cling to this image of ourselves.
We don't realize that if we simply let go we'll find that the it's not as bad as we think. We can see our flaws and not be leveled by them. We can find community in our humanity.
How I'm doing today
Recognizing my blind spots allowed me to see those of others, seeing the world from their perspective and have more compassion. I began to think about other people's behavior in a different way. This is the lens which allowed me to truly find empathy. I'm still working on being less of an asshole so I'm not sure I have a lot of advice or the proverbial moral of the story to offer.
All I can tell you is that somehow recognizing that sometimes I'm an asshole and striving not to be one has made me more patient. Less judgmental. I'm far more compassionate. Including to myself. For being harsh on others hurts us too. Surprisingly it's made me happier. It's probably made everyone around me happier too.
I guess this is what they call wisdom. It's funny how wisdom often makes us happier rather than self-righteous.
If this is wisdom, give me another helping please.
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