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Do You Make a Moral Issue Out of Being Inconvenienced?

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I think I inherited it from my Father’s side. Nothing makes me lose my mind more than when I’m walking through the mall and somebody steps out of a store right in front of me and walks slowly. Why didn’t they look? I would have looked. I do look.

It might only take less than two seconds for me to skirt around and resume my regular mall-cruising speed, but that’s enough time to make my eyes harden and my teeth clench. It’s enough for my mind to start getting self-righteous.

If I’m not careful, I end up in an internal dialogue about certain basic courtesies people should uphold in public, or maybe a half-daydream about how the oblivious lady in front of me must live a life of total obliviousness, wandering into busy streets or onto active construction sites, all without a clue that she may be affecting people’s lives with her deplorable lack of awareness. In either case, I end up feeling agitated, and slightly better than her.

The basis of my internal rant always seems to surround how people ought to behave in public. In other words, I make a moral issue out of it.

In a situation like that, my distress seems to be that I am simply yearning for a world in which people don’t stand in the way on sidewalks or step out in front of people at the mall. But it’s really a clever self-deception; what I am really yearning for in those moments is a slightly easier version of my present moment — one in which there is nothing in my way.

Though I’m not always aware of it, my own personal inconvenience is what I’m really railing against, not some worldwide epidemic of rudeness. My objection is purely selfish, under the guise of a noble appeal for a better world. But I’m not really looking for a better world, only a moment that contains no difficulty for me — no oversight I must excuse, no mistake I must forgive.

If nobody had been in my way, I probably wouldn’t have had a reason to contemplate the ethics of proper mall-walking. If I saw the same thing happen to someone else, it wouldn’t seem nearly as important. Certainly not enough to get angry about.

Morality as a tool for dodging responsibility

I think this happens often. We use morality to justify our resentment of what happens to us.

Most people, when they are inconvenienced, will feel at least a bit of resentment, most of the time. It isn’t always toward a person. You can hate the “stupid” attic beam when you hit your head on it, or the stupid stair when you stub your toe on it. You can resent a situation.

But when other people enter the picture, when a person can somehow be blamed for something unpleasant we experience, our resentment seems to take on a heightened momentum. It is much easier to resent a person than a situation, (especially a stranger) because we can make moral arguments for why this person should have (or should not have) done this or that.

You see, a moral argument finally gives us what we hapless human beings have always wanted: a way of arguing with what is.

Morality is the only way we can rationalize arguing with reality itself — it is the only way we can look at reality and say, “this shouldn’t be!” and believe that we are right. We can’t reasonably say “It is wrong that it’s raining!” but we can (and often do say) “He shouldn’t have done that.” Moralizing is an extremely common reaction to being inconvenienced. I do it all the time, and didn’t realize it most of my life.

We usually (though not always) recognize the absurdity in blaming animals, inanimate objects, or the weather for the annoyances they cause us. Shit happens, and most reasonable people can accept that. But somehow, if we can in any way pin the inconveniences in our lives on a failing of another human being, we are quick to do it.

When I argue to myself that “He shouldn’t have done that,” I’m really just saying “It’s his fault that I’m pissed off right now.” That way, I don’t have to be responsible for my state of mind. I can pin my cranky reaction on somebody else’s shoddy morals, instead of my shoddy skills for dealing with inconvenience and disappointment. That way I don’t have any responsibilities in the situation.

What do you do when inconvenience strikes?

When inconvenience strikes, the behavior of others is a tempting target for resentment, because we can always make an argument that humans have moral responsibilities, and therefore our annoyance is justified, and we are not responsible for it.

But annoyance is never anything but a dysfunctional relationship between you and what you experience. Refusing to take responsibility for your reaction to the present moment is what keeps it bad, and morality is the primary tool most people use for justifying that shirking of responsibility.

It’s no secret that quality of life is all about how you come to terms with the present moment, and resentment is a woefully unskillful way to do that. It makes for a rotten moment that stays rotten, as you wait for somebody else’s moral sense to kick in and fix it for you.

Every time I notice I’m resentful of someone else, there is always some moral argument I’m trying to make for why this shouldn’t be happening to me. Every moral accusation takes the form of “He/she/they/people shouldn’t do that.” The unstated reason they shouldn’t is that it makes life a little harder for me. If it makes my life harder, I find a way to suggest to myself that it is immoral. It’s a terrible habit I have, and you probably have it too.

The plane isn’t ready for boarding yet, and I have a connection to make. “How hard is it to make a plane take off on time?”

