Our Own Personal Iagos

In high school, I had a friend who tipped me off that someone secretly hated me.

Pretty soon, however, I noticed that he told me the same thing about a lot of other people.

So either I was most hated person in the school or my “friend” was misinforming me.

The first explanation isn’t impossible, but the latter is more likely.

Permit me three digressions and a joke, though all are relevant:

  • An old teacher of mine advised that most people are too busy with their own lives to spend much time thinking about how to make our lives miserable.
  • The French emperor Napoleon warned against attributing things to malice when they can be explained by stupidity.
  • In psychotherapy, people who obsessively believe that others are talking about them have delusions of reference.
  • The joke is: “Whenever I see two people talking, I know that they’re saying I have delusions of reference.”

No matter how good our lives are, we always have some complaints: “Man never is, but always to be, blest.” We can either try to remedy our complaints or we can look for someone to blame.

Too often, we choose the blame game. Entire industries of professional “Iagos” tell us that we can’t do anything about our own problems because those people — whoever “they” are in a particular case — are to blame. They are keeping us down and preventing us from having everything we want in life.

Realistically, it does happen once in a while. But not much.

And think about the practical result of believing it: We won’t try to improve our lives and ourselves, because “those people” are constantly plotting to thwart us. It doesn’t matter what we do: we are powerless. We have no control over our own lives.

Pardon my French, but that’s merde de cheval absolue.

Yes, some circumstances are beyond our control. Sometimes, we’ll be treated unfairly, we won’t get the jobs we want, or our spouses won’t appreciate us. And sometimes, we’ll just want things to be different. What then?

Suppose that half of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. That means half of it is in our control. What are we going to do with it?

Are we going to sit around bellyaching about the unfairness of life? Or will we take control of what we can control and make our lives the best they can be?

I vote for the latter. I encourage you to do likewise. But it’s up to you.


Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
This entry was posted in Human Relations, Life, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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