What To Do If Someone Dislikes You

What should you do if someone dislikes you?

The first step is simple and obvious:

Get over it.

People sometimes dislike us for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with us. Maybe we remind them of a bully in high school, or a woman who rejected them. Maybe they don’t like how we dress. Or maybe their personalities and ours simply don’t “click” with each other.

So we shouldn’t feel bad merely because someone dislikes us. If we know that we’re good people, and that we try to treat others decently, then it’s their loss if they don’t like us.

The second step is more difficult, and we shouldn’t become obsessed with it. But when people react to us positively or negatively, that’s feedback. Sometimes the feedback is meaningless, as when people dislike us for no particular reason. But sometimes it’s a clue that we’re doing something unhelpful to us.

Notice that I didn’t say “something wrong.” Our behavior can be unhelpful without being wrong. Maybe we interrupt people too much. Maybe we ignore them when we should pay attention. Maybe we annoy them in other ways of which we’re unaware.

For example, it annoys me a lot when sales clerks and other strangers call me by my first name. It feels rude to me. But I realize they mean no disrespect, and that they have no idea their behavior annoys me unless I tell them. If I grimace when they do it, they might ask about it. I’ve given them feedback. Then they can either change their behavior or not, but at least they’ve become aware of the issue.

We can do the same when we get feedback. In some cases, the feedback is meaningless. In other cases, it can draw our attention to some behavior that we might decide to change.

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If You Have Courage

Rudyard Kipling was a Nobel prize-winning British writer. He is best known today for writing The Jungle Book. His poem “If” has been a source of strength and inspiration to many people around the world. I can’t improve on it, so here it is:

If —

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

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Read, and Use Common Sense

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be:
For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
And borrowing dulleth the edge of husbandry.”
     — “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

One of the greatest crimes of contemporary schooling is that it keeps students ignorant of the vast wisdom embodied in their Western heritage. Instead, it indoctrinates them in the political fad of the moment — usually something stupid and destructive.

William Shakespeare‘s plays are not only great literature, but also contain many such nuggets of wisdom.

One such nugget appears in “Hamlet.” The character of Polonius advises his son Laertes that he should “neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

Of course, in business it sometimes does make sense to do one or the other. But for individuals, the burden of proof should be on the decision to borrow or lend money. If it’s truly justified, then we should do it. But we should need to be convinced that it is.

I take Polonius’s advice seriously. After grad school, I spent a number of years in debt, and I didn’t like it at all. It limited my freedom and caused me needless worry. For example, I was offered a job in Switzerland that I really wanted, but I had to turn it down because it didn’t pay enough. So now, I try to stay debt-free.

In addition, I never, ever loan money to family or friends. If they need money and I want to help, I give them the money — stating explicitly that it is a gift and I do not expect to be paid back. I tell them that I will never think about it again. And I never do.

That way, we won’t feel uncomfortable or avoid each other. If at some future time they decide to give me some money, then that’s great but I do not expect it.

So I guess that the morals of this blog post are two:

  • Be wary of borrowing or loaning money, especially with friends or family.
  • Read some Shakespeare and other classic literature of Western civilization.
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Humility and Tolerance Go Together

Name an issue: Immigration. Abortion. Free speech. Lockdowns. Riots. Race relations.

Many people are absolutely sure that they know what the problems and solutions are. If you don’t agree with them, then they think you must be ignorant, stupid, or just plain evil. They know better than you, not only about how to run society but also about how to run your life.

Unlike those super-smart people who are always right, I’ve been wrong a few times in my life. And I know it.

As a result, I’m reluctant to impose my moral views on anyone else. “Live and let live” is my motto.

If I disapprove of what someone is doing, I realize that I might be wrong. Unless it’s crystal clear that they’re causing grievous and unjustified harm, I’ll stay out of it.

That was the attitude of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of America’s Founders. In a 1738 letter to his parents, he wrote:

“… a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes that all the doctrines he holds are true, and that all he rejects are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every sect, church and society of men when they claim infallibility …

… all that should be expected from me is to keep my mind open to conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered me for that end; and if after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse than blame me.”

The world would be happier and more peaceful if we could all adopt such a tolerant and rational attitude toward disagreement.

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Virtue Is Just Doing What’s Right

Virtue has kind of a bad reputation these days. People think it means being prudish or acting superior to everyone else.

But real virtue just means behaving in ways that help you, other people, and society. It supports human happiness and well-being.

