I’ve found that imagining myself as particularly different
from everyone else is generally a dysfunctional way to view the world. This
makes sense, because what would make
me more different from everyone else than everyone else is from each other?
I’ve feared that if I regarded myself and others as more similar than different, that I would end up resigning myself to the social flow and just doing what everyone else does. However, I’ve found it easier to be myself around others when I regard them as friendly, rather than an entity that I have to outdo or avoid creating tension with. And it’s easier to regard others as friendly when I don’t see myself as being any more special or spectacular than they.
When I over-emphasize, in my own mind, the things that make me different from the people around me, I’m constantly on the defense. I imagine that I have to explain away all of these things about myself. I imagine that other people make as big a deal out of them as I am at the moment. But the reality, of course, is that they are not thinking about those things at all—nor would they care to hear for my pontificating about them.
People-Pleasing vs. Being Considerate
Similarly, I long thought that being considerate of others was the same as people pleasing. I’ve been very resistant to people pleasing the last several years, because I spent about a decade trying so hard at it (and not necessarily succeeding).
I’ve found, however, that people-pleasing only seems necessary in the first place when I am not being considerate. When I’m not being considerate of others, meaning that I consciously consider their perspective, I feel distant from them. I get trapped in my own limited perspective, where I over-emphasize details that don’t matter yet which make me feel like an alien on my own planet.
Rather than concern myself with others, which allows me to listen and speak from my heart, I get very concerned about myself, which makes me very analytical and trapped in my head. When I’m constantly analyzing like so, it is difficult to listen to the other person at all. I’m not really concerned with what they’re saying—let alone, their likely thoughts and desires in the moment.
Instead I’m worried about saving face from one moment to the next—trying to avoid ridicule, trying not to piss off the other person, trying to avoid being put on the spot, and so on.
When I do that, conversations are usually either rather mundane or short-lived, and I don’t feel particularly good about myself afterward. By trying so hard to secure myself, I fail to make a connection—and I don’t feel secure, either.
I’m not sure I totally understand this yet, but it seems the best way around people-pleasing is to do so directly. Go right for it. Make it all about the other person. Spend the majority of the conversation listening intently. When you speak, talk about things the other person would care to hear.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything about yourself, nor lead the conversation to any extent. There is no analysis needed here. When I’m overly-concerned about myself, I tend to be rather boring and uninteresting. I try to shut down the conversation quickly. I’m not really interested in the other person—I’m just trying to survive.
On the other hand, when I am considerate of the other person, and am genuinely interested in them, I become more lively. My shield is down, to some extent. In fact, I would go so far as to say that when I put my attention on others, I am capable of being more authentic.
Authenticity does not occur in a vacuum, nor does it arise from hyper-analysis of oneself. When I’m not worried about myself, it’s easier to tune into the connection between me and the other person. I don’t have to deliberately think very much about this—it’s more intuitive than it is analytical.
When I say to talk about things the other person would care to hear, I don’t mean trying to butter them up so you can charm the pants off of them (those two phrases do not belong in the same sentence). It certainly doesn’t mean scripting out in advance what you ought to say, either.
I don’t know that I have a formulaic way to describe this, at this point. Maybe there shouldn’t be one. When you place your awareness on the other person, rather than yourself, your ego simultaneously gets placed to the side. It doesn’t really matter what happens to you, because you don’t care. You’re totally fine. You don’t need a shield when the conversation is not about you, anyway.
If you are not trying to defend yourself or impress the other person, then it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose at that game. You won’t care to know how that game pans out, because you aren’t participating in it.
Playing a Different Game
Instead, you can choose to play a different game. It’s a game where you don’t need any particular to do any particular thing, nor do you need the world to react to you in a certain way.
It’s really quite simple. Just play a game that you don’t have to win. In human relationships, don’t play to win. Instead, play for a draw. If you play to win, that means that there’s an endpoint you are trying to reach, and the game ends when you reach that endpoint.
However, the general goal, in human relationships, is to maintain the connection indefinitely. This connection doesn’t refer to any particular relationship with another individual—rather, it’s the overall connection between you and others. You wouldn’t want other people to disappear, after you have “won,” even though winning would mean that the game is over.
Connection is an infinite game. It’s something you will basically want to do for as long as you are alive. It would make sense, then, to treat this game as such. Rather than try to win by overpowering all of your opponents’ pieces, or try to lose by scooping all your pieces off the board and retreating, you can play for a draw.
When you purposely play for a draw, it’s clear that you aren’t trying to force any particular outcome. You don’t need to be bundled up in bubble wrap in order to keep yourself from losing. When you have no agenda, you don’t need a shield in order to protect that agenda.
When other people see that you don’t have an agenda or a shield, they can more easily connect with you, and they won’t need an agenda or a shield, either. They won’t be concerned about the outcome of the game. Instead, you both can just play. You have nothing to lose by this interaction; and, by simply having it, you gain everything.
A Sole Connection
It seems so obvious—that if you put your attention on the other person, you don’t have to spend the whole conversation trying to justify and defend yourself! You don’t have to have pre-scripted stories or arguments or anything of that sort. Instead, you can tune into the connection between you and the other person and enjoy the heck out of it.
Relating to other people in this way doesn’t mean that you have to talk to everybody. To think that being considerate and playing for a draw means that you suddenly have a slew of social obligations to meet is to miss the point. If you think that way you’ll sabotage yourself soon enough and make yourself lose.
Not everyone will want to play with you all the time, nor will you feel the same way about everyone. You can’t attend to everyone all at once anyway. If you simplify human relationships, and recognize that you have only one relationship, which is with life itself, then this isn’t such a big deal anyway.
However you choose to relate to it, life will be perfectly fine. This enables you to relate to life consciously. It doesn’t require anything of you, except what you choose to have it require of you. All in all, then, you can chose to relate to life in a way that helps you to feel strongly connected to it.
My way of doing that, at this point, is to be considerate and play the infinite game. I’m not very good at this game yet, but that’s OK because I can’t lose.
Lower the Shields
To return to the beginning of this piece, the best way to retain my individuality is to connect with others. When I over-emphasize my differences I imagine that I’m hated, and when I imagine that, I become paralyzed. When I’m paralyzed, I resign myself to mediocrity. When I am mediocre, it turns out that I’m not so different after all.
On the other hand, when I choose to regard other people as fellow players in a game, rather than as my opponents, I can put my shields down and be myself more easily. Not only does this mean that I am freer—being myself means that I care about others. So this is a positive feedback loop. The more that I care about others, the more that I can be myself, and vice versa.
No man is an island. You don’t have to isolate yourself to be the person you aspire to be. The person you aspire to be probably cares a good deal for others, anyway. Likewise, you don’t have to be alone to put your shields down. You can lower your shields any time you would like. All you have to do is be considerate. Consider the other person’s perspective, and you’ll realize that they never wanted to play a game of win-or-lose in the first place. That leaves you free to play however you would like.
You cannot lose at life. You’re already alive, so you’ve already won. All that’s left to do now, if you so choose, is to keep playing indefinitely—to play for a draw. And when your only relationship is with life itself, you have nothing to lose through your interactions with others. In the grand scheme of things, you are perfectly safe. All that’s left to do, then, is to care.