Do you ever feel like you want to hide because you can’t stand other people?
My wife has a t-shirt that cracks me up every time she wears it. Across the front reads:
All I care about is coffee and like two people.
Hyperbolic, obviously. But the exaggeration that makes it hilarious is based on a relatable truth. Sometimes we long to retreat to a bubble of comfort and intimacy to protect us from the barrage of inhumanity we feel from others. It can be overwhelming.
Because, let’s face it, default human nature is not particularly benevolent. Most of us, the majority of the time, will choose the path of least resistance, and the unevolved parts of our humanity are in full force. Self-centeredness. Power plays. Laziness. Stealing credit, ideas, or property. Excessive rationalizing. Subtle lies. Stereotyping. I’m sure you could name several other qualities you’ve experienced–even in just the last few days.
Does anyone think these things are good? Not unless they’re wrong in the head. But it takes effort to move beyond our basic nature as human beings, and so more often than not we don’t. It seems too demanding. It feels like others don’t really deserve it. It doesn’t seem like anyone else is trying, so why should you? In a world of the default, it feels natural to want to protect yourself from the cuts and bruises. With certain destructive people or situations, you definitely need to.
Expecting things from others before you give them, though, is also part of our raw nature as people. A quid pro quo community is not a very enlightened one. We know the bar can be set higher, and that we could probably reach or exceed that bar if we actually tried. If we want to receive more enlightened, mature actions from other people, we might have to be the ones to make the first move. There’s a reason a quote like, “be the change you want to see in the world,” or variations of the golden rule–”treat others how you wish to be treated”–show up all over the place, even if they seem cliche. In every time and place, new ways of bothering and hurting other people emerge. There is an endless opportunity to try to be a better person yourself and hopefully elevate others around you because of it.
Is that a guaranteed response? Of course not. People will still steal your lunch out of the fridge, or inexplicably try to make you look weak or unintelligent, or fail to do something when you had hoped they would. But the intriguing challenge to climb to a second nature–a better human nature–is always there. It’s one you learn and develop; not the one that comes easy or instinctual.
There is a rewarding, transformative way of being human that you can grow into if you try. I think deep down most of us know it’s the journey we’re all meant to take. A cultivation of empathy, patience, humility, generosity, cooperation, honesty, and much more. It’s just that it can be a painful one personally so we’re discouraged or avoidant.
Sometimes we really do need a cup of coffee and the two people we like. But it’s precisely because that affectionate, core experience reminds us that there is a better way of being human in the world. That it is possible and meaningful even if it’s uncommon. And that the comfort and reinvigoration at the center of our lives are there so we can step out again amongst everyone else and try to expand the circle.
Maybe this is the week someone–perhaps someone unexpected–becomes the literal or figurative third person you like. Or, at least, a person that you intentionally try to get to know better instead of playing tit-for-tat games with.
May you now and going forward strive to be the person of your better nature.