Destiny is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you.
There’s this story about Winston Churchill who, after the Japanese bombed Hong Kong and Singapore, forcing Great Britain to declare war, he signed off with the following words, “I have the honour to be, with high consideration, Sir, Your obedient servant.”
There’s another story about Churchill showing respect to each and every person he met, and when asked about it, he’d reply that he showed respect to them not because of who they were, but because of who he was.
To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, we’re all lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone in a seemingly infinite universe. Each of us is the hero of our own story. This is the default setting, as Wallace described it many years ago.
I believe we’re all aware of this default operating system, being self-centered, the exhaustion of having to wait in line at a grocery store or in your car, at the stoplight.
We’re aware of this, but we try to justify it.
“The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”Neil Gaiman
Good and Evil, Black and White
It is rare that people hurt others just for their own amusement. Most times, people hurt others because they believe that is the right thing to do. They believe in their cause, in their rights, or they believe those “others” deserve it.
There are countless “instant karma” videos on the web, all viral because we loathe what we perceive to be unfair and we love our idea of justice.
This, I am afraid, is a trap.
I find this particular concept to be so hard to grasp, because it implies that morality, virtue, good and evil, are all subjective.
And they are.
No one ever said. “I am a bad man and I am doing bad things to good people.”
Unfortunately, people feel the need to be right. It’s an egocentric and selfish way of looking at things, but it’s how we function. We categorize people, we label them, we judge them, and because we are afraid of them, we do everything that’s in our powers to prove to them how wrong they are.
From religion to politics to sports, people fight and argue and hurt each other just because they think that they hold the truth.
It’s so easy to think like this that it doesn’t require any effort…
And it becomes almost impossible to admit that you, in fact, might be wrong.
People function like this. Not really built to see the flaws in their own beliefs, thinking, or behavior.
I’ve been trying lately to ask myself: Am I wrong?
Whenever I get angry at someone, whenever I feel that they are just wrong to think or say something. Whenever I feel that people are shallow or that they just don’t get the point…
Have I really made myself clear?
I’m not doubting myself, I’m just trying to understand others better. To understand myself better, and to give others a better chance at understanding me.
Am I the good guy? Are you?
Are you ready to admit that you might be the villain in someone else’s story?
I find that we spend most of the time trying to convince ourselves that we’re the good guys. Those who stand in our way, they’re all wrong. Those who wronged us deserve to be punished, either by us or by a system or by fate itself.
We call upon the gods to make unfair the lives of those who made life unfair for us.
But what if life’s fair because it’s unfair to each and every single one of us?
This concept has been immortalized by countless cliches over the centuries. “Be kind for everyone fights a battle you know nothing about.”
We roll our eyes at such cliches, yet fail to understand just how comfortable we are with assuming, in less seconds it takes a Tesla to go from 0 to 60, that we are the good guys.
Like the joke about the guy driving on the wrong side of the road, convinced that all the other cars heading his way are being driven by an awful lot of drivers.
I’m not advising saint like traits, turning the other cheek, but we should at least assume, in spite of our default setting, that others are just as human as we are. They are flawed, selfish, and impatient, and there’s always a reason they do what they do.
It’s not just our actions that shape our destiny, but also our reactions.
An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. It’s a terrible cliche that we can’t help but agree with.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there’s something hopelessly idealistic about being kind to those who least deserve it. But using negativity as a cure against itself is a pathway to hell.
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to chaos is paved with the words and actions of those who think that everyone else is wrong.