Someone pushes their cart slowly down the middle of the cereal aisle. “I always walk to the side of aisles so people can get by.”

The greater the inconvenience to me, the more serious their moral violation becomes in my mind. When I had to sprint through the enormous Hong Kong airport to catch my connection, I was positively furious that the first plane had been late and that they didn’t leave me enough time to make the connection. I caught the plane with what ended up being plenty of time, boiling in my seat over how much of an atrocity it was that they (the flight-schedule-makers?) had done this to me.

Had I not had a tight connection to make, it would have only cost me the same fifteen minutes of standing in line at the gate — no big deal at all. But because it ended up really stressing me out, I framed it in my mind as a horrendous moral oversight on their part. How could they do this to me?! What kind of people are they?!

We use morality to justify our resentment against people all the time. It is compelling for us to do so because then we don’t have to take responsiblity for the problems we find ourselves experiencing. There is nearly always somebody whom you can finger as having created this problem in your life, even if it’s just some vague, unseen “them.” The people who made the stupid cheap packaging you can’t get open. The guy in front of you who is driving the speed limit, when you want to go 10 over. What an asshole.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wish people wouldn’t leave their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle either. I never do, and I do think the world would be a better place if nobody did. But that isn’t the world I live in, and in the moments that I do encounter those inconveniences, my quality of life always comes down to what I do. What “they” should have done differently is irrelevant.

How you respond to your moments is up to you, and the moral argument reaction is a dumb one. Who cares if I can assemble a graduate-level dissertation about why it is ethically reprehensible to park diagonally across two stalls? It will not improve the quality of my moment. Forgiveness will. Patience will. Gratitude will.

What you’re really saying when you make an internal moral argument is this: “This moment should be a different one. A better, easier one. And it’s that guy’s fault.”

All the moral approach does is gives you a little buzz of self-righteousness, and lets you off the hook for taking responsibility for your state of mind.

In Freakonomics, the authors define morality as “How we’d like the world to work.” I think they’re right on the money.


Photo by Violentz

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Brenda (betaphi) September 28, 2010 at 2:18 am

Unmet expectations are the source of so much angst. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with dog walkers who expect drivers to move into the oncoming traffic lane in order to get around them. Shouldn’t people walking dogs be expected to move to the side of the lane when cars approach them from behind? Shoulds may be bad, but they form the basis of our laws of governance. I think something should be done about people who walk their dogs down the middle of the street. Since the dog park opened in my neighborhood, my patience, gratitude, and forgiveness are taking a beating.

David September 28, 2010 at 7:18 pm

In many cases there are actions that would be smart to take in response to the behavior or others. Lobbying for new bylaws might be a perfectly reasonable and effective action to take, but an internal rant about how that person is “stupid” or immoral is not an effective or useful thing to do. We use morals to justify our anger, which only undermines our personal experience in life. Anger is not necessary in order to take action and it does not often trigger the most intelligent course of action.

Meg - Minimalist Woman September 28, 2010 at 6:47 am

At a campus where I briefly taught, the trendier sorority girls would walk in pairs down the street, almost in the middle of the street, making it tediously difficult to drive from one part of campus to the other in a timely fashion. They would ignore horns or curses or any suggestion that they should use the sidewalk, etc. Imagine the main drag of a small campus with several hundred students walking between classes and about twenty to fifty sorority girls in the street in every block. Then one day a fellow faculty member hit one of the girls while avoiding collision with either another one or an oncoming car. This driver was emotionally shattered for quite some time, even though the pedestrian was not seriously injured. The sorority collective was in an uproar for a few weeks, but then the fashion of being brats in the street started fading on its own and within about a year the streets were once more drivable in the normal way. The campus police did nothing during all this time, and the city police only took statements but issued no charges in the case of the professor hitting the student with her car. I do recall many faculty gatherings during this time in which professors would gleefully express a desire to mow the girls down with large cars, trucks, and snowplows. Many of them retained a contempt for sorority girls for the remainder of their teaching days; I’m sure that many of the girls of a later time never knew why.

So we have here an act of social contempt by one group of people (sorority girls) leading to the inconvenience of another group of people (professors and others who drove cars) and then ultimately the contempt of the second group for the first. But I think the professors’ contempt was a mix of identifying with the colleague who accidentally hit a student, and of guilt that they collectively hadn’t spoken up or taken action to make the college enforce safety rules in the first place. And why didn’t they speak up? Did most of them simply work around the inconvenience, or did they embrace the moral outrage for the kick it gave them in their otherwise monotonous lives? Certainly they dined out on the topic for many months. And after the topic itself became old and irrelevant, other topics took its place, other outrages committed by one group or another.

