#67: On Doing the Right Thing

superman5

“The more I live I see, this life’s not about me.”

– Anberlin, Burn Out Brighter

I have learned some lessons on Doing the Right Thing, some of which I have loosely organized below. I hope you can learn something from them.

Arrogance as a Barrier to Truth

arrogance

There is a saying in sports: “There are those who are humble, and those who are about to be humbled.” I alternately have read that this is Pride versus Humility. The point remains the same, being that the line between Confidence and Arrogance is perilously thin, and must be toed with absolute caution.

I am and always will be a little cocky. I am confident and optimistic, and that is always going to rub certain types of people the wrong way. In my view, the difference between healthy self-confidence and Arrogance gets crossed when one ceases to be appreciate of what one has.

Five years ago, I thought I deserved everything the world had to offer. Not warranted – deserved. I was a snapshot of entitlement. Since then, a number of circumstances have beaten a healthy dose of humility into me, and I think this has helped me to become a better person.

Appreciation for the gifts I have been given has overtaken the delusional narcissism that used to envelop me. I have a desire to Do the Right Thing not because I am afraid of Karmic retribution, but because I am thankful. I would rather start a Positive Feedback Loop rather than a Negative one. This is the well-covered idea of “Paying it Forward“, but personally I like the take-away message from Yes Man better.

I am not trying to sound like a motivational speaker, but the Truth is that if you Create and do Positive Things, more Positive Things will come back your way. This is something that I took a very long time to learn, because my own arrogance prevented me from trying it.

Writing has certainly been a cathartic and helpful part of the process, but my own Arrogance has been the biggest Barrier to Truth, as I interpret it.

This is a lesson I have a sudden urgency to impart onto others. I see people who remind me of my younger self – caustic, cynical, ruthless, and most of all, excessively-confident – and I want to save them the trouble my own personality shortcomings have caused me as a young adult. I have found my message goes over about as well as trying to bathe a cat, but out of appreciation for the intellectual and physical gifts I have been given, I won’t stop trying. In my view, getting the other Arrogant Bastards in line is simply Doing the Right Thing.

Letting Go of Negative Emotions

lettinggo

This is going to double as closing commentary on my now-former roommate, so bear with me for a bit while I make a point:

The analogy that comes to mind when I describe my experience with the ex-roommate is that we were like two people walking toward each other from opposite directions: I was coming from a darkened road, while she was heading that way. My view is that we are frightening similar on a number of levels, so it’s obvious that we would stop and talk to each other for a few moments during our respective treks. This moment of “talking” was the 21 months we lived together.

I like the traveling analogy because she and I hit right in the middle of a Morality cross-road. I did not realize the entirety of it at the time, but I used to be constantly angry and miserable and negative; like a deep sickness, it had gotten so bad that I almost did not feel the symptoms anymore. Feeling irate and vindictive all the time was “normal” to me, but thankfully this cloud of negativity was a function of the company I kept and the people I worked with. As I have gotten away from hateful and pessimistic people, I have gradually started to lighten up.

Meanwhile, when I met my ex-roommate, she was in a pretty good place, from what I can tell. She remains sharp and worldly, but she had not had an endless parade of bad experiences in the same way that I recently did. When we first met, the good still outweighed the bad in her life by a decent margin. She was hopeful, optimistic, and for the most part a pleasure to be around.

However, she has been in a kind of gradual descent since I met her. She has been somewhat victimized, but she has also been the cause of some of the problems that have led to this free-fall.

In my view, a main problem is that she got away from her 9-to-5 job and went back to bartending. Working at a bar is fine, except that you are constantly exhausted and surrounded by irresponsible, selfish people. Bartending works as a limited-time-only way to make extra money, but the people who make it their long-term or primary business get pulled through an emotional meat-grinder on a regular basis.

Again, I am not criticizing her line of work. I was a bartender for many years. I just know from experience that it leads to this negative cycle in which people become disposable and the uncertainty over your future becomes suffocating. Most bar jobs do not offer 401K plans and insurance benefits, and this eventually becomes a millstone around the neck of a person once they start moving through their 20s.

