“Easy for you to say.” Those five words have stood out to me quite a bit recently. Especially after an experience I had the other night.
Like a bajillion other people, I watched the Joker movie.
He’s a loner with clear mental health issues, no social skills, a strange relationship with his single mother, and a laundry list of other traits definitive of the social pariah. Now, none of this excuses any of his actions in the movie, nor does one’s circumstances excuse them for any of their actions.
But, when you watch the movie, you kinda get how he could end up like that.
So what does this all have to do with what I do?
How am I going to tie the story of a psycho criminal into a self-help blog post?
Just be patient here.
I have a new book coming out in January called Real Help: The Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. I hope the book achieves the goal of providing useful suggestions instead of blanket advice and guarantees.
I approached the book this way because even though I have a lot of wisdom, knowledge, and experience to share, I’m still limited by my own perception.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a single mother because I’m not one. I don’t have major mental health issues, nor do I lack basic social skills, nor have I lived a tragic life full of trauma and abuse.
I can’t fully identify with someone in poverty because I’ve never experienced it. I openly admit there are many factors outside of your control that shape a piece of your destiny and provide tools to help you operate from that place.
Still, it’s hard.
“Ayo, sometimes I don’t think you admit how much your intelligence contributed to you being able to change your life.”
My wife at the time told me that when I was on this egotistical rant about how I “pulled myself up from my bootstraps.” My cognitive abilities — abilities I didn’t earn — made all of this easier to pull off than it would be for others. No getting around that.
I’m decent looking (ok, actually, I’m pretty damn cute), have a reasonable amount of built-in social savvy, and have many innate communication skills that make things like writing, public speaking, and shooting videos easier for me to achieve.
That’s why I put a chapter in my book called “Play Games You Can Win.” You have routes in life where you’re “the natural.” Lean into those and don’t worry about the games you’re not well-equipped to win.
But what if you feel like you’re not well-equipped for anything?
What can self-help do for the societal outcasts, rejects, and pariahs? Can it do anything?
This got me thinking, not only about self-help advice, but also about how we’re all quick to ignore or hate the people in the world who don’t perfectly fit into our model of it.
I’ve often thought about whether or not the advice I give only applies to people with a certain level of innate:
My answer? Yes and No.
I was reading an article about self-awareness and it talked about the way your default perception of the world is colored by things ou don’t necessarily earn like your looks.
Beautiful people tend to think people, in general, are nice because attractive people get treated better — a cold truth. People with high cognitive abilities tend to think “pulling up your bootstraps” is easier because, for them, it is.
Conversely, although having average looks or intelligence or social status isn’t some sort of death sentence on your future, they cause you to view the world differently, at least initially.
That’s why both giving and taking self-improvement advice is so difficult. The feedback you get from the world over and over again shapes your behavior.
That behavior sends signals out to the world that come back to you as more feedback. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Undoing that bedrock of perception is challenging, to say the least.
So in your case, understand that you have some sort of “beautiful people think everyone is nice” phenomenon in your life.
Maybe you’re not a genius, but you come with a built-in work ethic most don’t have. Maybe you don’t love your job, but you’re not working at McDonald’s.
Maybe you’re working at McDonald’s, but you’re a social butterfly and there’s a C-Suite exec who has all the money in the world but can’t seem to connect with others
We forget most other people have an easy game to play and a cross to bear. We’re so quick to project our default perception of the world. Myself included. It’s easy to both take our blessings for granted and get caught in envy. That’s what everyone does, constantly.
Working-class Americans — who are among the top 1 percent of the wealthy in terms of the world — hate the rich. The rich can’t understand why people don’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps — even the ones who do earn their wealth are still hesitant to admit how luck played a role in their life. The middle class punch up and down at the same time — secretly disdaining the poor and envying the rich at the same time.
And I’ve also reached the conclusion that there are many people who are beyond help — at least from me. Some people need true professional help and are extremely far gone. Some people are extremely debilitated social and feel invisible in our society.
That’s one thing the movie helped me understand. Collectively, we all ignore these people. Nobody likes to think about pariahs. Often, we only use these people in props for arguments or virtue signaling. Other than that, we pretend they don’t exist. I don’t have an answer for the deep-ills of society nor the people affected by it. But at minimum, I try to remember them both for gratitude and to cure my complaining.
Maybe be thankful that you’re not caught in one of these traps. Maybe suck it up and stop whining if you’re not one of these people. Perhaps thank your lucky fucking stars and do what you can with what you have. Often, people who end up like this played little part in it.
You must constantly work on your perception if you want to create even close to an accurate picture of reality.
Life is complicated and colored deeply by perception.
So what do you do about it? What can we do about it on a societal level? Is it even fixable?
I’m meandering. But the point I’m trying to make here – people live in different realities than you do. To depths, you can’t even imagine. It’s easy to point the finger at the “other,” dehumanize them, or pretend they don’t exist at all.
Society at large is doing this. And that’s where all this rage is coming from.
We’re not honoring the realities of other people. We’re talking past each other, making enemies from thin air, and ignoring the people who truly need help, all simply because we are deathly afraid of focusing on ourselves. That’s the whole problem.
It’s a deep problem. One I empathize with, suffer from, and try to correct in myself and others where I can.
If through your perception, you see a world where opportunities are limited, wages are totally flat, and the stock market keeps rising while none of it “trickles” down, something like socialism could make sense to you.
I can see how a person who grew up Christian, upper-middle-class, and worked their way to become successful could become a conservative who believes in bootstraps but is also blind to their own privelege.
I could see how an “incel” could become a dangerous person. Again, not excusing their behavior, but imagine having zero romantic contact for your entire life. People don’t grasp how important sex is. Not excusing the behavior, I’m simply saying I could understand how an angry sexless man could lash out at society.
I could see how a woman who’s been treated like garbage by men her entire life would come to conclude that all men are trash.
I could see how a person of color could, after seeing centuries worth of examples of individual white males doing evil things, come to conclude that the category of white men itself is the sole cause of inequality in society.
I understand how people can become racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. I can see how some of their reasons appear good to them.
I think there is a pretty long list of reasons why someone voted for Trump that has nothing to do with being racist, sexist, or a Russian agent.
I’d like to say I can see how pretty much anyone could come to believe the things they believe. Can you?
I just listed out a bunch of examples that I’m sure would piss certain people off. How could I honor the reality of people I disagree with? How could I honor the reality of people who are actually evil?
I do all of this because it seems like the only proper origin point for trying to make a change in the world involves at least being able to see how someone could believe what they believe. You don’t have to come close to agreeing with someone to be able to do that.
Do you think MLK didn’t want to just wag his finger at white people? I’m sure he would’ve done that if he thought it would work.
No, instead, in many ways, he approached white people with kid gloves combined with letting the display of egregious racism in the south sort of compel people to care, even though they should have cared by default.
We all use the word should too much. We think people should believe what we believe, care about what we care about, and behave the way we want them to. Anything other than that? Basically blaspheme.
We’re all religious. You are religious. You have a set of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that you don’t accept on moral grounds innate to the state of reality. That’s religion.
The culture war is a holy war.
What to do about all of this?
Your only hope is to be able to improve your ability to see other perspectives. Think about the way you view people who disagree with you. Is it healthy? Can you even understand why the other side believes what it believes?
Until you’re able to do that, you’ll be causing a ton of undue stress, angst, and emotional weight on your own soul. Forget about the other side for a moment.
Think about how many personal problems you are experiencing because of your lack of empathy for other people? Being an incessant fight with people who won’t change their minds has to be exhausting.
Aren’t you tired of wagging that finger of yours? By 2020, you’ll have carpal tunnel.
Honestly, regardless of your affiliation or beliefs, your amount of finger-wagging has a correlation with how much control you feel you have over your life.
The people who feel more in control, wag much less. When you’re focused on your own priorities, especially high-level ones like self-actualization, you become more empathetic by default and getting in debates and wars don’t really appeal to you.
That’s why I focus so much on empowering the individual, you, to change their life as much as possible first. After doing that, you’re one less person caught in the mud fight. Reducing the number of people caught up in the culture war is the only way to end it, which is idealistic because it won’t ever end,
Often, I navigate the world wondering what it would be like to be a social pariah, live in a third world country, suffer under a totalitarian regime, etc.
Although a useful exercise, I understand that wondering about these things doesn’t fix them. I remember that I can’t save the world. I can save myself and use my gifts to try to help others one individual at a time.
The same goes for you.
The more time you spend imposing your morality on society as a whole, mentally masturbating about problems you can’t personally fix, and casting judgment on people who disagree with you, the less time you have to actually make an impact on the world.
You’ve been given your set of advantages and disadvantages. Cherish the advantages, mitigate the disadvantages, and operate in the world to achieve your mission. Then, by default, you’ll change others.
I’m mostly apolitical in my writing. I talk about core ideas relatable to most human beings. This is why I have readers across the political aisles, races, genders, orientations, religions, all the categories. I always try to come from the angle that I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be you because…I don’t.
Try that ethos when dealing with others, “I don’t know what it’s like to be you.”
And see how your perception changes.