The 4-Word Philosophy I Live By
Some people live by long mantras. Others live by detailed personal mission statements.
I have a rule for my life too.
It’s pretty simple:
Don’t be an asshole.
And here’s what I mean by that.
Everyone wants to feel validated in that their thoughts and their input is heard and valued. When this doesn’t happen, it’s easy to feel upset or ignored. It’s important to keep a level head and remain calm when this happens.
I have a tendency to become personally offended when people misunderstand me. As backwards as this sounds, it’s true. When I think I am being misunderstood or misheard, I feel as though I lack the ability to clearly communicate with others, which makes me feel inadequate and vulnerable. This is why my number one reminder to myself for how not to be an asshole is to try not to become frustrated or flustered when people do not hear me or when they misunderstand what I am saying. Their misunderstanding is not done intentionally to hurt me, so I shouldn’t take it as such.
When I get worked up or feel like someone has intentionally done something to hurt me, it can be tempting to retaliate. This is when I need to remember to not respond in the heat of the moment. If possible, I should ask to remove myself to cool down and be alone for a while. Responding in the heat of the moment has never ended well. Tensions are high and people feel vulnerable. This is a recipe for nothing but hurt feelings and frustration.
For me, the first component of how not to be an asshole is to stay calm and not take personal offense to disagreements or miscommunications with others. To do this, I remind myself that we are all human, and we are all doing the best we can in the face of life’s many challenges.
We all know the saying, “Never assume, because when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”. Well it’s true. I am painfully aware of the reality of this proverb because I still struggle to identify and challenge my assumptions.
Assumptions, in theory, should make our lives more efficient. Unfortunately, efficiency-based logic, like other philosophies, may work well on paper but fall short when applied to people. People are not perfect and so assumptions are often incorrect which leads to miscommunications, misunderstandings, and frustration. To avoid unnecessary complications, I try not to assume people know what I am talking about even if it’s in line with a conversation or seemingly obvious to myself. When we assume that the beliefs of others align with our own we are also assuming that our beliefs are facts and common knowledge rather than opinions.
Just as it’s important not to assume people understand me or what I am saying, it’s also important not to assume people remember everything we talk about. Forgetfulness is not intentional or passive aggressive. If people forget about conversations we’ve had together, I sometimes feel hurt because it feels like I am unimportant and unmemorable. This is often not the case and so, I should not take people’s lapses in memory personally.
Sometimes, when I see something to be done around the house and it’s Atle’s turn to take care of whatever chore it is, I take for granted that he will automatically know 1) that there is something that needs to be done and 2) that I think he should take care of it right then and there. If either of these assumptions are not met, the result is often frustration and arguing. All this can be avoided by not taking him for granted or assuming he will be able to read my mind and do something without being asked. People are not able to read minds. They should not be punished for being unable to anticipate our every desire.
Another important thing to remember is that people are, generally, not out to intentionally hurt others. When people say something that hurts your feelings, it’s often not done out of malicious intent or with the aim to harm. Mostly, it’s done out of absent mindedness. Do not assume people are seeking to do harm. Their negligence or lack of caring is usually not done out of spite or malicious intent.
Most importantly, it’s vital not to compare people’s actions or choices with my own or others. It’s not my place to criticize them when it’s impossible for me to know their full situation. I try my best not to judge others against the decisions I have made for myself. Everyone should be allowed to live their own lives by their own choices without unjust scrutiny of others.
Don’t Belittle Others or Assert Power Over Them
When I was younger, whenever I felt I was being personally attacked or targeted, I would retaliate by being condescending and making others feel small. I am not proud of this and try my best to not let my impulses and emotions get the better of me. Do not belittle others or try to assert dominance or competence over them in order to command authority. In short, do not purposefully make others feel small.
Other times, when we feel threatened or vulnerable, we may be tempted to speak badly about others. This is often done out of the vain hope of making ourselves feel or look better. In the end, it speaks ill of our own character and not of the person we are bad-mouthing. Do not gossip or speak negatively about others. Everyone is trying their very best, and it is not our place to judge them, especially behind their backs.
One of the most harmful and manipulative ways people assert power over others is by testing them. This type of abuse is common in romantic relationships. For example, someone may purposefully start an argument in a public place to test how their partner will respond. Or, they may ask their partner to set up a surprise date or buy them a present to test whether their partner really knows that they like.
Either way, this type of deception is harmful to the person being tested and to the relationship itself. Do not set others up for failure or try to test them. It’s unfair and unkind. If you are curious about someone’s honest opinions about something, create an environment in which you both feel comfortable being honest and vulnerable with one another, not one seeped in manipulation and tricks.
And finally, don’t seek vengeance. If someone has wronged you, do not seek to get back or get even. This only makes things worse for both parties. Life is not about teaching someone a lesson.
Be Patient, Present, and Grateful
This article has focused mainly on what not to do in order to be a good person. There are also some very important things to remember to do. These reminders are based on the qualities of being patient, present, and expressing gratitude.
If a situation is getting heated, it’s important to stay calm and keep my voice steady, even when I want to scream. Giving into the stress of the situation will only escalate things and make matters worse.
Try focusing on the good in others and in yourself. Gratitude makes the world go round. Show genuine appreciation for others, always. Thank them and offer help when appropriate. Small acts of appreciation and expressions of gratitude make others feel valued. Their happiness rubs off on us, making us feel good too. It’s a win, win for everyone.
We all want to feel validated as a person. We like to feel that the people around us actually give a damn about us. So, my final reminder to myself is to give my full attention to those with whom I are engaging. Because they deserve it.
In short, these guidelines and reminders are governed by the principles of authenticity, respect, patience, gratitude, thoughtfulness, and openness. They’re not always easy to live by, but I’ve found them to be essential to living a happier, healthier, more productive life.
Kindness is a Form of Self-care
Avoiding being an asshole is just the first step, actively trying to be a good human is the next. Treating others with kindness isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we just want to yell and scream and point fingers and seek vengeance, but it isn’t the answer. It’s never the answer. This list is a personal reminder to myself about the things I struggle with most.
If you also find it hard to live by some of these guidelines, then I encourage you to remind yourself of them. Save this article to your bookmarks and revisit it occasionally. It’s a tough journey, but it’s an important one.
I want to live my life giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, and to have the strength to care for myself when I am hurt without seeking retaliation. I want this not only because I want to be kind to others, but also because I want to be kind to myself. I have found that one of the best ways to lift my own spirits is to practice kindness and consideration toward others. Not lashing out or engaging in toxic cycles is a form of self-care. Caring for myself and genuinely caring for others are important parts to living a fulfilling and happy life.