Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.
I could have ignored it.
I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.
I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.
But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.
I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.
Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.
Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.
Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.
I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.
Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.
Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.
Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.
This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.
Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.
If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.
What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.
If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.
If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.
Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain
When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).
Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.
The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examining how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.
I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.
I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.
I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:
A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.
B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…
C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”
All because I “knew best.”
All because I was “right.”
All because of certainty.
The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”
Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.
I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.
What You Should Do Next
Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”
“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote.
Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:
The Virtue of Doubt
Why You Can’t Trust Yourself
I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.
And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.