In the same way as we can practice tennis, we can practice virtue. The more we practice it, the more natural and automatic it becomes for us. We get better at it, and doing the right thing becomes easier.

When he was a young man, American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) made a list of 13 virtues that he wanted to practice. His goal was daunting:

“I wished to live without committing any fault at any time … But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.”

Franklin spent the rest of his very busy life to get better at the virtues on his list. The only one he found difficult was humility. He wrote that as soon as he got better at it, he felt proud of himself and therefore lacked humility. He listed the virtues in his Autobiography:

Virtue What It Means
Temperance Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Order Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolution Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Industry Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquility Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Chastity Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or injury of yours or another’s peace or reputation. (“Venery” is an obsolete word for sexual relations.)
Humility Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

It’s a challenge for anyone to try living by Franklin’s list of virtues. Doing it perfectly is impossible. But life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about getting better. Just like Benjamin Franklin, we can work on the areas we need to improve. If we do it, we can be happier and can make the world a better place.

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Freedom Means Responsibility

My first summer job in high school was as a copy boy for The Indianapolis Star newspaper. Yes, it was so long ago that we were called copy “boys” and nobody got triggered about sexism or patriarchy.

Every morning when I arrived at work, I passed a plaque in the building’s lobby. It had a quote from the publisher of the newspaper, Eugene S. Pulliam:

“America is great only because America is free.”

The Indianapolis Star of that era is long gone, gobbled up by the Gannett media company and transformed into an ever-thinner local edition of USA Today. But Pulliam’s quote has stuck with me. Does freedom make it possible to achieve greatness?

Pulliam was talking about individual freedom: that is, each person’s right to decide what to believe, how to live, and what to do with his or her life.

That kind of freedom is both exhilarating and a little frightening. It means you can choose your own path, but also that you are responsible for your choices.

If you choose wrong, then you might fall on your face: not because of “the system” or because people are mean, but because you made a mistake. It’s kind of a scary thought.

I’ll tell you a couple of things that most people know in their hearts, but often forget in their heads:

  • Life kicks the hell out of everyone: the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, regardless of status or social group. Suffering comes to all of us. We can’t control that fact. What we can control is how we react to it. Do we learn from the experience and vow to do better next time? Or do we wallow in self-pity?
  • The only people who never fail are those who never try. People who stay inside their comfort zone can never become more than they already are. If we only do things for which success is guaranteed, we’ll never know how much more we could have achieved. The way to improve is to push our limits, and that means risking failure. Television evangelist Robert Schuller had a saying I like: “The only shame is low aim.”

Being free means taking responsibility for your own life. If you want other people to take care of you, then you must surrender some of your freedom to them. If they’re going to be responsible for what happens to you, it’s only fair that they get to tell you what to do. You can’t have it both ways.

So which way will you choose? Either way, the choice is yours. And so is responsibility for the results. Don’t be scared. You’re stronger than you think.

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Why Are People So Mean on the Internet?

(Originally written for The Jewish Journal, published on August 16, 2016.)

Why are people so mean on the Internet?

Political polarization is sad, but it’s not the problem. Every day, we encounter people who disagree with us, but we do it without histrionics or name-calling. We probably even count some of them as friends and family.

Nasty people are also not the cause. They exist, but there aren’t enough of them to poison the Internet. And even they restrain themselves most of the time.

However, the Internet is a different environment. We don’t interact with people face to face. We don’t see them. Sometimes, we don’t even know their names, nor they ours. That’s important in a couple of ways.

First, the people we encounter on the Internet seem less real to us than those we meet in person. As a result, we tend to take them less seriously as human beings. We are less inclined to worry about hurting their feelings or treating them unjustly. Quite realistically, we are also less likely to worry about arguments leading to physical confrontation or retribution.

Second, the Internet feels anonymous even if it really isn’t. We are sitting in our homes where nobody can see us. We are less inclined to feel shame if we do something hurtful.

Those two factors combine to bring out the nastiness in many people who are otherwise perfectly normal.

All of us suffer from occasional anger and frustration, but in real life, we might not be able to do anything about them. Our boss might unjustly criticize our work, but we don’t want to get fired so we say nothing. A friend might disappoint us, but we have no recourse. A spouse might infuriate us, but we don’t want to prolong the argument. So we bottle up our rage, until we get on the computer. Then, some of us have a rage-fest.

On the Internet, people often vent their anger at whatever targets are available. Someone who has a different political opinion. A celebrity who did something that made the news. A person who we think made too much money and didn’t deserve it. Someone we just don’t like for no particular reason.

