Useful responses

Another Friday the 13th (that makes two months in a row now!) and today I found out that somebody in a position of trust – authority actually – did something thoughtless which was quite hurtful both to me and to people I care about. And I also know they weren’t acting out of meanness or vindictiveness, but rather out of incompetence and perhaps a kind of dull unthinking stupidity.

Of course I went through all kinds of rage reactions in my head, but I already knew from long hard experience, even as various angry responses flooded my thoughts, that I had better filter out all of those reactions before saying or doing anything.

And instead, after I’d had time to contemplate the situation, I found myself formulating a plan. I resolved that rather than react to the action they had taken, I would try to understand what had led them to do it – what was the underlying structural problem they were dealing with so ineptly. And so, rather than respond directly, I’ve resolved to respond indirectly – by doing something good and generous, something that has the effect of helping and protecting the people I care about, and helping to make those people less vulnerable to thoughtless acts by those in positions of authority.

As you can tell, I’m not giving any specifics here. After all, this is a real situation involving real people, and therefore it is delicate. But the principle can be discussed: When somebody else’s stupidity makes your world a poorer place, don’t even bother with that person – there is nothing to be gained there. Instead, figure out the particular richness their carelessness has taken from the world, and find a way to put an even greater richness back. Do something which undeniably makes the universe a better place, and helps the people you love.

And, incidentally, this approach gives you something actually productive to do with all of that negative energy, rather than wasting it on useless arguments. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s wonderful quip: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. You’ll only waste your time, and annoy the pig.”

2 thoughts on “Useful responses”

  1. Right on!

    I have arguments with my wife all the time about this…
    she praises those very rare singing pigs in her history, yet generally exhausts herself with re-education efforts while bemoaning the state of humanity.
    I at least try to more pragmatically choose my battles, assessing the situation according to what overall effect I imagine the effort having.

    Paraphrased from Tom Wolfe’s book on Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (I leave it to you to judge the relevance):
    Speaking at a prison, Kesey told inmates not to view the guards as enemies. To ignore the cop-criminal game as a shallow set of social rules that bring them nothing, and instead to concentrate on enlightenment.
    Granted, its a bit of a stretch in this context, but your description reminded me of this passage.

  2. After thinking about this for a while and when, if you say – “they weren’t acting out of meanness or vindictiveness, but rather out of incompetence and perhaps a kind of dull unthinking stupidity.”
    You might talk to them and give them the chance to make things better next time.

    Actually that depends on if you care about this person at all. But in general we are all incompetent and dull thinking at times, we all make mistakes. And we are all here to grow, but there is no chance to grow for example in a friendship or relationship, if you can’t say – this hurts and I believe you were wrong here.

    All this reminds me of a hard argument I had with a friend, we were yelling at each other over – I don’t know about what any more – and her son was sitting with us at the table, he was around ten at this time and needed to go to bed early. That meant for him he needed to go to bed, while I was still having the argument with his mother.
    The very next morning, I was standing in the kitchen of my friend preparing breakfast. Her son joined me, completely surprised, telling me I shouldn’t be angry with his mother any more.
    I looked at him and smiled and told him, that his mother and me are still friends and we made our peace this evening, accepting each others views and feelings about this topic.
    In this moment I realised that he was only used to people fighting with each other, but the concept of making peace after a fight was completely new to him.

    In one way David is right – you should “choose” your battles in business, turning your back and go is just the right way most times, but in private and if you care about someone at all it should be worth an argument and the attempt to see the other side of the cup.

    Otherwise it shows that one has simply no respect for this person, no interest in this person, but than again there is no need to be angry at all. Then I would take a situation and just say, shit (please excuse me here – I am German :-)) happens and get over it.

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