My wife and I are pretty nice people. We think a lot about other people’s perspectives and we work extra hard to make sure that we don’t offend or hurt people. We are just that sweet.
Now the hard part for us is that we spend a lot of time together and we are soaking in a sweet environment and then we go outside and the bus driver snarls at us. Or a coworker just says something petty and mean about us. Unexplained hostility baffles us, and for the longest time we didn’t know how to cope. We would break our backs to be nice to these assholes and try to win them over. Or worse, we would be really hurt that the asshole hurt us, and we wondered what we had done to anger them.
One day I had an epiphany. I was reading a book and there was this asshole character. As a writer, I recognized that the asshole existed to give the main character grief. The asshole didn’t have a life, or a background or even a spouse as far as the reader was concerned. The asshole was there to be a pain in the ass and for the main character to show us something of the character’s nature by interacting with him. I got to thinking about the asshole in the book and realized I would never see any more depth than what his role was.
My epiphany was that I realized that there are a lot of people in real life that are just assholes. They have been picked out of a Cosmic Cast for the role. Now, my compassionate understanding side knows that every asshole in the world has a reason. Maybe the coworker was abused as a child. Maybe the asshole waiter is in a loveless marriage. Maybe, just maybe, the asshole enjoys being an asshole. The thing is, we don’t know. Only very rarely will we get to see the spin-off story that details why the asshole is an asshole. They might have a cool origin story that justifies them but for now, in the Book that is your life, you will never read that part. You are stuck with them as they are: An asshole. They literally have the same worth of attention as evil foot soldier in a fantasy novel. Do you really want to sit down and find out why the Orc hates Elves so much? He just does.
I took this attitude and started applying it. It doesn’t matter if you think life is governed by Karma, or by God or by Space Aliens living in lava, you can only live the life that was written for you or that you write yourself. In this big giant Novel, there are too many characters to cast and the Cosmic Writer only has so much space to detail these characters. You have to learn to prioritize.
If I told you that your life was only 1000 pages long, do you really want fifty of those pages to be about how your asshole coworker makes you feel bad? Of course not. You only have 1000 pages, save those pages for the sexy coworker you really want to know about. Or for your family. Or for yourself. Every moment you waste on the asshole in your life is pages taking away from your Novel. I know some novels are about how the grumpy old guy became a wonderful kind person but you know, that’s the Asshole’s novel not yours. You got shit to do and adventures to have.
Now if you are married this asshole, well, that’s a whole other problem. I do suggest this though. How much time that person sucks out of your novel is within your power. You can cut them out completely, or you can relegate them to bit character role. And if they get upset that you have marginalized them to bit character role and start pushing back to become more of a starring Asshole role, well, I think you know it’s time drop them out of the book altogether.
What surprised me about thinking like this is I have lost a lot of my anger when dealing with assholes. Some guy insults me on a blog comment or a forum, they get busted down to Bit Character Asshole. Someone I work with is being unreasonable, I try to make the situation better but I don’t lose any sleep on why they are a pain in my ass. They just are. I think about them as much as I think about the Token Jerk on an office sitcom.
As human beings, it’s okay to want to know why assholes are assholes. It’s compassionate to want to improve their mood. I’m just asking that before you waste time, energy and pages out of your life, that you take a moment and consider that they just might be Assholes assigned to the role of pissing on your day. Then I want you to consider if you really want that kind of a Novel. If you’re anything like me, you’d rather be spending that energy looking for the Femme Foil in your Novel.