Why Can't We Be More Understanding of Others?


March 31, 2020

You’ve already read the last two posts (hopefully) so let’s just jump straight into this one.

Here we go.

Discussion with others

The biggest thing I have to say about this particular subtopic is this: if you want a conversation or an interaction to go somewhere meaningful, then there needs to be mutual respect between all parties. Without it, everything goes out of the window.

The whole “boom roasted” or “getting the last laugh” or “putting too many things in quotation marks” culture surrounding a hefty majority of interactions, particularly ones over the Internet, frustrates me. We’ve ALL experienced those moments where someone insults you and you feel obligated to retaliate.

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And this is the part where I say: no, don’t do that, and please stop doing that. I know that we think that we don’t act this way, but I assure you that sometimes, we do.

Granted, when people do say toxic comments, they probably weren’t trying to engage in a meaningful way with you anyways. But even then, why would you drop down to their level and worsen an interaction that could easily just be shrugged off?

If the other person either isn’t going to respect you and decides to cuss you out, or says something dumb or irrelevant to the discussion at hand, It doesn’t mean that you should immediately “clown” them—in my mind, that doesn’t make you any better than them.

Maybe their intention isn’t even to bait out an emotional response from you. Regardless, nothing useful comes from retaliating (even if it’s arguably justified), especially if you decide to go at them on a personal level.

Even if you “get ’em” this time, think about what’s going to happen in the future: what do you think they’re going to remember the next time they interact with someone else like you? Oh yeah, that last time, that other person was closed-minded, dumb and (in their mind) wrong. This is how stereotypes and wrong generalizations arise in the first place, and how they continually get worse and further perpetuated.

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Which leads me to my next point: you can ignore a lot of things that people say or do, provided you aren’t under physical or extreme mental duress. Universally, our ego is protective—meaning that when we hear criticism against ourselves, we tend to shrivel up and get defensive—and as a result, we let otherwise irrelevant, but sensitive, comments rile us up and distract us from proceeding in a discussion smoothly. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where we assign ad hominem comments little importance and promptly move on, as it’s not relevant to the topic at hand?

Practicing curiosity is another good thing to do. During those situations where both sides are trying to explain their point of view, but neither is able to change the other’s perspective, people tend to get frustrated. I get how annoying it can be—how can they not realize that they’re in the wrong?—but maybe consider the fact that they may be thinking the same thing.

So instead of engaging in this never-ending back and forth where nothing is accomplished, other than both parties furthering their own beliefs, stop for a moment and try to think from their perspective and try to understand why they might be saying or thinking the things they are. Not only is curiosity not anger, but exercising patience in these situations increases the chances that a compromise is reached, and we all like happy, conflict-averse endings.

Or just, you know, respond in a civil manner, so we don’t have to worry about this sort of stuff happening.

Now, some of you may have read this section and had some disagreements with what I had to say—primarily with the thought that you shouldn’t ignore every personal jab thrown your way, or else you’re going to be seen as a pushover who lacks backbone and conviction in themselves. In other words, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Funnily enough, that just so happens to be the next subhead, and, conveniently, my sorry excuse for a segue.


Drawing the line

Well, maybe this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but it’d be hard and frankly, stupid of me to even try to generalize where you’re supposed to draw the line, given that most, if not all, arguments over what’s the right and wrong thing to do or think in any given situation are subjective.

So instead of attempting to generalize, what I’m suggesting that you do is to first, take note of where you draw the line, and second, pay attention to where others draw theirs in the same or a similar situation.

It’s important that you pay attention to your own line drawing because it’s important to keep yourself in check: the more self-interrogating you do, the more you learn about yourself, why you think the things you do, and if those beliefs are genuine or if they were imposed onto you by something or someone else.

To make this more concrete, I’m going to list a few situations and topics below, and just keep a mental note of where you decide enough’s enough, and why you set the limit there:

argument line cheating line generic response

How’d you do?

The point of this exercise is not to find that particular context that makes you go NOPE, but rather, to help you identify how deliberate you are with your standards, and when. Doing this will help you get better at seeing situations that you’re involved with from that third person perspective we talked about last time.

Earlier I mentioned the argument that you can’t just let everyone walk all over you; you need to set your own standards at some point—and everybody does. But there’s a difference between having a definitive stance on topics or situations that you’re knowledgeable about and on ones that you aren’t.

In the former, you’re expected to have a more nuanced position:

stick figure rights stick figure rights 2

With the latter, a more lenient opinion is perfectly acceptable.

Note: being more lenient with your viewpoints doesn’t mean you lack an opinion on the topic, it just means that you’d potentially let that opinion be swayed.

Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough about the topic or situation to make a confident statement about it, or maybe you feel like it’s not right for you to hold such a strong belief on a topic that’s too distanced. Perhaps you’re a conflict-averse person, and you’d rather give others the benefit of the doubt than get into unnecessary arguments.

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An added benefit of being selective with the opinions you hold is that if people know that you tend to be more lenient, it makes the convictions that you hold and the lines that you draw that much more impactful—just make sure they’re there in the first place.

Now, about other people: there may not be much that you can control in terms of where they draw their lines, but you still can pay attention to their actions, and that information can serve as an entry point to the bigger story behind their beliefs. Why are they drawing the line there? What are they seeing or thinking that I’m not? Again, curiosity > assuming they’re wrong and dumb for not thinking the same way you are.

Think about it like this: we all like to do that thing where you look back on an experience and think about what you could have said or done differently. I’m offering that in addition to that (or instead of), think about why you got in that argument in the first place. Was it that important? Was it worth fighting over? Were any of your ego’s defense mechanisms in play?

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I want to reiterate the idea that everyone thinks of themselves as a good person. As such, I do believe that there is always some degree of logical reasoning behind any claim or action that someone makes, and if we struggle or are uncomfortable with not knowing what that is—well, that’s sort of what this series has been about.

At the end of the day, some degree of assumption is present in any claim that’s made, and in any action that’s taken. Be smart with the ones you choose to contest.

And as for why we can’t be more understanding of others? Sure, there are multiple factors at play—failing to recognize our own and everyone else’s camera, struggling to see the situation from a third person perspective, being quick to assume—but really, this isn’t a matter of capability: we can all exercise patience and sympathy if we want to.

So really, just ask yourself this: how much do I want to?