A psychological principle applies both on and off the Internet:

If people’s anger is wildly out of proportion to what they say they’re angry about, then they’re really angry about something else.

If someone on the Internet calls you vile names or makes horrible accusations because you support candidate X or you’re a member of religion Y, then it’s not about X or Y at all. It’s about something in the person’s own life that he or she can’t handle, so the anger gets targeted at you instead. The drama is playing inside the person’s head, and you got cast as the villain.

The same thing is true off the Internet. If your spouse is enraged because of something trivial, it’s not really about the trivial thing. It’s about what happened yesterday, or last week.

Knowing the causes of Internet nastiness doesn’t solve the problem. Sometimes, the results are tragic. Children, especially, are vulnerable to Internet bullying – even to the point of suicide. Adults can suffer depression or job loss because of Internet harassment.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to offer a reassuring solution. Unfortunately, I don’t have one. The best I can suggest is this:

  • Don’t take Internet insults seriously. People who resort to insults, name-calling, and other kinds of online vitriol are either venting anger that has nothing to do with you, or they are deliberately trying to goad you into a screaming match. Ignore them. A long-standing bit of Internet wisdom applies: “Please do not feed the trolls.”
  • Remember that even well-meaning comments sometimes don’t come across as the writer intended. In real life, we rely on vocal intonations, facial expressions, and body language to provide context that is completely absent on the Internet. If something can be interpreted in an innocuous way or as an insult, then you should interpret it in the innocuous way.
  • When you write things to other people on the Internet, remember that even if you don’t see them, they are still real people. Don’t treat them in ways that you wouldn’t treat them if they were standing in front of you. And be careful to avoid saying things that might be misinterpreted.

American founder Benjamin Franklin had a helpful motto: “I will speak ill of no one, and say all the good I can of everyone.”

It works just as well on the Internet.

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A Moment from the Middle Ages

Let’s consider a moment from the Middle Ages.

Of course, people in the Middle Ages didn’t think they were living in “the Middle Ages.” That term was invented during the Renaissance to denote the era between Late Antiquity (after the fall of the Roman Empire) and the writers’ own era.

But I digress. In“An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” Bertrand Russell described how many people of the Middle Ages viewed the world:

“Dangers were held to lurk at every turn. Devils would settle on the food that monks were about to eat, and would take possession of the bodies of incautious feeders who omitted to make the sign of the Cross before each mouthful.”

Then, as now, pervasive fear was a very effective way to control people. If you terrify people and then promise them safety, they’ll do whatever you tell them, no matter how unscientific or nonsensical. Even highly intelligent people are vulnerable, because fear hampers their ability to use their intelligence.

Subsitute “viruses” for “Devils” and “face burqas” for “the sign of the Cross” and it’s pretty much the same now as it was back then.

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A Pop Quiz About Government

Photo: The Courier-Mail

We’ve got a pop quiz today, kids.

But don’t worry: There’s only one question, and it’s multiple-guess.

The authors of the U.S. Constitution were greatly influenced by a book called The Spirit of the Laws. It said there were three types of government: republican (including democracy), aristocratic (including monarchy), and despotic.

According to the author, each type of government needs to encourage different qualities in the people who live under it.

A republican government needs to encourage virtue in all of its people. Specifically, that’s civic virtue: The ability to reason clearly about public issues, obey the law, and cooperate for the common good:

“When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it, and avarice possesses the whole community … The members of the commonwealth riot on the public spoils, and its strength is only the power of a few, and the licence of many.”

Aristocratic government also needs to encourage civic virtue, but only in the rulers because only they have political power. The author calls that kind of virtue “honor” to distinguish it from the widespread kind of virtue needed in a republic.

Though the word “aristocracy” literally means rule by the best, in practice, it’s rule by the few: that is, by a small group of privileged elites. In a healthy society, the elites actually are some of the best people, in the sense that they are honest, wise, and virtuous:

“But how are the [elites] to be restrained? … either by a very eminent virtue, which puts them in some measure on a level with the people, and may be the means of forming a great republic; or by an inferior virtue, which puts them at least on a level with each other.”

If a country’s elites go bad, then the country is in danger. It will suffer:

“Ambition in idleness; meanness mixed with pride; a desire of riches without work; aversion to truth; flattery, perfidy, contempt of civil duties … It is exceedingly difficult for the leading men of the nation to be knaves, and the common people to be honest; for the former to be cheats, and the latter to rest satisfied with being only dupes.”