Morality may be how we want the world to be, but if it’s not used for the collective good, it’s just an excuse to bitch.

David September 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I agree.

Cri November 16, 2013 at 3:43 am

The people walking are all girls. The people driving are all professors, so this sounds as if those professors enjoy a notable privilege, which is annoying for the nonprivileged: cars are loud and stink, are the main reason for air-polution, completly change the atmosphere on the camp. Just imagine a camp without cars, only walking or cycling people, happily chatting with eachother: professors and kids all togehter. Remember: we often learn more outside the classroom than inside.
Maybe these girls do a very democratic and social thing. Maybe they aren’t as bitchy as the professors in their presumptuous attitude horning away their little enemies?

Andy Parsons September 28, 2010 at 7:22 am

I find myself very frustrated when people engage in stupid or ignorant behaviour and I do agree with the main point of the article (that there is no point getting frustrated as there will always be stupid snd ignorant people around and all it achieves is to lower my own quality of life).

Nevertheless I feel that sometimes this frustration can serve a useful purpose, but only if it is used to make changes that will reduce or eliminate the behaviour that caused the frustration in the first place.

As an example, I find it very annoying when people change lanes in front of me without indicating. However me getting annoyed by that could be used to good effect if I were to do something about it, maybe by writing to my member of parliament or to the police asking for tougher enforcement of the road traffic act with regard to use of indicators when changing lanes.

If however I do not do that then yes it is pointless and only serves to reduce my own quality of life in that moment. However I find it very hard to not be annoyed by such things, even if I know it is pointless.

David September 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Well I don’t think frustration is necessary for making the changes you’re talking about, and I don’t think it’s even a half-decent tool for it.

What if you could forgive that person for doing what they did, in real time… would that mean you couldn’t write a letter to your Member of Parliament? It would put you back in a clear-headed state of mind where you are not bent out of shape in contempt for that person. The action you end up taking could only become a smarter, more level-headed one.

You’re right, it is very hard not to be annoyed by those things people do, but it’s not necessary to avoid the annoyance response. Just become aware of it when it’s happening. Then you can see the moral argument forming in your mind, and avoid indulging in it. Then you can decide what’s really the smart thing to do. In most cases, it’s to simply get on with your day.

nrhatch September 28, 2010 at 8:10 am

Master your thoughts, master your life.
How you relate to the issue IS the issue.

Great post.

David September 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Thanks Nancy. Great way to put it: “How you relate to the issue IS the issue.”

Esther September 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

One of the main issues for me is realizing that there is a part of me who benefits from the little courtesy of others in the sense of feeling “better” and “righteous”.

Other than that, it feels odd when I am annoyed because we are supposed to have those qualities that we dislike in others ourselves and well, sometimes that is hard to take.

Do you guys think that the whole projection thing is accurate? I can see in myself certain attitudes that bother me from others but not all of them…

nrhatch September 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

Projection . . . it depends.

I dislike seeing people pick their teeth (or any other orifice) in public . . . and it is definitely NOT because I share that trait with them. :)

David September 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Other than that, it feels odd when I am annoyed because we are supposed to have those qualities that we dislike in others ourselves and well, sometimes that is hard to take.
Do you guys think that the whole projection thing is accurate? I can see in myself certain attitudes that bother me from others but not all of them…

That’s a good question and I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate. I think there are qualities that I resist in others that are not present in myself. But much of the time I am resenting people for things I do or could do myself.

Trish Scott September 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm

DUDE! Chill.

Jason September 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Self-righteousness is addictive and I agree that much of it is based on inconvenience but I think you take the observation too far here:

“But annoyance is never anything but a dysfunctional relationship between you and what you experience. Refusing to take responsibility for your reaction to the present moment is what keeps it bad, and morality is the primary tool most people use for justifying that shirking of responsibility.”

This “relationship” between you and your experience seems to fail to account for the other person having responsibilities too. You appear to be offering a kind of nihilistic, ambivalent attitude towards annoyances but I wonder where you draw the line? When does shaking off an irritating encounter become turning a blind eye to an evil act?

Morality and moral attitudes aren’t just made up by yourself- they are part of the social norms we inherit from cultural conditioning. In this realm of shared expectations, it’s okay to be irritated when one isn’t met and a little self-righteousness is justified if it encourages you to be extra careful to make sure you aren’t the jerk next time.

“What “they” should have done differently is irrelevant.”

