Civil Discourse

“Whatever happened to class?” – Catherine Zeta Jones (Chicago)

I recently witnessed a group of people being very rude to one another, over something that probably didn’t warrant such aggression or hostility. The incident itself was relatively brief, and only some not-so-nice words were exchanged, but I believe it to be systemic of a much larger problem: People nowadays don’t seem to know how to engage in civil discourse anymore.

Civil discourse is when two or more people have a disagreement, but are able to resolve it without resorting to shouting, insulting, rudeness or hostility in general. The problem I’m seeing is that, when a disagreement occurs, many will jump straight to being angry. They will skip any sort of “formality” involving manners or civility and instantly become annoyed. The way I have always understood it, is that if you want a positive reaction from people or a positive outcome from a situation, you must approach them/it positively. This is not to say that forcefulness and willfulness are not needed, because they are, but they must be tempered with objectivity. If you approach someone who is bothering you and immediately call them an idiot, you are unlikely to get anywhere at all. Instead, if you start with, “excuse me…” or “would you mind terribly…” that shows that you at least are willing to look at a potential disagreement from a reasonable point of view.

Now, it is entirely possible that the civility and sincerity you attempt to show others may not be reciprocated. If that is the case, if you feel being more forceful or asserting your opinions more harshly would be of benefit, then go ahead and try. However, if the disagreement erupts into an argument, then the questions you have to ask yourself are, “is this worth it?” and “what is at stake?” Some people simply are rude — this is a fact, and there is very little chance of that changing. So it is simply not worth it to expend the energy to try. You might as well bash your head against a brick wall for all the good it will do you. What you have you understand is, backing down or abandoning an argument is NOT a sign of weakness. Knowing when to accept defeat can be a sign of strength. If the only thing you’re risking in a disagreement is potentially bruising your ego, then let it be bruised – it will heal.

Another thing to consider is the other person’s position. Are they in the wrong? Are you perhaps being overly sensitive? What is the other person doing that is bothering you? Can you look past it or live with it? Everyone has their own little eccentricities that will bother someone, and some people try very hard to be bothered. What you have to consider is how flexible can you can be. If you can look past whatever the issue is and live with it, or better yet, accept it, it will help teach you tolerance and dealing with your problems rather than stressing over them.

My basic point is this — life is too short to be angry all the time or irritated with everyone. Before you go off half-cocked on an issue, consider how important it is to you, how important it may be to others, and most importantly, try and keep a cool head. If you have a problem with something or someone, try to deal with it in a calm and reasonable manner. Everyone has disagreements; it’s natural and encouraged. But if you can utilize civil discourse when you have a disagreement, I guarantee you — everyone involved will be better off for it.

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Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  – William Arthur Ward

I’d like to talk a little today about what I perceive the differences (and similarities) to be between the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist. We’ve all come across each kind of person — the unerringly hopeful optimist, the down-in-the-dumps pessimist, and the “middle-ground” realist. I, myself, believe I fall into the realist category and I will explain why later. Let’s talk about the others.

Let’s start with the optimist: The dictionary defines optimism as, “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” While this is certainly a more preferred social attitude than the pessimist, optimists have been accused more than once of being naïve or ignorant of the way things are because they choose to see a different better picture than others. They believe that the world is a genuinely good place and that in the eternal conflict between “good” and “evil,” that good will win out in the end. This is a fine belief and it’s one that many people hold. It keeps their spirits high, their faith in humanity remains unshaken, and it’s likely they have a positive self-image. However, when one views the world through “rose-colored-glasses” they often don’t see the “cold, hard facts” that they need to see in order to interact well in society, either because they don’t see them, or they choose not to. Some optimists will believe anything they hear, read or see as long as it goes along with their positive viewpoints on life. Granted this is probably a bit of an extreme, but it is feasible that an optimist can be taken advantage of because they wish to believe in the good they choose to see in everyone. This can lead to trouble if the optimist finds themselves in the wrong situation where their unwavering positivity meets with inevitable negativity that does exist in the world.

Negativity is the domain of the pessimist. The dictionary defines pessimism as, “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, or problems.” Being the exact opposite of an optimist, the pessimist sees only the bad side of life and generally expects the worst of any scenario. However, this is not to say that pessimists are ALWAYS unhappy people (although it can be typical). It could be the case that due to unfortunate past experiences, they go through life always expecting the worst because that’s what they’re used to and have been exposed to all their life. It is not atypical that the pessimist, after being exposed to the better sides of life could become an optimist, or perhaps more likely – a realist.

