Usually I hustle past regurgitated motivational nonsense that appears on my Facebook and instagram, but one stuck out when it popped up and has stayed in my head ever since.
“Everyone is fighting their own battles, try not to be a dick”
I get so many opportunities to be a dick every day, I’m sure everyone does. But every one of those opportunities is by default an opportunity to go the other way, to show some humility instead.
Patronisingly simple, but so hard to put into practice!
I reckon that most of my - and probably others’ - opportunities to be a dick are usually in response to someone else who is behaving like one. And seemingly fair enough, too - who does this person think they are trying to prioritise themselves over me and think I’m just gonna hack it, If they want to behave like a dickhead then I’ll treat them like one, etc etc. It’s an underrated test of character to be able to put down your sword when you know for certain that you’re right and they’re wrong. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly master this, but I always have a crack at it.
I’ve developed this (slightly dark) process of approaching these situations. When someone is persisting negativity in my direction, I no longer look at that person as an enemy. Instead I try and receive them as if I knew they had severe depression. Or they had just lost a loved one. Or their house had burned down the night before. Or whatever other morbidity my brain can produce at the time.
Granted, those are all worst-case scenarios, and obviously very unlikely to be the case. So maybe this person’s just having a really bad day. Maybe they’re arriving at the end of their tether just as I’ve accidentally put sugar in their coffee when they didn’t want one. Maybe every little thing has gone wrong for them today and I am unwittingly the straw that’s broken the camel’s back. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. I’m there all the time, some days just don’t click and it seems to be one fuckup after another. But I know from experience in receiving it that on those days, sometimes all it takes is a little kindness to reset the balance.
I used to really struggle to contain my reactions and respond rationally to people. It’s much easier to take people as they present themselves to you, and reflect it in yourself and your reciprocal attitude. That is, it’s easy to be nice to someone who’s being nice to you, and it’s easy to be foul to someone being foul to you. Justifying this behaviour is simple. An eye for an eye. But with this dumb quote echoing in my head I’ve resolved its also lazy, so I’ve started holding myself to a higher standard.
The following is a little story about when I made this decision.
About two years ago I was enjoying a surf when a bloke - younger than me, all long hair and puppy-fat - started giving me a hard time. Surf etiquette is a reasonably straightforward code of simple courteous behaviour, and this guy was way out of line. I therefore did not take to him well, and we exchanged some choice words about how it might be wise for him to stop acting like a prick.
“Or what mate? What you gonna do?”
Me (with the most menace I could produce): “I actually don’t think you want to find out mate.”
(Those that know me will snicker at this as I’m yet to meet anyone less prone to violence than myself)
Our conversation didn’t progress any further and the incident seemingly resolved itself, I was nearing the end of my session anyway and headed in shortly after. I chalked it up to just another northern beaches gimp, no real harm done, but it’s always frustrating to have my cherished therapy of surf ruined by a wanker.
But the following week, I saw this him again. I hoped we would just ignore each other, only he seemed to recognise me too. 10 minutes later, not only was he again making my surf hard to enjoy, he had instructed his mates to do the same. I was ready to head to the beach and have it out with this guy. I was really fucked off. He’s also pretty tubby so I thought my chances would be good. Thankfully my brain took over and recognised the stupidity of lashing out when significantly outnumbered. So I went in alone, seething, with my mood turned to shit - the absolute opposite outcome of why I go surfing.
Unfortunately I started seeing him more and more frequently. I made a conscious effort not to be near him or surf with him again. I didn’t want to have to deal with it potentially ruining my surf, in fact I didn’t want to have to deal with it at all. So I’d sit fifty metres away, sometimes catching shitty waves instead, sour and cranky, the distance between us doing little to curb the venomous thoughts I had every time he bobbed into my field of vision.
So then I saw him again, maybe 6 months after our first altercation. With only a couple of other people out, it was a corker of day and the waves were fun. It was time to end the nonsense, so I decided to apply the theory of “everyone is fighting their own battles, try not to be a dick”.
What if one of his parents has cancer or something?
What if he doesn’t even have parents?
What if he’d just been kicked out of home when we first met?
I paddle over to him and ask what his name is.
“Tim.” Short, sharp. Looking me up and down. Grimacing.
“Hey Tim, my name’s Roly. We met a while ago over at Dee Why Point and I think we got off on the wrong foot and I wanna to clear the air”
Cracks a small smile.
Holy shit this might be working. Actually that could have been a sneer. Hmm.
“Yeah man sounds about right ay haha”
Ok definitely a smile, yes, good.
“Yeah man, I think we just rubbed each other the wrong way but you know… I see you out all the time so I figured I don’t want to have to bother with the bad vibes anymore and I’d prefer to just say hi and be mates when I paddle out and bump into you.”
“Yeah for sure, theres just so many kooks in the water ay!”
Not exactly an apology but close enough to legitimate acknowledgement. We chat a bit more for 30 seconds or so until a wave comes and I’m by myself again. We’ve shaken hands, now my hands are shaking. My whole body is quivering, its an endorphin OVERLOAD and I’m stoked.
I was buzzing on that for a good few days. Such a tiny interaction with such a huge impact on my own character and self-esteem. Although technically for my own benefit (in never having to deal with the problem again), I’m proud of myself for sacking up and getting over my own vanity to make a small impact on another human’s life.
This being said, I’m also a realist. There are definitely just some plain assholes out in the world, people who don’t care about others and are only ever looking out for themselves. They are who they are, they will behave the way they behave and walking on my newfound high road won’t change these people one bit. But then again - who knows why they are the way they are? Who knows what they’re going through? Best to err on the side of caution I think.
“Everyone is fighting their own battles, try not to be a dick”.