Stoicism has been tried as a philosophy for thousands of years…shrugging your shoulders at rudeness may lower your stress level but what about the social responsibility to uphold not just morals but basic civility. If you shrug your shoulders when someone else behaves badly, it makes it that much easier to excuse yourself.

David September 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm

This “relationship” between you and your experience seems to fail to account for the other person having responsibilities too. You appear to be offering a kind of nihilistic, ambivalent attitude towards annoyances but I wonder where you draw the line? When does shaking off an irritating encounter become turning a blind eye to an evil act?

Turning a blind eye to evil? I’m talking about people who leave their shopping carts in bad places. I think some of you are taking this too far.

Here’s a question. What does it really mean to “have” responsibilities? To me, it means somebody else is expecting something of you and you acknowledge that. The lady in the mall never sat down and agreed with me that she’s not supposed to get in my way. I am projecting a responsibility upon her to not make life more difficult for me that I’d like it to be. I am making a moral issue out of it in my mind so that I don’t have to actually deal with my frustration. I think this is a common habit that is detrimental and worth examining, that is my only point. I’m not arguing for apathy or indifference.

Tony September 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm

My absolute favorite of all your posts. Right on.

David September 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Thanks Tony.

Confused September 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I love this…it speaks to me:

“It’s no secret that quality of life is all about how you come to terms with the present moment, and resentment is a woefully unskillful way to do that. It makes for a rotten moment that stays rotten, as you wait for somebody else’s moral sense to kick in and fix it for you.”

Bear September 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I’m with Jason (September 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm) in that I think you’re taking the idea of self-righteousness being the sole cause of being irritated by others’ actions too far.

For example, my irritation for the obliviousness behind the failure of certain drivers to drive thoughtfully, such that that promotes safety and efficiency (spent fuel, lost time, etc) for everyone sharing the road, is neither solely nor primarily because *I* am inconvenienced. It is because that bad driver is mucking things up for everyone, in their small part.

There are many examples of where it is highly desirable and useful to expect people to behave within certain expectations. Adopting a pacifist attitude does not impart any corrective energy. Civilization requires a social contract. Bowing out to affect your own personal serenity is failing to do you part.

If you fail to object to poor behavior, you are part of the problem…?

David September 28, 2010 at 8:26 pm

you’re taking the idea of self-righteousness being the sole cause of being irritated by others’ actions too far.

I don’t quite know what this means but I don’t think I said self-righteousness is the sole reason we become irritated. But self-righteousness is the reason we often do not take any responsibility for our reaction, and instead project all responsibility for useful action onto the person to whom we are reacting.

For example, my irritation for the obliviousness behind the failure of certain drivers to drive thoughtfully, such that that promotes safety and efficiency (spent fuel, lost time, etc) for everyone sharing the road, is neither solely nor primarily because *I* am inconvenienced. It is because that bad driver is mucking things up for everyone, in their small part.

That’s fine, but how useful is your irritation? And is it possible for you to react in a way that better serves you and society? I think there is, and defending your irritation by making moral arguments in your head is not it. If there is anything you can do to prevent the dubious behavior in the other person in the future, then do it. Justifying your emotional reaction to the behavior is not going to help you make a level-headed decision about what to do.

If you fail to object to poor behavior, you are part of the problem…?

How can I correct someone’s behavior by stewing in my car about it?

The mental objection to bad behavior is useless if no action is taken as a response. Action does not require you to be agitated. But most people do not take any real action when they get agitated. They just feel some contempt for the person they believe is responsible for their hissy-fit, they are miserable for a while, and life goes on anyway. Most “bad” behavior is only bad because we react so stupidly to it, ruining our moods and worldview over some circumstance we usually have no real control over. Why people think they are fixing human behavior by getting mad at it is something I will never understand.

Steve Brudney November 1, 2010 at 10:29 am

I found a great lesson through writing Letters to the Editor. In many newspapers, one is allowed only 250-300 words. If you have some information to share or think you have a point to make that is very important, there’s simply no time for snide or sarcastic remarks, i.e. personal attacks. We must get to the point and let go of the impulse for vengeance or self-aggrandizement. On the scale of important moral issues, where does teenagers standing in the middle of the hall or sidewalk rank? It might be a moral issue but it is worth my time and energy to get all riled up about it? You can look at this in a spiritual way or as a practical matter. If an issue is very important, what good will it do me to be angry and insulted and judgmental? We must learn to make the judgment without being judgmental. If you are a Tea Party person, for example, or someone who is against the Tea Party and want to do something about it, some anger might help you get to work doing something but to stay with the anger and judgment only impedes your progress and corrodes dialogue, not to say that real dialogue is possible with a fundamentalist Tea Party person or liberal or Christian or Muslim. When my wife sees me getting all hot and bothered about something, she-who-is-wisdom-and-compassion-manifest often says, “Sweetie, why don’t save your energy for something more important?” I have no answer except to suddenly relax. Humor also helps immensely if it is simply laughter at oneself or at life and not laughter at the other person. So, it’s not that it’s not that leaving the shopping cart in the middle of the isle is not the responsibility of the other person but, even if that inconsiderate-ness is a moral failing, how important a one is it and how do we want to use our time and energy while here?

