5 Painful Things Everyone Needs to Realize About Themselves
If human social interaction is a house on fire, I'm not as much a fireman navigating calmly through the blaze as I am the hobo that passed out in the basement and is now attempting to drunkenly stumble through the inferno while it's slowly dawning on him that his clothes are stained with ethanol. Fortunately (for the amused passersby, at least), this means I've had the chance to observe and personally experience some of the weirder backdrafts and firenados along the way. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you don't learn the following basics before adulthood, people are going to burn your goddamn house down.
Recognize the Annoying Know-It-All Within You
Ah, the besserwisser that thinks everyone else is stupid! This utter Chad is without a doubt the most annoying motherfucker of the various motherfuckers that can potentially annoy you -- a total, grade-A turdmonger hellbent on offering his useless advice and smug opinions to anyone willing to listen. And in his mind, everyone is willing to listen. How could they not? After all, he knows best.
We all know at least one of these guys. Or maybe it's a girl. Or, fuck it, dog. Smartasses come in all shapes and sizes, much like regular ones. It's just that only one of those can be corrected with an old-fashioned punting.
Dogs can be smug assholes too. Don't get me started.
The weird thing about the annoying know-it-all personality type is that they seem to be everywhere. The reason behind this is simple: He literally is everyone. We all carry elements of Chad within us, and every once in a while that fucker surfaces and starts whipping assumed knowledge around like crotches in that Dick Slang video. With the slightest of modifications, it's the default mode of annoying brats and teenagers everywhere, the prevailing mindset of roughly 99.99 percent of all Internet forums, and, of course, the mindset behind that tiny voice in your head that wants to mock and yell at other people when they don't use the gun you prefer to shoot faces off in your online video game.
Unfortunately, you can never teach yourself to un-besserwisser. Not really. Even the best of us aren't above occasional, annoying know-it-allery. Grab a Bible and take a vodka shot every time Jesus, by default a template of a perfect human being, delivers a condescending "You know nothing"-style line to someone. I guarantee you'll be drunk well before Golgotha.
However, that's not to say you can't learn to moderate that behavior. In my experience, the trick is simple: Admit to yourself that sometimes you're an asshole, and try to unleash that behavior only when applicable (i.e. when faced with an even bigger asshole). That way, the rest of the world may go about its merry way while, instead of bothering other people, two flaming assholes are rubbing up against each other instead. That, uh, was a stranger mental image than I was going for.
"Different Opinion" Does Not Mean "Wrong"
I know you read the title of this entry and are now punching the air and screaming, "Dude, I know that! Everyone knows that! No one is in possession of all the facts, so they form their opinions on partial information, which in turn means occasionally people other than me are right. Wait, how are you predicting every word I'm thinking right now? Holy shit, are you psychic?! Stop doing that! I'M FREAKING OUT!"
But is it really that obvious? Let's try a little experiment in which you pull up your thoughts on politics. Or religion. Or veganism. Or any of the hundred billion other things people vehemently and violently disagree on. Then imagine the guy next to you has the exact opposite opinions.
Which one of you is right?
That question, itself, is the problem. In pure opinion-based conversations, that question should mean exactly nothing. But because we're so entrenched in the idea of "correct" and "incorrect," it's become almost impossible to leave out, even in the most subjective exchanges.
On the off chance that you're not omniscient, there's a very good chance that you're objectively dead wrong in at least one deep-held opinion in your life, a condition known as the "Shut up, the Diamondbacks are a good team" syndrome. Maybe you're a small-business owner and the policies of the party you religiously vote have reliably made your life a little bit more difficult with each passing year, but you wouldn't ever switch to the competition because clearly they're the bad guys. Maybe you like Justin Bieber's music despite the fact that CERN has long ago produced evidence that each and every note of it is actually vaporized rat poop that enters your ears via the speakers and causes potentially lethal buildups. Statistically, somewhere in that wonderful biological computer inside your head is at least one deeply held belief that's almost certainly a crockload of crap. Can you admit it?
"No, but that's just because you insulted the Diamondbacks."
If you're able to, you're in a small, small minority that I freely admit I'm not always a member of and likely will never fully be. Tons of people have trouble letting go of their deep-seated opinions regardless of how objectively stupid they are, which is why fundamentalists are a thing, measles has made a comeback in America, and the members of Nickelback live in mansions made out of donated genitals. In order to avoid following your more inane opinions to the point where you become that asshole -- an MRA screamer, a Gamergater, whatever fundamentalist flavor people are buying into this week -- it's vital to learn one social skill: Fuckin' always give the other person some semblance of consideration. Always. There's a pretty good chance that they didn't just make up their opinion on the spot without any thought put into it. Nor did they just adopt someone else's beliefs without question. That consideration costs you nothing except the humility of admitting that other people are entitled to their beliefs and opinions too.
The more observant of you will point out that I'm a hypocrite for calling those people assholes in the above paragraph -- they're operating on opinion after all, right? I'd counter by saying that those statements are just my opinions. It's kind of a weird ironic loop, and the whole idea is far from simple. If it wasn't complex, it wouldn't even be an issue. But seriously, it's a 100 percent fact that Nickelback sucks.
