Sunday, January 15, 2017

On not taking people you care about seriously

I think one of the keys to happiness is learning how to stop taking seriously people who don't deserve to be taken seriously. Some of these people will be very near to you.

The problem is that everyone pushes values at you all the time. That's inevitable and fair. You, after all, are pushing values at them all the time. You don't have to set out to preach at them. The mere fact that you live out your core values will cause you to project them. There have been times when I knew people objected to my beliefs and so I kept them to myself so as to not place stress on our relationship. It didn't work; the consistency of my habits and my daily choices gave away my beliefs.

I also quickly learned that there was a double standard. They felt free to pronounce on their values and got offended when I expressed mine. On the other hand, they chose to get offended at my quietly living mine. Any conservative with liberal family and friends will know what I'm talking about.

I realized that the only choice was to stop taking them seriously. To continue to treat their opinions as worthy of respect was only going to cause unhappiness for me and them. But I immediately ran into a trap for acting in a way that showed I didn't take them seriously was a) going to offend them and b) was contradictory for my wanting them to know that I didn't take them seriously was proof that I did want to take them seriously.

In the end, I've found myself behaving a little like the character of Thomas More in Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons.  I go to great lengths to shield my real values from these people. It works ... to a point. It works enough, however, to make for much more happiness in my life.

The people involved sense that I don't share their values and they could probably figure out that I don't take them seriously—that I don't even bother to try and figure out what they believe or why anymore—if they thought about it. For the most part, though, they don't take that second step. I am aware that should they ever, as More's persecutors did, force the issue, that would be the end of any relationship between us. I am particularly aware of this threat since the last election for, while I do not admire Trump, I can't take seriously the notion that he is a dangerous threat who must be stopped. I have simply been avoiding family members and friends who do think he represents some sort of existential threat (to the limited extent that they can be credited with actually "thinking" about these issues). And I am perfectly willing to keep avoiding them for as long as it takes; if that turns out to be for the rest of my or their lives, I'm willing to do that.

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