I consider myself to be a realist, so if you will forgive the conceit, I will proceed with my explanation according to my own personal experiences: Realism is defined as “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.” Basically meaning that realists tend to view the world from a more “practical” point of view. It is my perception that realists are often viewed as pessimists because their viewpoints tend to contradict those of the optimist. While the optimist generally believes in the positive and favorable aspects of life, the realist will sometimes disagree taking the stance that we live in an unpredictable world that can be as bad as it is good. While the optimist realizes that there are situations, people, and incidents that are by definition bad, they tend to focus on what positive elements can be taken from those incidents. The realist will usually acknowledge (and accept) those positive elements but they will also focus on why bad things happen, i.e. – there are bad people in the world/stuff happens/life isn’t perfect, etc. Where I don’t think the realist receives enough credit is when they encounter the pessimist. Realists can disagree with pessimists just as much as (if not more so than) the optimist. While the pessimist sees only the negative, the realist will try to explain that, yes, bad things happen, but this is not en evil world, there is good here, you just have to know where to look for it.

People can and will take advantage of others. It is in their nature to do so. However, I do not believe people are inherently evil/violent/bad. I think when emotion takes hold, things are said; urges are acted upon, sometimes with negative consequences. But in the long run I am of the belief that most people generally do not enjoy being harmed or bringing harm to others. Most of us are just trying to get by with what we have. And therein lies another difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” People who “have” I think, tend to be much more optimistic about life because they have things that others don’t so they don’t really have a reason to be miserable. The “have-nots” don’t have the things that others do and spend much of their time wishing they did. This can sometimes lead to having a pessimistic outlook on life, i.e. – why do they have everything and I have nothing? It’s not fair!

As a realist, I firmly believe that life is not fair, but I also do not believe it to be un-fair. I realize how much a contradiction that is, but life IS what you make it. If you put forth the effort and give a care to how you live, it’s likely you eventually succeed. It may not be right away, but with the willpower and initiative to make your life better, you will prevail. If you don’t care how your life ends up, it honestly will be hard for others to offer you much sympathy. It’s difficult for many people to care about your life if you don’t yourself.

Being Yourself

Sorry I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been busy with a new job (yay!) as well as miscellaneous other things and really haven’t thought much about blogging, but I’m back now and will try to churn out more stuff on a somewhat regular basis.

I’ve been thinking a lot about judgments, opinions, and thoughts we have about others we don’t know, or even do know. We’re often told not to make judgments about people based on what little knowledge we have about them. However, I believe that such an act is human and essentially un-avoidable. There are a few of us who can genuinely look past the exterior and see nothing but a fellow human being, and that’s great. But for the most part, we do make some snap judgments about people based on first impressions. This might be important when applying for a job or going on a date, etc. But in the long run, the only person’s opinions that should have any impact on your life are your own.

However, and this is important – this is not to say that you should never give a thought to what ANYONE thinks of you. You should probably dress sensibly, have good basic hygiene, and give others the impression that you at least care about yourself. The catch is though, that there’s a fine line between caring for yourself and caring what others think of you. If you take the effort to insure that you are comfortable with yourself, that is enough. You can make other smaller steps as well, such as a new haircut or style, or wearing khakis instead of jeans. Giving off the impression of professionalism will give others the sense that you are confident and mature — two personality traits, which are indeed important in today’s world.

It’s when you start caring about what EVERYONE thinks of you that you have a problem. When you expend great thought and effort in pursuit of becoming what others WANT you to be, you eventually lose track of who you were in the first place. Everyone has a different opinion, and if you try to live up to every single opinion or expectation of everyone you encounter, you will never be successful. It’s even worse in this modern day of celebrities and fashion, coupled with pictures in magazines, which aren’t even real. No one can look as perfect as the people in those pictures because not even those people in the pictures are that perfect. Airbrushing, digital editing, and PhotoShopping are at their height, and there are many people who take great pains to make themselves as physically “perfect” as they can. Not only does it cost them a fortune, but it takes a serious physical and mental toll as well. When a person tries to make themself perfect and don’t succeed, they can lapse into depression, begin to depend on substances, and if it gets serious enough — kill themselves, all in pursuit of a fantasy.

Speaking from my own experiences, I have been incredibly fortunate to have never given much thought to what others think of me. The way I see it, there are far better and far more important things on which I can expend my energy. And was I bullied, and made fun of when I was younger because I refused to conform to the “standard”? Absolutely. But you have to realize bullies do what they do because they themselves are insecure, so they have to inflict that insecurity on others to make themselves feel powerful. When you give in to the pressure, it tells others that they have power over you, and many will not hesitate to exploit it. This is why it’s so crucially important to stay firm in the face of adversity and remain true to yourself, even when who are is objected to. And one of the best ways to avoid that is to find a group of friends who accept you for who you are, and will never question, pressure, or otherwise inflict doubt on you because they’re as happy with who you are as you should be.

My basic message is this: part of living your life is feeling socially accepted. While I have stressed that it’s better not to expend much thought on how others view you, you won’t have to if you can find even a few close friends to share your life with you. And true friends will always accept you for who you are, not for who you try to be. Spending all your time trying to be someone else is a futile practice. Not only are you lying to others, you’re lying to yourself. Even more important — is to avoid trying to become as flawless as the pictures of celebrities and other famous people we see every day online and in pop-culture magazines. Many of them are digitally edited to the point where they’re not even realistic anymore. So trying to achieve that “standard” is not only obscenely expensive, it’s potentially dangerous.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”