Seth Chong September 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Hi David,

I’m truly in love with what you teach.

Will continue to remind myself of these small but important lessons in life.

Thank you.

David September 29, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Thanks Seth.

Zack September 28, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Favorite post in a while David. I loved this one, because you are exactly right, I do do this ALL the time! It’s horrible! Thanks for holding up the mirror for me man! Oh, and I read Freakonomics this summer, an excellent book. Check out Super Freakonomics next ;)

David September 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm

I will definitely check out Superfreakonomics.

Big Sis September 29, 2010 at 9:07 am

I think I inherited the same thing from my father’s side :)

David September 29, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I think it’s been in our bloodline since Lucy at least.

mike September 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

..for me it’s about ego and the ways people seem to intentionally violate my highly esteemed sense of self…”how dare you……” or “you dis-respected ME !! …i have an enate sense of entitlement when it comes to how i wish to be treated by others…my standards of conduct may be higher than yours (usually) based on upbringing but pride plays an equal part i think…

David September 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm

That’s exactly it… it’s an inane sense of entitlement which keeps us attached to fictitious, problem-free versions of our moments. And it’s always those other people that ruin it for us.

Ethan September 29, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Wow Dave, another deep and subtly-mind-blowing post! I take pride in my own set of morals and values, as living by them helps me feel good in that I feel I try to be a good person in living by them. I never realized that my morals became judgments against those who don’t follow them! Perhaps it is because it IS so common we judge others based on our own morals that it doesn’t even register that we are, in fact, judging them in the first place. How ironic it is that one of my “moral values” that I prided myself on was the fact that I don’t judge others when, by saying/thinking/feeling that, I am judging those who I see doing the judging!
Anyways, thanks for making me realize my own hypocritical nature in this sense lol. I once heard someone, somewhere, say something along the lines of “morality is just the stance we take against those who think differently”. I think the quote was referring to things like wars between people of different faiths, and at first I didn’t agree because, like I said, I thought myself to be morally sound. After reading your post though, I think it makes much more sense, and on a much broader scale.
I’m conflicted though.
I still don’t think it is necessarily wrong to have morals and values, as these things do generate self-respect, esteem, etc…
However, that essentially boils down to it just being a tool to feed the ego…
I guess my confusion boils down to this: is it possible to live by our own moral standards of peaceful coexistence without judging others by them…?
It almost feels like a self-sustaining force. You develop your code of morals, witness someone break that code, judge them, feel better about yourself. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Perhaps this post of yours is what could break the cycle, David. By bringing this cycle to light, anyone who reads this post can realize when they judge others based on their own moral values and cease to judge, while shifting to a much healthier state of mind in accepting things as they are, forgiving things that happen, and being grateful to be a part of the moment at all.
Deep stuff! Sorry if I got a little convoluted and confusing while ranting, sometimes that happens when I start philosophizing lol. Anyways, just so you know this is easily my favorite blog I’ve ever come across. I think about this kind of stuff all the time, but rarely get to talk to anybody about any of it, so Raptitude is almost like my think-fix lol. I’m sure I’m not the only one to benefit from your posts, so keep it up!

nrhatch September 29, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Sounds like your paraphrasing Oscar Wilde (or he paraphrased someone else):


See # 21. :)

mike September 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

“..I never realized that my morals became judgments against those who don’t follow them! …..thanks ethan i needed to hear that…..in A.A. we have a somewhat humorous slogan..”give others the right to be wrong”…thats really hard to do when we think others need “fixin”…i like this one..”when you think like a hammer then everyone looks like a nail”…..lol

David September 29, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Great post Ethan, nothing convoluted about it.

I guess my confusion boils down to this: is it possible to live by our own moral standards of peaceful coexistence without judging others by them…?