Going back to the analogy, a series of poor choices and circumstances compelled her to start heading down the dark road I had just come from. Meanwhile, I was desperate to get away from the darkness and negativity, and I spent most of our time together trying to drag her with me away from it. But like me just a short time prior, she was insistent on surrounding herself with noxious, two-faced people and living a septic lifestyle.

darkroad

True Story: the consequence of being constantly surrounded by service-industry vampires is that you start treating the quality people in your life badly. You pass along the me-first selfishness and vitriol of the after-hours crowd like a plague. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a blast working as a bartender, but it comes with a toll. You become calloused and sometimes vicious, because you are frequently degraded, marginalized, and lied to.

I am not writing this to make my ex-roommate out to be the Devil. I do not think she is an evil person. Again, I think she’s largely a victim of some bad luck and a few regrettable decisions. I know this because I was just like her, not very long ago at all. But she kept dragging me back into her lifestyle of lunacy and turmoil, and eventually I got so sick of the endless drama and negativity that I basically cut her out of my life.

Our personal relationship came to an end because I had worked almost all of the bitterness and resentment toward the world out of my system, like a poison being expelled. Writing has certainly helped me, but for the first time in a long time I have a loyal and supportive group of friends. My ex-roommate had become what I would call a “tough cut“, in that I did not really want to remove her from my life, but the baggage that came with her was affecting everything else to too great of a degree.

We met recently to settle some debts between us and effectively end communication. It’s kind of a sad story, because we used to be close friends, but this happens in Life.

We fought for months over what are relatively small sums of money and personal property. I was so tired of wasting energy battling with her that I basically surrendered, handing her a wad of cash and opening myself up the risk that she might never reimburse me. I just did not want to hold onto the bitterness needed to keep fighting her over what amounts to ash in the grand scheme of things.

Meanwhile, she continued to lash out at me over things that no longer mattered. It was mostly nonsense – just pure rage spewing out of her mouth. I sat there patiently and let her vent for 30 minutes over a matter that could have been settled with a handshake. In the end, all I could do was sigh, because she was using so much of her energy and focus on hating me and trying to make me out to be the Bad Guy.

Once more, I am not trying to throw rocks at my ex-roommate after the fact. Maybe two or three people reading this would have any idea who she is or what she looks like. I am trying to paint a picture and make this point:

Letting Go of Bitterness and Rage is a way in which I am attempting to Do the Right Thing, or at least do the Wrong Thing less often.

Do not let me convince you otherwise: I am no saint. I used to be berserk and had an insatiable lust for atonement in the form of corrective punishment, alternatively referred to as Wrath:

Certain people want to devote the time in their lives to fighting every trivial battle that might potentially lead to personal gain. They claw and gnash at each other like animals over things that, again, amount to ash in the end. I am not judging these people, because I was one of them for a long time. But I no longer want to be one of them. The big step for me personally has been to become less of a bastard, which meant putting an end to grudges, petty feuds, and spitefulness.

The Real Truth is that if you work to help other people, you get it back tenfold. You just have to be a little selective about the people you help, and sometimes let go of people who are more trouble than they are worth.

Doing The Nice Thing versus Doing The Right Thing

walkingdead2

This is the simplest lesson in principle to learn about Doing the Right Thing, but the most difficult in execution.

There are some people, like me, who have a burning need to help other people. This is not like Nightingale Syndrome, but more of a survival instinct. Some of us just know in our bones that protecting other people is what we have to do, and people like me often end up becoming Doctors, Police Officers, or Firefighters.

You may be confused by the picture at the top of this section, which is plays the cast of the hit television show The Walking Dead. The overriding theme of both the show and its source-material is a realization by the main character, Rick Grimes: while Rick is initially hardened and views others as disposable cogs who only serve to provide protection for his wife and young son, he eventually comes to realize that by being so dismissive of others, that he is indirectly making Life more dangerous for his wife and son. Rick comes to learn that Cooperation, rather than self-absorption, is the Key to thriving in Life.

Regardless of which anecdote is more relevant to you, Cooperation is a conclusion that most intelligent people come to. We are nothing without other people. Helping and Protecting those who cannot protect themselves is the most basic form of Cooperation, and this is often a great thing. However, many people have learned to manipulate others by feigning weakness as a way of dodging responsibility, forcing more accountable sorts to take Life’s lumps for them.

Let me describe it another way: picture a loving parent with her or his child. Let’s say the child starts begging the parent for a gallon of gasoline and a lighter, or for a gun.