Realize That Not Everyone Likes You
I remember when I first started realizing that I don't like everyone and everyone most definitely doesn't like me. I was maybe 10 or so, just getting past the worst of my "smartass kid" phase and well on the way to my "that weird kid" days. I was at a Boy Scout squad meeting and cracked an innocent joke (by my terms) to another, bigger kid that I didn't know too well. Approximately four seconds later, he was wearing my ass as a shoe.
I never went to another one of those meetings. I don't know what happened to the other kid. I assume he got expelled, but in hindsight I kind of hope that wasn't the case -- because either I was a really, really annoying little dick, or he had waaaay bigger problems than my wisecracking and could have used the relatively positive environment of that squad. Still, back then, all I knew was that, for the first time in my life, someone had openly expressed their dislike of me. By translating the Bible in Morse code into my face.
A close approximation of my face upon realizing this (I had a better beard, though).
Chances are, you can't just shrug an experience like that off -- shit, mine was a quarter of a century ago and I still remember -- but you can try to learn from it. The lesson I learned that day was that, generally, it's a good idea to avoid yapping random bullshit to people I don't know, which has played a not insignificant part in teaching me to be a comparatively polite person when I remember. I certainly could have lived without said lesson, and I sure as balls don't remember it fondly, but there's no telling what kind of douchenozzle I might have butterfly-effected into if that beating hadn't taken place.
And everyone has a story like that. I'm not meaning that in a "we all once got beaten up by a fat Boy Scout" sense, but that we all have had that first time when someone blew up in our faces in at least a verbal sense, and we realized that there are people who just plain don't like us. Some experience it so early it's too tragic to recount on a comedy site, while others manage to get well into adulthood before they realize that everyone secretly thinks they're an entitled dick ... because if they've gone unchallenged for that long, chances are that's precisely what they've become.
Prepare for a Social Crash-and-Burn
Have you ever been in "The Zone"? It's that thing writers and artists and athletes dream of, the rare and elusive state of mind where everything is easy as balls, and the thing you're attempting to do is achieved at a maximum level with seemingly minimum effort. The bad news: It's pretty much impossible to sustain. The good news: Regardless of your natural talent with people, you can also achieve that flow in social interaction without even having to dunk over them.
Maybe you've experienced it: that glorious moment when you know exactly what to say, every joke is hitting, your confidence level is sky high, and you are totally immune to any and all shit someone might attempt to pour on you. It's awesome. Insults roll off of you like water off a duck's back. Hold on, why a duck's back? Have ... have I become a duck? Better check right now. Thank fuck, I have not. Aaaaaand there goes The Zone. Everyone is staring at me because a minute ago I was the life of the party and now I just started frantically checking to see if I had grown feathers. The only thing you can do is blame drugs and then walk away in shame.
Also, dude, you might want to double-check the whole duck thing.
See, that's the thing about The Zone. That sense of ease always ends, and when it does, chances are you're going to feel clumsier than ever, because now you're comparing your general awkwardness to that time when you weren't that bumbling dork. Still, there's a lesson to be learned there, and shockingly, it isn't "Screw all people, I'll be in my pillow fort." It's this: "Holy shit, I can do this, at least sometimes." For the more socially awkward of us, that little meal can go a long, long way ... but not if you let that social crash dictate your perspective. You have to expect it, and knowing how to deal with it is the difference between growing as a person and building a lair in the nearest volcano.
Figure Out the Point of Controlled Unpleasantness
There is a mode of social interaction that is rarely discussed but commonly observed in everyday life both on- and offline. I call it the "point of controlled unpleasantness," and it manifests as such:
Let's say I pop out to buy some milk, which for the purposes of this analogy we'll pretend is totally not whiskey at all. At the cashier line, a haughty, middle-aged suit starts inexplicably eyeballing me and harrumphing at my decision to buy a crate of milk at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, while still strongly emitting the whiff of the previous night's milk. Riddled with a calcium headache and feeling impatient, my first instinct is to arrange an impromptu softball match with my fellow customers, using the complainer as a bat and his briefcase as a ball. However, I choose the high road and refrain from throwing abuse at his face, and his face at his briefcase. I walk away with my milk and gleefully drink myself to oblivion, forgetting that fuckface far sooner than if I'd gone with my first instinct and had to deal with the whole high-speed chase with the cops that would inevitably have ensued. All is well.
Have you ever done the above thing, where you shockingly don't go ballistic on a fucker that you thought clearly deserved it? Do you think you can regularly do that? Congratulations! You have mastered controlled unpleasantness. I'm not being sarcastic; it really is pretty awesome, but surprisingly difficult to pull off. Because despite the fact that my name for it includes the word "unpleasant," it is by no means a negative thing. On the contrary, it's just a more honest name for the eye-roll-inducing word "civility." The point of controlled unpleasantness is realizing that you can never be civil to everyone 100 percent of the time, so you figure out the way to be the least uncivil instead. You can still snark, passive-aggressive, and cold-shoulder at your fellow men just as you want, but chances are you'll soon figure out that it's far, far better for your own well-being to learn the proper time and place.
Now, we just need to learn to do that online.
Pauli is a Cracked freelance editor and weekly columnist. Join his gang on Facebook and Twitter.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Animals That Survived Shit That Would Kill a Terminator and 5 Disastrous Ways People Tried to Make Porn a Reality.
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