Here at the LitAdj offices (and by ‘offices’ I mean ‘the desk I bought on clearance at IKEA eight years ago’) there have been some changes sparked by the changing of the year. First, the look feels a little less gloomy. And second, I’ve gone back and reread some old stuff and improved them, like my About page. This is the time to look over what you have and see what has worked and fix what hasn’t. So in the spirit of self-improvement, I’ve come up with a new mantra for the year: Be Loving, Be Humble, Have Direction, Have Fun. Not only does this pertain to my writer’s life, but also to what I call my ‘civilian’ life. You know, away from my ‘offices’.
For this week’s entry, I will present the first part:
It’s easy to love your loved ones. Your significant other, your friends, your family, and even some of your co-workers are an integral part of your psychological and emotional life. Even if they’re pissing you off by being assholes or dummies, they’re YOUR assholes or dummies, and you know you couldn’t live without them.
But what about the rest of the world? Or worse, what about all the haters and the villains in your life story? Be loving to them?! Well no, not in the same way that you are loving to your loved ones but a different kind of loving. There is a type of love the Ancient Greeks called Agape, which is roughly translated to selfless or unconditional love.
And that’s the key term right there—unconditional–and it’s key because we go into this world reading and judging people conditionally. I’ve worked in the service industry for about 2,000 years, so I’ve met all kinds of people in all types of moods, and sometimes in stressful situations, it’s really tough to not snap at them. Be loving to a young woman who just snapped at me for giving her a hot chocolate that was hot? Be loving to an overbearing, racist, loud-mouthed, ugly old man who wants his bill for free? Be loving to the stupid, to the lazy, to the skeevy, to the manipulative?
Now, to clarify, I don’t wish for you to be a doormat or to stay in abusive or stressful situations; you have to look after yourself and be safe from harm. But in situations where it’s easy to react to assholes (or, at our worst, be assholes ourselves) with a hateful, whiny, and spiteful attitude, being loving means to take a breath, slow down, and hit the reset button on our first impressions, our second judgments, and our third characterizations of who people are. And do you know why? Because everyone has a backstory.
Some of the greatest stories have villains that we can identify with in some way because that author made them identifiable. Whether it’s getting a glimpse of Jason Voorhies’s childhood or Scrooge’s youth, or hearing a soliloquy from King Claudius from Hamlet or Dwight from The Office, learning of the motivations of the villain’s actions is essential to a great story because we sympathize and empathize with them; that, really, we aren’t any different from them but also anyone else, and when we learn to hit the rest button, whether we know their backstory or not, we learn to at least acknowledge that that backstory is there.
Or we can make a backstory up. We’re all storytellers, after all. A trick I’ve learned over the years when dealing with rude customers is to image the rude person’s mother. This somehow makes that villain much more human and therefore more easy to relate to. Also, it’s kind of funny to imagine a little old lady calling that crazy man who’s yelling at you Bobby.
How we interact with the rest of the world is what makes us up or breaks us down, both in the short and long game. It’s amusing to see a snarky, egotistical brat; it’s sad to see that same one when they’re eighty. Most importantly, it’s very EASY to be these things. Ever talk with a grumpy people? They’re everywhere. Ever chat with a happy, light-hearted, fun old man or woman? Diamond in the rough. They refreshing to be with, and they give you hope for how you can be and the attitude you can achieve. And really, who would you rather be? Once you start the habit of being loving to people you don’t know, it becomes easier to do it. And that’s exactly what it’s all about, making it a habit. Everyone can be loving.
There’s a great line from the movie Bringing Out the Dead that brings this whole point together. Nicolas Cage plays an ambulance driver who’s at his wit’s end battling his own demons, and one of his partners, played by Ving Rhames, knows his deal and says this line, “You can’t change what’s out there, only where you’re coming from”. Now there are a lot of great lines in this movie (which is a mini-masterpiece of Scorsese’s that most people have never heard of), but this one has always stuck with me because it’s absolutely true. The more we try to fit this world into our own mind’s egotistical grasp, the quicker it’s going to wriggle out.
This first part of the mantra is the hardest because it’s so easy to say no. WHY should I be loving to everyone? WHY should I give a damn about anyone but my true loves? Couple reasons:
Because it’s healthier — Being loving has mental and emotional benefits which in turn affect you physically. For me it’s a type of meditation, and hundreds of studies done the past handful of decades has shown how our meditation affects us in so many positive ways, both mental and physical. Hitting the reset button on people gets you into the habit of hitting the reset button on yourself, on your actions and your emotional impressions. You may not always have people being loving back to you by being loving to them, but I can guarantee you that you’ll have people hating you for not being loving to them.
Because it’ll benefit your experiences — When you come at people openly with love, they open up. If they’re closed off, they might ease up. If they’re rude they may not be anything at all, but maybe, later, they might second-guess how they treat other people—all by the way you act with them. I’ve met so many different kinds of people in my life, and I’m amazed how little it took to get to know them simply by being loving and open. And I can’t even begin to explain how floored I was when a rude person opened up to me or explained their bad mood to me after the fact because I was willing to try again with them, to hit that reset button. We are more than our first impressions, and when you close off people, if you look down at them or think they are too stupid or short-sighted, we are treating others how we ourselves do not want to be treated. You’re missing out on so many experiences by being shut up.
Because it’s difficult — Because you can’t sharpen a knife in the mud. Because challenging myself is something I do all the time because I love expanding my experiences. It’s the oldest rule in human existence, but it’s also the most difficult—treat others like you’d like to be treated.
Another Ancient Greek word I love: eudaemonia. Roughly translated, it means human flourishing. Schopenhauer talked of the benefits of this mantra in life, and Goethe dedicated his life to it. Human flourishing: becoming the best possible model for ourselves. The difficult stuff always make us better because, most likely, the difficult stuff is the good stuff. Good night’s sleep? Eating better? Exercising? Being loving and patient to everyone you meet? Not easy.
If you look around you, who is doing this, who is being loving? Because all I’m seeing is more and more of the Be Hating. From songs on Spotify to videos on YouTube to the trolls and angry bloggers, hate is seeping into our lives in more ways than we’ve ever experienced as a society. Ever. Technology is giving us so much access to people’s lives and opinions and comments that loving is just too damn hard.
But I didn’t say this was a resolution, I said it was a mantra. A mantra is a line or a prayer repeated over and over while you are meditating. This is the most difficult one, so it bears repeating, over and over. And hopefully, the more I chant Be Loving, the more it’ll get me to do it.
And I’m not saying I’m going to be starting a charity fund or quitting my job to become a monk. Most times, these outward acts are much easier than you think rather than doing the little things that would help. So when that dude is screaming about his warm beer, I will repeat the mantra. When the bus driver is sneering at me, I will smile.
I will Be Loving
And I will keep trying.
And keep trying.
And keep trying…
Tune in next week for the second part of my new mantra.