I've done some mean things out of spite, I've been selfish, and I've been inconsistent. I've promised to do some things and reneged, and I've said things that I really knew weren't true.
I suppose I'm lucky that I'm a software engineer; I used to find out all the time that my suppositions about systems and code were wrong. Computers don't lie to you, they have no ego, and they're very measurable, so you can see right away (if you want to) how correct your first principles are. I learned pretty quickly in that domain that it's not about being right; programmers will be wrong sometimes. (Computers are almost never wrong. They will execute your incorrect code completely to the letter.) The key to the thing is about learning when you are wrong and correcting it. To that end it helps a lot to be open-minded about failure. In fact, sometimes you have to be proactive about finding your code's shortcomings. (In the software industry we use "peer review" and "testing" to do some of that.) It's taken a while for that philosophy to leak in a serious way into how I approach my life.
I dated someone a few years back who was very different from me. A lot of the time I felt she was attacking me and being confrontational. I felt hurt way too often and I assumed that was because she wanted to hurt me, that she was simply a mean person.
It took me a year or maybe more after we split up to realize that she had a very strong personality and wanted to be open, honest, and clear with her potential partner. I wanted to believe some things about myself that weren't true and she reflected the truth a little too clearly. Additionally she wanted to be with someone who was harder than I was. In retrospect, I think she really did try to soften herself for me, and treat me gently. We just weren't compatible.
I believe making that kind of discovery takes active self-examination. A person has to really ask "what other reasons could there have been for what happened?" And often (for me anyway) that's really hard to do because it means the possibility that I might have been wrong. And I hate being wrong. I want to be right.
I think it's interesting to differentiate what goals are served by the feeling. Let's suppose my goal is to find a strong-willed compatible life partner who will teach me things and contribute to my life; a wife, or at least a girlfriend. Feeling angry and self-righteous doesn't help that. (I get the feeling I need to explore that in more depth here but maybe that's best left for another article.) Well... What does feeling self-righteous actually serve? I don't know for sure, but I've been guessing so far that it only serves my desire to be right. And that's only going to make me more lonely.
Making progress means understanding what happened and figuring out how to avoid it in the future or fix the source of the problem. Feeling hurt and self-righteous does not help.
Our culture historically has told us that being self-righteously angry, that "being exclusively right", is important and good, and even better that the "other side" acknowledges that you are right and they are wrong. Needing to be acknowledged as right is dangerous. It makes us take steps away from attaining our goals. Forcing our partner (or friends, or the crowd, whatever) to agree that we are right and they are wrong only encourages spite. If "being right" suddenly becomes a goal, then the other participant will also endeavour to be exclusively right, and then collaboration becomes combat. Being right has to be a tool for acheiving your goal, rather than the goal itself. If being right is only a tool, then we no longer need everyone else to acknowledge it.
Feeling that I am right and justified in my actions also has little value if I cannot back that feeling with facts and honest, unbiased analysis. Since a double-blind scientific study isn't really practical when talking about bad relationships, the best I can do is probably to think of alternative reasons why things went south, and try to be honest about my own motivations. But that's a hell of a lot better than saying she wanted to hurt me because she's just that kind of person, since I couldn't have done anything wrong!
I have some suggestions for anyone wanting to take this approach.
Sun Sep 17 16:34:25 PDT 2006