In a previous post, How I Freed Myself From the Opinions of Others, I wrote about my own struggle of sharing my aspirations with the people in my life. And I shared that there’s a simple solution to this problem… not telling anyone. Let me just say that this tactic has worked wonders. I now have the freedom to pursue what I want to do in life without taking on wrath from those around me. I’ve taken so much criticism in the past for following any dream or creative project that I’ve ever had. So I’ve gotten used to this idea that if you have a dream, the best way to keep it alive is to keep it a secret. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Steve Harvey when he said, “The quickest way to kill a dream, is to tell it to a small minded person.”
However, in the last few months, I’ve noticed this same phenomenon in other aspects of my life. I recently decided to cut out several bad habits and replace them with better ones in an effort to become healthier, both mentally and physically. The two that I’m talking about specifically involved my decision to go dairy-free and my decision to exercise every day. (I’ll be talking more about these changes in later posts). But what completely baffled me was the negativity that I took from those around me for making those changes. I used to think that it was only the big decisions that people got up worked up about, but I’ve been experiencing this criticism in everyday conversation.
Somehow, my decision to stop eating cheese and to peel my butt off the couch and go for a run, brought on lectures about why I’m making bad decisions. According to others, the changes were drastic, unhealthy, and unnecessary. I’m met with comments and criticism about how eating a little bit of dairy is healthy for me (even though I’m lactose intolerant). I have people trying to force me to eat dairy, trying to trick me into eating it, trying to get me to say that I hate being dairy-free and wish I was eating dairy again. I’ve also had to listen to people discuss “how the body works” and why I shouldn’t be exercising daily because it’s “unhealthy.” I’ve been also been told that my decision to switch up my exercise routine with weights, ab exercises, running, walking and cycling is somehow wrong. Everyone seems to have their own ideas about how my personal workouts should be done and what my diet should look like.
Yet all of these people add into the conversation “I could never give up diary” or “I could never exercise every day.” So it’s obvious that they wish they could muster up the will-power to do what I’ve done in the last few months, but they don’t want to. After going through this with just about everyone I talk to, I have a theory that will most likely be dismissed for its negativity by anyone who reads this post. But here is it anyway:
I believe that we do not want to see each other be happy.
I know that this theory makes us out to be evil creatures, but the truth is, humans are naturally competitive with each other. We simply do not want other people to be healthy, happy, successful, and accomplished. It reminds us of everything that we are not, and everything that we wish we could do. When we see someone else accomplishing something, we stack it up to our own accomplishments. Similarly, when we see an attractive person, we compare our looks to theirs. People are naturally competitive and want to out-do others. It’s biologically ingrained in us. Not only do we want to be successful and happy, but we want to be more successful and happy than others.
Before anyone gets upset about this, I don’t think this is that off-base. It’s why I’ve come across dozens of quotes online that say things like:
- “Admire someone else’s beauty without questioning your own.”
- “Someone else’s success does not take away from your own.”
- “Living well is the best revenge.”
- “Supporting another’s success won’t ever dampen yours.”
- “The best revenge? Happiness, because nothing drives people more crazy than seeing someone actually having a good life.”
It’s why we get jealous when someone we know publishes a book or a blog, starts a podcast, wins an award, travels the world, loses weight, wins money, gets an appearance in a magazine, has a stay at home job, etc. It angers people if someone is living happily and unapologetically.
But here’s the real issue…
The problem is that we’re all capable of making ourselves proud, of being a better version of ourselves, and of following our dreams. However, it’s hard. It takes courage, motivation, and above all – self-discipline. Not everyone has those traits. Which means that it’s easier to — talk someone else out of exercising, to peer pressure them into drinking, to spew advice about how they should be living their lives, or to convince them to start eating cheese and junk food again — than it is to make those changes ourselves. Our precious ego is protected and we don’t have to do any extra work.
I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I always wondered if maybe I was being too harsh or too negative. But after going through this pattern for years, I’m finally convinced that people do not want each other to be happy. It’s the only way to explain why people get angry or annoyed and try to stop me when I’m bettering myself, or pursuing a hobby or dream.
The reason why I’m sharing this is because I want to do something about it. I want to use this platform to help educate people about a major flaw in our society: we don’t support each other. But I believe that we can change it if each and every person decided to take a step back and resist their initial impulse to argue or compete.
Here’s How We Can Change
Have you ever spoken to someone that really listened? Who you poured your heart out to and you could tell that they cared deeply about what you had to say? With someone who had no judgment at all in their voice? Isn’t that the most incredible feeling when someone soaks in your words like a sponge?
How lovely and how rare is it to simply be heard…
However, when people are having a conversation, most of the time we’re busy thinking about our response instead of what the other person said. Other times, we interrupt and cut each other off in the middle of a sentence. When we do this to someone, we’re not fully understanding or comprehending what the other is saying. We’ve approached the conversation with a closed mind and a closed heart.
Our minds have already been made up based on past experiences, personal opinions, biases, and what we want to say. It becomes obvious when we care more about our opinion than listening to another. It’s as if we’ve become accustomed to approaching each conversation as a debate, rather than a polite conversation. Of course, not everyone does this, and not every conservation is this extreme or one-sided. But many of us engage in this bad habit more than we think.
Here are a few things to remember if you find yourself being a bad listener:
- Think about what they’re saying. Don’t think about how you’ll respond to their story, opinion, or feelings. Sit quietly, look them in the eyes, and focus on their words and their words alone. Don’t jump ahead.
