Spiritual Truth: You’re an Asshole

It’s better that you just accept it now — you’re not a nice person. You constantly judge people, are myopic in your approach to situations, and regularly see yourself as a victim. Just admit it — you’re an asshole.

I had a great conversation with my students on Monday around Pathos and “Good Enough” responsibility. The quick and dirty of it is that we make decisions (and are appealed to in order to make decisions) through a few key modes, namely ethos, pathos, and logos (morals, feelings, and logic). My students and I had previously discussed ethos and the often hidden effect of values in our daily lives and we were moving on to cover pathos.

After a quick review of terms, I said, “So, if you had to speak honestly, which approach would you say that you use most often when making decisions: morals or feelings?” Universally, they said feelings. “So I could convince you to do something by riling you up and claiming that the source of that emotion, positive or negative, was a given person, idea, or method and lead you into doing what I wanted.” There was a pause and some looks of concerted introspection. “So let’s consider what is going through your head in that moment. Actually, let’s pretend that you, (insert student name here), and I got in a fight. Here’s what I’m thinking*:

  • I had to snark at you.
  • I can’t forgive you.
  • I need space.
  • I am afraid to talk to you.
  • I am unable to consider your feelings or let it go.

Where is the locus of control?”
They think about it. “External,” they agree.

When control of the situation is outside of yourself, when everything is happening TO you, you are a victim. When you are a VICTIM, you take no responsibility for the situation, you blame everyone/anyone/everything/anything for what you are experiencing. Basically, you’re an asshole. But cheer up — we’re all assholes!

I ask them, “How often do you act like the world is happening TO you? 80% of the time? 90%?” Lots of dawning on their faces. “So, now let’s change the phrasing:

  • I chose to snark at you.
  • I won’t forgive you.
  • I want space.
  • I would like to talk to you.
  • I am unwilling to consider your feelings or let it go.

Now where is the locus of control?”
“Internal,” they agree.

When you perceive that you have some control of a situation (or at least yourself), you are now a PARTICIPANT, and a participant can make lots of useful and meaningful choices. And that leaves us with some things to consider, namely responsibility.

But that is for a separate post. I’ll leave you with this: we all judge, struggle to see clearly, argue when we could converse, and act as if the world is happening to us; what matters is how many times we let it happen without taking responsibility and participating in the situation. In other words, we’re all assholes, but we don’t have to act like it all the time.

Be well,

* Some of you might recognize these statements from a Gestalt Psychology exercise. Very cool seeing the results of the frame change, especially the “I am afraid to” → “I would like to”…

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