malice vs stupidity

Stupidity vs. Malice 1-0

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I want you to think of any kind of conflict you’ve had during the last month. From a petty argument to a life changing experience. Maybe that waiter didn’t give you the right amount of change and you scolded him. Maybe your boss fired you. Maybe your boyfriend broke up with you because of a silly argument you had.

You will see that in every kind of conflict there is usually an “asshole”. If you are involved in that conflict, you will find that approximately …100% of the times, the asshole is the otherguy. Not you. So, this asshole, even though he is obviously wrong, he will still deliberately attempt to demean you, hurt you and make you feel bad. Because, you know, he is evil and stuff…

Oh yeah? Is that so?

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a picture in my Facebook newsfeed. It was a picture of Rafiki, the baboon from Lion King, meditating, with the caption reading: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”

The pictured looked meme-y and sarcastic, and was supposed to be funny. But it held a big truth. It resonated deeply with me, because lately it is something that I truly believe and live by. Also, by the way, as it turns out, this phrase is a philosophical aphorism called Hanlon’s Razor. Look it up.

Generally, 1) I have put up with pretty bad behaviors in the past, 2) I have seen people behaving absurdly and unacceptably to others and 3) I am pretty sure that in a number of occasions, I was the one who was the “asshole”, hurting someone badly in one way or another.

In all these 3 cases there is a “bad guy“, and a “guy who gets hurt” and is (rightfully so) pissed off. The only thing that changes is my role in each case. So, looking at the past, and having – obviously – been on all sides, I notice a double standard.

When I was the “bad guy”

Whenever I was that guy, I never felt that I was “bad”. Because, well, I was not. Being mean has everything to do with intentions. And my intentions were very very rarely bad. Instead, I was naive and foolish and had bad judgement. I was flawed. I didn’t know better. I wish I did, because if I did, I wouldn’t have acted the way I did. I wouldn’t have been “the asshole”.

When I was the “hurt guy”

Whenever I was that guy, I felt like everybody was mean and out to get me. I assumed that they knew exactly what they were doing and what the result of their mean actions would be. I thought everything was intentional from their part. I thought they knew what they were doing, and what they wanted was to mess with me.


So, how was this possible? How come my intentions were never bad and theirs were always bad? How come I was entitled to get away with whatever shitty behavior I was demonstrating, while the others were not? Was I that different and that special?

Nope.

There is no “bad guy”

The truth is that everyone is as stupid and clueless as I am. There is no “bad” guy in the story. Those exist only in the movies. What exists, is a bunch of clueless people that are stupid in slightly different and unpredictable ways. People who have insecurities and fears, who think that they are oh-so-special and expect other people to treat them as such. And what is even worse… those guys try to communicate with each other every day.

Aaaaand… this is pretty much a summary of how the world works and why it sucks so much sometimes.

We are flawed. And stupid. This is one of the few things I am sure of in this life. The “bad guy” is full of insecurities, full of wrong ideas about you, full of wrong ideas about the world, and will occasionally say and do things you won’t like that will hurt you. And this is actually OK. When you are OK with that fact too, then you will stop taking his/her ignorance and stupidity personally. Then you will stop feeling hurt.

So, whenever you catch yourself feeling hurt by that “asshole”, do yourself a favor and think of him compassionately. Not in an arrogant way, but in an accepting way. You know you could very well be in his shoes the next time.


My approach

Personally, I do that in my life. I do it to a point that I can’t escape it anymore. When people treat me poorly, I see just that: Flawed people communicating ineffectively, acting through their insecurities and/or ignorance.

I know. This sounds arrogant. But look: Then I turn the attention to myself and say: “OK Nontas, what did YOU do to trigger that shitty behavior in them? Why did YOU do/say that? What are YOU insecure about? Why is that person an asshole to YOU right now? Chances are they were not born having the “asshole” gene, so how can YOU act next time in order to avoid that behavior?”.

The only person I can change is me.

I’d rather focus on myself and my own contribution to this communication, instead of making counterproductive assumptions about the quality and intentions of the other person. I’m trying to smarten up, remember?

And the funny thing is that sometimes I wish I could escape this way of thinking, be the “poor victim” instead, and blame the “bad guys” for everything and run to mommy and cry. It is easier that way. It feels much better to be the one who is always right, than to constantly question yourself and search how you can be a better person. It requires no more effort from your part…

What if there is a “bad guy”?

Well, OK. I hear you. Sometimes people are genuinely assholes, indeed. Simple as that. So, now the question becomes: “How can you tell malice from ignorance?”.

Well, I don’t know, but statistically speaking, ignorance has a dramatically higher frequency in life than malice has. Actually, the ignorance-to-malice ratio is 232:1. Impressive, huh?

OK, I just made that up but, you know… It could be.

Now to close the subject… it all comes down to this question: “What are you going to choose?

  • Always see malice in people and live as a victim a life full of distrust and complaining or
  • acknowledge and accept everyone’s ignorance, put your big ego aside and practice compassion and effective communication taking full responsibility for your relationship with others?

For me the answer is obvious.

How about you? Feel free to comment below 🙂

 

PS: Kudos to artist Maran-Zelde for the awesome pic of Plankton and Patrick I used for this article.