- If the other persons’ mouth is open it means they’re not done talking. It’s a simple trick that a friend told me, that I remember when I find myself becoming too eager to jump in. It may make you feel like little kid telling yourself that, but it works and reminds you to be polite.
- If you noticed you cut someone off, apologize and ask them to continue. It’s easy to think it will be less awkward if you just keep talking, but it actually makes it worse. By acknowledging that you cut someone off and apologized it shows that you respect them. A lot of times someone will let you continue to speak, but greatly appreciates you taking a moment to step back and acknowledge them.
- It’s ok if there is a pause. We tend to think it’s awkward if we pause in conversation because we’re not used to the silence. But by pausing after someone is talking, it shows that you’re focused on listening to them which they will appreciate and admire about you.
2) Be Supportive of Others
Next time someone is talking with you about their decisions, their dreams, and their choices, remember above all to be supportive. Trust me when I say that having no emotional support from the people closest to you does affect mental well-being. Having to keep your spiritual beliefs, life plans, and creative endeavors a secret from friends and family is completely emotionally exhausting.
Imagine a world where you should tell anybody your political and spiritual beliefs in conversation without being met by harsh criticism and judgment? See what I mean? Simply supporting each other and not being met with negativity could cause so much good! Yet it’s so rare to come across. It’s as simple as keeping our opinions to ourselves and offering kind words. You don’t have to agree with someone to be nice and show support. Remember that it won’t take away from your day or your happiness.
3) Remember That We’re Not in Competition
It really is a natural instinct to compete with each other. Don’t believe me yet? Have you ever had to outrun someone on the treadmill next to you? Lift more weight than the person who was on the machine before you? Buy a nicer car than your neighbor? Own a more expensive handbag than the girls at school? Make more money than your sibling? We all do this in some way, even it’s not obvious to us. And believe it or not, these competitive attitudes come out in conversations. Like when your single friend tries to convince you to break up with your boyfriend. Or when your family who has never been out of the country tries to convince you to not take a graduation trip. Or when an overweight friend tries to get you to stop working out.
Although it’s a natural human instinct to compete, that doesn’t mean it should stay that way or be acceptable. This one can be tricky for many people to do because it involves being self-reflective and self-aware. It involves noticing when those insecurities, personal dramas, and competitive tendencies start to manifest in normal conversation AND shutting them down when they do. It also helps to remind yourself that someone else’s life decisions and plans do not really impact your life. It takes regular practice, but with time it will change. Soon, being supportive will be the automatic reaction.
4) Keep Your Opinions To Yourself
I think it’s safe to say that we have all been met with unwarranted and unexpected criticism in our lives. We all have been through the experience of someone else thinking that how we live is their concern. In reality, how someone else chooses to eat, exercise, or live is really no one’s concern. Therefore, people don’t appreciate hearing your opinions on it. For example, when someone tells you that their vegan, that is not an invitation to share your offensive opinions about their lifestyle. I believe that social media has amplified this problem in recent years. People are so used to sharing their opinion on Facebook and Twitter and automatically receiving likes from those who agree with them. Therefore, we think every opinion that crossed our mind is golden and should be shared at any given moment. False.
It has created the illusion that everyone wants to know our opinions when in actuality they don’t. If someone wanted to know your opinion about their lifestyle or diet, they would ask you about it directly. Them simply speaking about themselves is not an invitation for judgment or lectures. Otherwise, you’ll be added to the list of people that they keep secrets from to avoid drama.
5) You Cannot Take Someone’s Testimony Away
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who said something that stuck out to me. He said, “You cannot take someone’s testimony away from them.” I believe that this simple phrase is something that everyone needs to hear. It means that someone’s life experience is their own. It’s not mine, it’s not yours. It’s not the neighbors. You did walk in their shoes or live through all of their experiences. Which means that you cannot tell someone that their experience and their feelings are wrong. Yet many people will try to do this regardless.
For example, I have shared with people that I feel better not eating dairy. When I do, people try to tell me that it’s not true. Or I have told people that I’ve seen full body transformations since working out daily, yet people have told me that I’m “over exercising,” therefore my body would be incapable of having progress. Or, I’ve shared that I’ve experienced side effects from a prescription drug, yet people tell me that I’ve imagined it. These are all personal experiences that only I have ever experienced, therefore, no one can take my testimony away from me. How could someone else know better than me how I’m feeling or what is going on in my physical body? They can’t.
Since hearing this, I’ve noticed myself even making this mistake. We’ve become so focused on sharing our opinions from our experience, that we try to take away from another. It’s important to remember that you did not live someone else’s life and share the same experience as them, EVEN if you have been a part of their life for a long time.
I know that it may not be a popular opinion that humans are competitive with each other and don’t want each other to be happy. But I do believe it. However, I don’t believe that every single person is like this. Unfortunately, due to our natural instincts, sharing opinions on social media, personal dramas and insecurities, this problem is becoming more apparent. I believe that it can be changed simply by keeping these five things in mind.
Photo by Matt Rutski.
Do you believe that people don’t want to see each other be happy? Or do you have a different perspective? Have you seen someone’s competitive nature come out in conversation before? I would love to hear your experiences. And what are some of your own suggestions about how we can be more supportive of each other in conversation? Comment below!