Despotic government is the simplest of the three types. It has no need of virtue or honor:

“As virtue is necessary in a republic, and honor in a monarchy, fear is necessary in a despotic government: with regard to virtue, there is no occasion for it, and honour would be extremely dangerous.”

So despotic governments need to cultivate fear: to keep their subjects in constant terror so that they don’t start thinking too much:

“In despotic states, the nature of government requires the most passive obedience … man is a creature that blindly submits to the absolute will of the sovereign. His portion here, like that of beasts, is instinct, compliance, and punishment.”

All right, it’s time for the quiz. Put away your books. Freddie, give me that cell phone, you know they’re not allowed in class. No cheating. You should make up your own mind. Your own government encourages:

  1. Virtue.
  2. Honor.
  3. Fear.

Pass your quiz papers to the front. Class dismissed.

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Are You Swimming or Treading Water?

Are you swimming, or are you just treading water?

If you’re swimming, then you’re going someplace. If you’re treading water, then you’re just waiting to drown.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that waiting to die is a good way to live.

If your life is going to mean something — to you, at least — it has to be about something beyond itself.

That’s one reason why many people today are so anguished. They’ve been taught since childhood that they’re just animals and that their lives don’t mean anything. They believe that morality, justice, love, and truth don’t really exist. They believe that it’s pointless to strive for knowledge because there are only lies: my lies or your lies, take your pick. It’s pointless to strive for improvement because there’s no better or worse, no good or evil: only savage, amoral brutes fighting over who gets the biggest piece of meat from the prey they just killed.

That’s their vision of life, and it drives them mad. They lose all sense of reality because the reality they see is absolutely unbearable.

But that vision is wrong, and we can do better.

The remedy is to stop treading water. Our lives need to have a goal, a worthy goal that helps people and makes the world a better place.

In previous eras, that goal and moral framework were provided by religion: in the West, mainly Christianity and Judaism. But as our wealthy and faux-educated elites have been progressively seduced by their own delusions of omnipotence and increasingly depraved vices, they’ve rejected the religious, historical, and cultural patrimony that had made both their luxury and our societies possible. They replaced our sacred patrimony with: nothing.

So there’s no longer a default framework that we can use to give our lives meaning and purpose. We have to decide for ourselves. How can we know what goals will make our lives worth living?

Everyone will have his or her own unique answers. But our goals should be:

  • Achievable. Impossible goals are bad not only because they’re a waste of effort, but also because they lead to hopelessness and giving up. It must be at least conceivable that you can achieve your goals. You need not know in advance all the details of how you’ll do it, but you should be able to figure out some general ideas.
  • Specific. Goals should be specific enough for us to know if we’ve achieved them or not. “I want to live in a nice place” is too vague. But if you say, “I want to live in a beach house in Malibu,” it’s easier to know if you’ve achieved your goal.
  • Challenging. Goals that are too easy aren’t inspiring and they’re over too fast. Goals should be possible, but not guaranteed. A little bit of uncertainty provides motivation while you work toward the goal, and increases your satisfaction when you achieve it.
  • Win-win. The best goals are win-win propositions. If you achieve your goal, then that’s great! You won. But win-win goals do a lot of good even if you lose. For example, do you want to qualify for the track team? Then get busy with physical training. Even if you don’t make the team, you’ll be in great shape. That’s an example of a win-win goal.
  • Morally good. The best goals are the ones that help people and make the world a better place. It’s not always easy to know if our goals can achieve those things. But if they increase human happiness and well-being, don’t cause significant harm, and don’t break any obvious moral laws (e.g., “don’t lie,” “don’t murder”), then they’re at least worth considering.

And finally, there’s a big point that’s different for everyone. Your goals should be:

  • Inspiring to you. The best goals for you are those that can stir your heart and move your mind to action. Only those goals can imbue your life with meaning and purpose, drawing you forward to the good place that you see ahead in the distance.

Don’t just tread water: swim. There’s treasure on the far shore that only you can unearth.

P.S. Peripherally relevant: today, October 11, is my college girlfriend’s birthday. She joined a cult, I think because she felt her life lacked meaning. The last time I talked to her, she was still in the cult — 20 years later. The cult gave her a sense of meaning and purpose in life that religion and society had failed to provide. I miss her, but I’m happy that she found what she needed. And as cults go, hers isn’t too bad.

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

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