Adjusting My Expectations
As I get older – and particularly since I started this writing experiment – I find myself dealing with two sets of competing thoughts and emotions. On the one hand, I seem to get less tolerant of ideas that seem so obviously irrational and stupid. Often, these ideas are rooted in tradition and/or convention, and their adherents are either unable or unwilling to ask themselves if these beliefs make any sense. They are content to just mindlessly follow their herd of choice. But on the other hand, I also find myself mellowing out a bit and becoming more tolerant of thoughts and behaviors that I do not personally believe or practice. I get frustrated with humanity a little less often than I used to, and I generally let more things slide. So which tendency is going to win?
I have heard it said that if you are torn between choosing either justice or mercy, you should err on the side of mercy. So instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a person, I try to focus on one central question: is this person doing any significant harm? It’s so easy to get caught up in judging people by rather high standards. But in a world filled with rapists, murderers, thieves, and other scumbags, it is important to commend those who avoid these blatantly evil acts. Following the laws – at least the big ones – and generally respecting the rights of others are actions that we tend to take for granted. Instead of being grateful for all of the people who leave us alone each day, we tend to notice those few who either get on our nerves or, occasionally, do us actual harm.
Now one might argue that a lot of those people who do no significant harm are also doing little that is uniquely positive and good. It is also true that many law-abiding citizens behave and think in some strange, irrational, and stupid ways. But I can try to live with those facts. Given the various forms of evil that are out there, I should be grateful to anyone who is nice enough to not intentionally harm me. And if a person actually has some moments of real goodness, that is just an added bonus. Expecting too much more of the human race will only lead to frustration, cynicism, and some long, angry internet articles or Facebook comments.