Would it be responsible of the parent to give the child anything this dangerous? Of course not. No matter how much the parent loves her or his child, giving the child a weapon would not be the Right Thing to Do, in normal circumstances.

Unfortunately, this is what many of us do every day in Life. We do not arm children, but we do acquiesce to the demands and wishes of those we dote upon, even if we know we are not Doing the Right Thing. Many people would rather be Liked than Right.

You Do the Right Thing when you use a measure of temperance in your decision-making. Remember what I said above about nurturing positivity? You seek to do that, but you should not arm children, which is what we often do when we opt to do the Nice Thing rather than the Right Thing. Sometimes, you have to be a prick, lest the children of the world burn everything down in search of their fun.

Carefree versus Careless

petercopter

Speaking of which…

Moving to North Carolina, and in particular a beach town like Wilmington, is a drastic departure from a place like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steel City is conservative and resistant to change, but the typical Type-A, East Coast mentality that dominates the Metropolitan Northeast is still very present. A lot of people in Greater Pittsburgh are businesslike or brusque, and many are just flat-out rude.

By contrast, the common demeanor in a beach town such as Wilmington is comparatively very lax. Most of the people you meet in Wilmington are happy and pleasant to be around. I have touched upon the differences between Pittsburgh and Wilmington frequently, but in this case let me point out the difference in attitude in the interest of explaining Carefree versus Careless:

It’s great to be carefree and breezy, as most of the people I have met in Wilmington tend to be. However, as prevalent as the easy-going, Southern-mixed-with-beach-town attitude tends to be down here is the equal tendency to be Careless. 

As I have written before, I get into an auto accident almost daily (knock on wood) because the drivers of Wilmington cannot be bothered to use their turn-signal, or wait to change lanes, or wait to pull out into flowing traffic. I don’t believe these wayward drivers are malicious or intent on causing an accident; they are simply being Careless, otherwise known as Irresponsible. I think you know how I feel about Responsibility and how it ties into Doing the Right Thing.

I don’t expect everyone to feel the Burden of Responsibility on the pathological level that I do, but I also expect people to have a measure of respect for others. The problem is that people who tend to be carefree and easy-going also tend to cause problems with their Carelessness.

Moving to a laid-back beach town like Wilmington has been very instructive, because it allowed me to see the flaws in my character magnified. For example, while I was bartending, I was once angrily sent home from work by management because I did not check I.D.s on a group of 20-somethings that walked in. Granted, we ordinarily had a bouncer who did that, but that does not mean that I had no responsibility to double-check. At the time, I did not really understand why such a big deal was made of the issue by management, but I now see how my Carelessness could have been equally as destructive as purposefully serving under-agers.

It may come as a surprise, but by nature I am much more laid-back than the standard Type-A East Coaster. It turns out I fit in fairly well down here. But I am also Responsible enough that by comparison, I am frequently correcting the Carelessness of others and trying to teach them how their happy-go-lucky attitude can lead to disharmony if a measure of discretion isn’t used.

Carefree become Careless when the consequences of choices become potentially-destructive.

Conclusion

The conclusion is summarized in this quote:

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw

The takeaway lesson is that you can choose to Do the Right Thing, or to Pay it Forward, if you will. I now wholeheartedly believe in Karma, and as they say, What Goes Around Comes Around.

If you choose to be bitter and vindictive, you will find yourself mired in this swamp of never-ending negativity. You may be able to get away with burning through other people for your own selfish reasons for a length of time, but eventually your inconsiderate and self-serving actions will bury you.

Alternatively, you can choose to let go of negativity, and choose to Do the Right Thing on a regular basis. You have a Choice, which most people understand but do not internalize. You do not have to be malicious and underhanded just because other people in your orbit happen to be that way.

You can opt to look out for the interests and well-being of other people, as well as (and occasionally at the expense of ) yourself. For sure, there will be times when your choice to pick up other people, rather than step over them, will be costly to you. But you will want to weigh the costs of looking out for the other people in your life against the spiritual toll it takes on you to feud with and spite them.

More on this later,

Jack

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About sfarrell11000
All over the place

One Response to #67: On Doing the Right Thing

  1. Pingback: Gender Psychology: So, You Want to Be a Bad Boy II: Reins and Rumors | Jack_Has_Spoken

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