Good question. It’s hard to stop judging people, but I don’t think it’s necessary as long as you get into the habit of becoming aware of it. Judgment are impulses — thoughts that arise whether you want them to or not. The question is what you do with them when they do arise. Many people have complete trust that these thoughts are reliable and reasonable. Most of my life I never questioned them. In the last few years I’ve noticed that they are almost always selfish are often completely unreasonable. In any case, I have never found any meaningful benefit to running with them when they do arise. But it is extremely addictive. I fight with this addiction every day.

Henway September 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Wow, I never thought of it that way.. and you’re right, I go through this mental pattern all the time – always blaming others for how I feel. It’s insane to go against what is, but I just can’t help it.

Steve September 30, 2010 at 11:47 am

Unless you consider violent criminals to be morally upright people, awareness of impact is, indeed, a moral issue.

However, there are degrees, of course. Just like I’m not going to prosecute somebody for, say, taking a beer out of my fridge without asking, I’m also not going to start petitioning for laws demanding that people move to one side or the other of the aisle if they insist on moving slowly. That would be absurd.

Besides, I often inconvenience people. I think we all do, and I think the point you’re trying to make is that these things happen and that we can pad our internal response a bit in order to not have an accident ruin our day.

Still, helpful guidelines on how to not be completely rude are sometimes provided in public spaces – I’m thinking here of airport mover tracks that specifically state “please stand at the right and not in the center” – for a reason.

David October 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Still, helpful guidelines on how to not be completely rude are sometimes provided in public spaces – I’m thinking here of airport mover tracks that specifically state “please stand at the right and not in the center” – for a reason.

Yes, I agree with you. Signage like that is an example of a conscious action taken to improve the situation.

But in a situation where there’s no remedial action that’s going to be taken, such as in 99% of life’s little piss-offs, avoiding that internal moral tirade is definitely helpful, IMHO.

Simon September 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Great post David. This reminds me of one of my 10 rules in life (which I laughingly fail to follow) – It’s not so much what happens to you in life, but how you react to it.

Pat Watters October 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Definitely something to think about, as I am very guilty of this same thought process. I would still ask people to operate under the rules of civility and think I will always work toward those same rules for myself, but will also now work on how react to what really is, just a minor inconvenience.

Eric | Eden Journal October 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Great observations here. I also tend to get annoyed when people aren’t mindful of others. It’s usually just a mild annoyance, and I typically tell myself that it’s not my place to judge the behavior of others.

Kevin M October 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

I can identify with this post regarding driving to/from work. But I’m not sure I agree with it. I tend to have an expectation of other drivers to use proper driving techniques so we can all get to work/school safely. When someone cuts me off without signaling or treats the highway like a NASCAR track, I get pissed off.

It’s hard for me to laugh it off or offer instant forgiveness if I have to swerve out of the way or slam on my brakes so someone can get to their job a few minutes earlier. I’m afraid one of these times the “minor inconvenience” become a major accident.

I welcome any suggestions.

David October 5, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Yes, forgiveness is hard.

Given that the other driver has already done what he’s done, what is the smart thing to do? Raging about it can only make for a more dangerous situation. Getting angry will not change the other driver’s behavior.

But if you don’t want to apply this concept to traffic-related frustrations, use it somewhere else.

Trish Scott October 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Many years ago I was struck by something Wayne Dyer said, “Once you rid yourself of anger no animal will treat you with enmity” I thought, COOL.

So I started paying attention to my anger. A lot of it took place in traffic. I just started noticing. Then after a couple of weeks I started noticing that I was no longer angry at the rude/careless/inconsiderate behaviour of my fellow road users. I started saying, “Wow. A few weeks ago I would have let my blood pressure soar over that.” And finally at some point nothing made me angry any more. It was a simple miracle. I was no longer angry about my father or mother of the bullies at school – well – you get the drift. So after being angry at just about everything in life (it just manifested itself most often in traffic) for about 50 years – I was just over it.

AND THEN strangely enough I grew up to be an animal communicator LOL. Getting over my anger issues was just the first step in a process of awakening. I’m glad I got that trigger phrase from Wayne Dyer. I’m glad I acted on it. I highly recommend noticing, becoming conscious of, angry reactions.

nrhatch October 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Excellent point.

When we have conquered the enemy within . . . there are no enemies left to conquer.

Sam October 10, 2010 at 8:16 pm

The cliche is true. Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you react to it. But how do you deal with that 10%? Well, you be assertive. If somebody does something that is pretty much objectively rude, call them out on it politely. Don’t just let that stuff fester and think that it’s ALL on you. Just 90% on you.

