Somewhere — blame my sieve of a memory for not having a precise citation — someone said that the one thing we all need to work on is not getting up into a lather about stuff. If we took stuff less personally, all of us, we wouldn't have 85% of the guff that we have to deal with. If we stopped seeing everything flung our way as a challenge to our honor or our masculinity or our intelligence or even our patience, we'd be a lot happier for it.
Problem is, I think we like to take things personally. We really do. It shifts the blame for our own actions away from us and onto others, whether or not those others are justified in their own reactions. It feels good to have someone else to blame for something, even if that rush of self-righteousness doesn't last for more than twelve seconds.
What bothers people about this notion is that it sounds to them like they're being talked into being a doormat. If I don't get good and mad about being stepped on, they say, then who's to say I'm not just going to get stepped on by whoever comes around the corner?
false dichotomy: A situation in which two alternative points of views are presented as the only options, whereas others are available.
The dichotomy here is plain: life isn't a choice between having one's teeth kicked in and kicking in someone else's. If something makes you mad, you can still assert your distaste for the situation and do something constructive about it, just as long as you understand that you are not synonymous with your emotions. You don't have to get mad to get even; heck, most of the time you don't even have to get even.
Most people walk around with the unexamined idea that an emotional affront to them must be countered by an equal emotional effluence on their part — not merely because the other guy needs to be taught a lesson, but because their own ego maintenance demands it. They don't feel like they're doing due diligence by themselves if they don't get good and steamed, visibly so, about what happened. They need to show their work, so to speak. What they never ask themselves is: why?
It's hard to talk about my own struggle with this sort of thing without sounding smug. I'll reduce it to this: it used to be hugely difficult for me, and now it is less so, but only because of tons of work on my part. That said, once you get into the habit of not thinking of life as a zero-sum game, you find there's that much more to do with your life, period.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind