Do less

“Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” — Proverbs 17:28

I was having dinner last night with a friend, when the subject came up of how to deal with being neurotic. Everyone has some level of neurosis, and we can’t really reach in and rewire our brains. So the question isn’t so much how to be less neurotic, but rather how to deal with your neurosis when it inconveniently pops up.

In my case, I’ve come to see that the way I perceive other people — my theory of mind, you might say — does not always correspond to what those people are actually thinking or feeling. This split between perception and reality generally occurs when I am feeling frightened or insecure.

As we all know, to act on such incorrect “information” from your own head, such as attributing harmful intent where none was intended, can damage your relationships with other people.

And when somebody is actually being unkind or hurtful, responding neurotically can make it worse for you — the situation may end up being more about your response than their original act of unkindness.

I told my friend that I’ve learned to be wary of my own anger when I feel somebody is being unkind in an inexplicable way. I now generally assume that I have no idea how much of this feeling is due to my own neurosis — and that I won’t be able to figure this out until after I have cooled down. So I simply remind myself to do nothing until I am no longer feeling angry.

My friend nodded wisely, and responded with her own favorite way of saying it, which to me has a beautifully zenlike simplicity: “Do less.”

This also happens to be a memorable line from the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, written by Jason Segel. Never argue with a man who can travel by map!

One Response to “Do less”

  1. sally says:

    Another thing to do is to ask the other person’s intent. Just saying, “I’m not sure I understand your intent, would you please clarify a bit more?” can clarify things easily.

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