A lot of people do ‘bad stuff’ cause they know how doormat-ish people can be. They simply do whatever they think they can get away with. Of course you yourself have to know how to be assertive and not aggressive. If they don’t listen then yeah, let it go anyway but the key is we need to get those natural feelings out of ourselves, not bury them deep down.

And hehe your entire article was making a moral judgment about not being morally judgmental. Personally, it’s a quality I like a lot in people.

Edward@buy coffee table October 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

What is a good topic to write a paper for philosophy? It has to be a contemporary moral issue.?

David October 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

A good topic is one you’re interested in. Contemporary moral issues include:

mandatory seat-belt use
the drug war
youth justice

and much, much more!

Wayne R. October 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

(I read a lot of the comments, but not all…)

I believe my irritation comes from seeing the hypocrisy of people’s actions: Everyone else affects me, I never affect anyone! You’re in my way! I’m the only one on the planet so how could I be in your way? You don’t exist!

People are far from thoroughly evolved. Most people act as if their having a big brain is what separates them from the other apes; I argue that one must use that grey gob.

Juhani November 11, 2010 at 3:56 am

Thought-provoking article, thank you.
I experience this feeling on a daily basis.
I would summarize it as: The problem of our expectations. We expect people to act a certain way and are disappointed when they don’t. Therefor, we create our own disappointment. The best thing to do is to believe the best, but expect the least.

athensguy November 19, 2010 at 7:51 am

Whenever someone cuts you off, they’re asserting that their time is significantly more valuable than yours. For example, if someone cuts you off and costs you five minutes on the way to work to save 10 seconds, they’re saying that their time is worth 30 times as much as yours. There are ways to let them know that they are mistaken.

These same people cause millions of dollars in losses by causing traffic jams.

David November 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Whenever someone cuts you off, they’re asserting that their time is significantly more valuable than yours. For example, if someone cuts you off and costs you five minutes on the way to work to save 10 seconds, they’re saying that their time is worth 30 times as much as yours.

This is called projection. These are your thoughts, your calculations… not theirs.

There are ways to let them know that they are mistaken.

This is the fallacy that creates such ill will between strangers. You are not teaching anyone a lesson by getting mad, you’re just forfeiting your own peace of mind for a mistaken sense of control over what others do.

Traffic accidents are caused by the impatient and the distracted. Be neither.

Sherri July 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm

It is one thing to be the person with these self defeating beliefs. It is another to be married to someone who acts this way. I have experienced and endured terrible things in my life from an early age but have always tried to remain a positive person. When you live with someone like this is depressing and it sucks the very life right out of you. It has gotten to the point with my husband where he starts the moment he gets up and continues when he walks back in the door that night. So not only does the persons behavior effect their quality of life they are negatively effecting the life of others they claim to love. Trust me, it is impossible to live like this and not feel the effects over a period of time. Especially when they have road rage as well. You are fearful every time you sit in the car and wonder if it will be your last because a persons reactions are not what they should be in this state of mind. This is not they way I want to leave this world or leave the memories for my children. I personally know someone who’s wife is no longer with him because he was too busy giving the guy beside him the finger and didn’t see the car in front of him. Sadly the wife went through the windshield and he ran her over. Not something you want to have to live with. Get it together for yourself and those you love. The world will then be a much better imperfect place for us ALL.

J. Vriezen August 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm

One observation I’ve always made regarding poor driving, is to consider what it would be like if all the drivers on the road were *at least* as competent as me– that’s really what you want right– this this problem goes away at least in the driving context.

But if that happens, you’ve just become the worst driver on the road (or at least one of the worst), because everyone else’s driving abilities is the same or better than yours.

So to state it more succinctly, the desire for all other driver mistakes to disappear is a desire for yourself to be the least qualified driver.

Merily September 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I really love this post. It really resonates with me. I too found myself moralising (we use ‘s’ in Australia) when someone inconvenienced me. I like to keep to the left in shopping aisles (as we do in Australia). Whilst trying to find the better person in me I started to catch myself getting annoyed and tried to emphathise with the other person who is just like me. I found, to my delight, that I would catch myself before I got annoyed or in the midst of it and turn the unpleasant feelings around to politeness. Most people respond very well and are usually apologetic for no reason because they were just being human and only need to move over when I asked to pass. Usually when I showed my gratitude with a smile I would get the gift of a smile back. Now I normally walk away very happy. Such a small interaction but very pleasant.

On the road I am still reminding myself that pedestrian is king and I also get very nice responses here too.

