The Lost Art of Thoughtfulness (a.k.a. Wait, Am I the Asshole?)
In my own daily interactions, I’m finding that being thoughtful is becoming increasingly harder.
People who are thoughtful think about the happiness and well-being of others. They anticipate what other people need and have the ability to see things from their perspective.
I recently wrote about a situation around my family: My Family is Crazy: How Ukraine Has Torn An American Family Apart and I wish I could say things are better, but they’re not. We disagreed, we argued and we shut each other out.
In today’s environment, I rarely see people who disagree having a thoughtful conversation anymore. They react quickly and without much consideration. They appear to believe that they already know everything there is to know about a situation, the persons involved, and what the situation demands.
They rarely ask questions, take time to think, or rethink their preconceptions.
They spout off words or physically act out, then turn and walk away, barely pausing to look back.
I am one of these people. Sometimes I just want to stand up and shout my opinions and bully others into agreeing with them. That’s not who I am though. Or, said better, that’s not the man I want to be and not the lesson I want to hand down to my kids.
So, can you have your cake and eat it too? Can you shout and bully while also being the better person?
Well, not exactly. But you can try to be thoughtful and maybe not so much of an asshole.
Thoughtfulness is seeking to understand someone more completely, demonstrating you are listening, giving the listener the sense that you see and hear them for who they are, irrespective of their views or opinions. Exploring how your decisions and choices impact other people.
Thoughtfulness is, in essence, about putting yourself in the shoes of someone else, imagining how you would respond as that person, how you would think and feel, what you would most like to happen, and, after this role play, how will your own choices benefit the other.
“Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.” ~David Foster Wallace (This is Water)
When we have a thoughtful conversation with another person it helps us to see a situation from a different perspective, it helps us to process information we hadn’t considered before. Thoughtful communication matures us, it changes us, it makes us better, both as individuals and as a society.
However, not all conversations can and will be thoughtful ones, and for those you need to find closure outside of the conversation, not inside.
I’ve learned from the interactions with my family that I can’t make people see things from my perspective, but I can change how I respond to them. No amount of SMS or email discussion is going to change who they are or how they perceive the world. You can’t bully thoughtfulness out of someone else.
Instead, I’m trying a new approach. Whenever there is an interaction that my own thoughtfulness seems to allude me and I feel that anger rising inside me, I make an agreement with myself to share a picture of joy, to make a donation, or be thoughtful elsewhere where it will be received with less antagonism. And maybe one day it won’t be so hard to be thoughtful within my family circle. I’ll find that patience again.
At the end of the day, thoughtfulness is the aspiration, and not always the reality. Sometime, we come up short. We can live and learn and strive to be something better. And yet, sometimes, the best we can do is strive to not be the asshole in the room.