I was inflamed enough to write this as the result of an ugly and disappointing altercation with an older relative. I feel that the facts that he is middle-aged and male are extremely relevant.
During and after the painful discussion, something within me shifted, because I realized that I knew far too many people like him. The society I was raised in had made an army of clones with an ugly character disease. Ironically enough, a feature of this social affliction is the supercilious, personal belief that one is elevated beyond and significantly set apart from one’s peers, that one is nothing like them – when the reality is that they are all merely photocopies on different kinds of paper. It’s a painful thing to deep.
I realized that age only augments the ugliness of character, and that with time, it begins to produce an odor that in a few years, if not watched very closely, begins to stink to high heaven. And I never want to turn into that.
So I decided to write this, as I have written many other things, as a preventative guide. Perhaps my anger and frustration at my own experience will be evident. But whatever gold I can glean from a heap of dirt, I will take and refine.
I write this because I believe that the process of transforming into a monster need not be inevitable.
Do not become That Person. If you do, children will be traumatized. Even worse, they might turn into you, perpetuating the vicious cycle of intolerance. People will eventually learn from you, so there are 10 things you need to start learning now:
- Learn how to graciously be wrong. You will not develop a superpower that makes you impervious to being wrong at least sometimes, as you grow older. Disabuse yourself immediately of the harmful idea that you are wiser than everyone you are older than. It doesn’t have to be a shocking or humiliating experience if you ever get schooled by a child or a teenager. Here is how to be graciously wrong. The first step is to use your unbiased sense to check yourself. When you realize you are wrong, the second step is to admit it to yourself. Many make it to that step, but the hardest one comes next. Step three: admitting that you are wrong to whoever you are in conversation with. Yes, out loud. And I know conceding is painful, and much easier said than done. But if you start practicing consistently now, perhaps by the time you are in your middle ages, it will be second nature.
- Do not attribute to yourself virtues you do not have. Frankly, it will make you look like an idiot, and it is very likely everyone will realize it but you. You cannot say, “I am a very open-minded person,” and then refuse to evaluate the validity of someone else’s point. You cannot say, “Ask everyone at the office; I’m a very good listener,” and then talk for half an hour straight, protesting “I’m coming,” when someone else tries to get a word in edgewise. This is either delusion or hypocrisy. When you look into a mirror, you need to be able to see your reflection, not a hallucination. Otherwise, your words will expose your lies like neon paint in the darkness. Do not mistake everyone’s silence for belief; people are rarely brave or kind enough to let you know to your face that they see through your lies. But they will discuss your ghost virtues in the spaces where you can’t hear them.
- If you ever do get to that amazing milestone where you are able to recognize the flaws in yourself, you should never use another person’s flaws to justify your own. This is why ugliness is an epidemic: those of ugly character would rather comfort themselves with the fact that they know other ugly people, than actually face the process of becoming beautiful. When you realize you are intolerant with your children, reject the false comfort that comes with the memory of how intolerant your parents were with you. Do not become okay with your corruption because your fellow citizens are vile. Comparing ugliness might make you feel better, but remember that egos only like everything that is bad for them.
- Do not pretend material things can fix the troubles your ugliness has caused. This is what happens when many such people recognize in their subconscious that they have done something ugly and can’t shake the shame: they try to compensate in every way but the appropriate one. They would rather buy gifts for those to whom they have shown their ugliness than apologize to them. They would rather offer to take people out somewhere expensive than concede to them. Money and material gifts don’t fix character – especially when you are giving not for the benefit of others, but for the sake of your own internal guilt. People will remember what you did to them. Money doesn’t earn you a clean slate in someone’s heart.
- Do not reach for explanations instead of apologies. Do not try to blame the trouble you have caused on anything other than your ugliness. When you yelled and made someone cry, it was not because you had a bad day at work. It was because you lost your temper enough to yell. When you got a fact wrong, it was not because “it can be interpreted by another person like this,” it was because you didn’t read something right the first time. Own your actions and reactions. Own the bad like you own the good. Kill your pride long enough to find the source of your ugliness before you go attempting to recklessly profile external suspects.
- Learn how to deal with shame, and how to admit to yourself and to others, “I am ashamed.” That is how you kill shame: by owning it. Shame’s worst fear is to be acknowledged and accepted, because that makes it evaporate. It would rather fester and turn into arrogance and pride. Do not let it. Beware, because the potential strength of shame will increase as you get older, when you start thinking to yourself that you have fewer legitimate excuses. “I learnt this years ago; I should have remembered it.” “I’ve lived too long to still be this dumb.” “I’ve read and watched too much to not have known this fact already.” And that is how shame creeps in. But you must burn those thoughts to ashes. Understand that shame can still attack you whenever, no matter the circumstances, and you will not always be ready. When it happens, though, admit
- Assuming you are ever able to kill your ego enough to apologize, you should apologize for what you have done, not for how someone else felt. “I’m sorry you took it that way,” does not qualify as an apology. It is a prideful deflection. You cannot apologize for someone else’s feelings; they were never yours in the first place to apologize for. You can only apologize for you, your actions, and your ugliness. So do it, even when, even though, it hurts.
- Practice how to say, “Oh yes, you are right.” Become as expert at it as “Ah, I was wrong.” Both statements are gracious, and a lack of grace can cause your ego to swell too large or your self-esteem to shrink too small. What you need is a dead ego and healthy self-esteem. Practicing both statements – and meaning them – will take you closer to grace.
- Never, ever excuse your ugliness by attributing it to “unchangeable” elements of your nature. You cannot scream at people and insist, “This is how I am, this is how I hold conversations.” No matter how you spin it, you are being abrasive. You cannot be insufferably rude to anyone significantly older or younger than you and say, “I’m only used to talking to my age mates.” Have sense. Ugliness is not in the intentional design of anyone’s nature, and consequences of a Fall are not to be embraced. When you claim the ratty clothes you wear are part of your skin, you will never take them off.
- When you try to perform surgery on yourself, transform into a “good person,” try your best to erase the ugliness, and fail at all of it, you must rejoice in your failure. Rejoice so that you can lean heavily on the Rock that gives you strength. Goodness has only one source, and it isn’t you. When you fail at generating beauty, humble yourself and ask Him to fill you with His own. You will get nowhere otherwise.