Thanks again. M

Janine October 3, 2011 at 5:33 am

I really appreciate this piece, the careful thought you put into it, and the snappy title that says it all. It made me wonder about how many people I’m inconveniencing on a daily basis, and how I justify that. Efficiency? First dibs? I’m more in a hurry than you? I’m less lazy than you? It’s your job to clean up, not mine? It’s my day off so I can walk in the middle of the road if I want to?

Then, of course, I am outraged at the “entitlement” or “rudeness” of others who inconvenience me.

David October 3, 2011 at 6:26 am

I was a really interesting revelation for me — that we operate on what attracts us and repels us emotionally, then we justify our own behavior or justify getting mad at others’ behavior that denies us what we want. We’re all playing the same game.

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kim October 13, 2011 at 3:19 pm

maya angelou has several great quotes about forgiveness and baggage; here’s one: “We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate — thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.” perhaps it is the guilt, resentment whatever you want to call it, of knowing that we are the ones in control of our reactions and when we get angry, we should know better and do we really want to be in that place. for me personally, it is how i respond to my environment in the now. and it is what i am learning to change everyday… or at least hoping to get to. thanks david

Cantankerous Carl November 19, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Dude, wouldn’t it just be easier to start leaving your shopping cart in the middle of the isle instead of spending all your time forgiving and refocusing your anger? You know, when in Rome…lol.

Hey, some people would argue that finding a way to release your anger instead of constantly suppressing it is actually healthier for you. My experience in life is that I always know where the guy who spouts off continually stands. Yes, it can be irritating to endure but it’s true. Conversely, the quiet guy is the one who’s most likely to snap and do something unexpected. Too much pent up anger I guess…

Thanks for the post though, I enjoyed reading it and it’s definitely given me food for thought.

David November 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I’m not sure why so many people think that the only alternative to venting anger as it arises is to suppress it and vent it later. It’s disturbing to me to think that so many people believe that sooner or later all angry feelings must be expressed, and that whatever argument they make to express them is correct.

Most feelings of anger, if you take a moment to examine them instead of letting them take over your speech or actions, are simple feelings of not getting what you want. Many people trust these feelings as valid by default and believe that the right thing to do must always be to express them. And to do that they must come up with a moral argument for why what someone else did was wrong. When you look at an emerging feeling of anger and recognize that it’s just a blind impulse to argue with the reality that you have not gotten what you want, it’s easy to let it go.

Wynden June 11, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I wouldn’t have thought morality entered into it. I would have considered it an error in reasoning, which seems a reasonable thing to find frustration in. Simply by writing this article, are you not appealing to your audience to practice better reasoning skills?

I heartily agree, however, that we should recognize our own coping methods are all that we have control over, and striving to maintain perspective and act with due consideration and appropriate restraint makes for a more harmonious transition, overall.

anonymous September 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Do you have something against packaging this is the second time you’ve mentioned it that I’ve seen.

Mark December 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

Back in my martial arts days I used to go to the mall to practice my evasion techniques. I think I discovered that possibility by accident back then. Thanks for the reminder to be mindful.

Lisa January 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I too have had this realisation.

I had been at a ten day meditation retreat. No speaking, no touching, no eye contact. The only person ever in my way was me.

At the airport catching a plane home I felt assaulted by the noise and the number of people bumping into me and cutting me off.

I’ve always experienced discomfort from this but for the first time I heard my “how dare they think they’re more important than me” voice. This was swiftly countered by another voice “how dare I think I’m more important than them”.

I sometimes forget this lesson and it’s usually when I am at my unhappiest – when my focus has turned inwards and sees no-one else (and their troubles).

Alexa February 27, 2013 at 5:59 am

I know I’m late to the party, but here’s my answer:
I think you’re making a good point about not using this type of reasoning to justify one’s resentment, but to say that that approach is defined by moral reasoning, or worse, to claim that that’s what morality *is*, as the last sentence seems to, is an error. That’s why that description of morality fails when applied to anything more meaningful than someone leaving their shopping cart in your way: moral outrage at human rights violations, for example, is a sign of a healthy relationship to the world.
Personally, I do make a universal moral issue out of being inconvenienced. This is what makes the difference between saying ‘that person is stupid, they shouldn’t have cut me off’, and saying ‘that person was acting immorally by cutting me off, I shouldn’t do that to other people’. Or to use an example that comes up often in my daily life, observing people being rude to me has led me to form a morality that now leads to people complimenting my politeness and level-headedness, even when I’m angry.
That’s what it means to react with moral reasoning, not self-righteousness, to being inconvenienced.

Adam K March 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm

This is exactly what I do. I wish someone whacked me upside the head with this post taped to the end of a stick before I ruined 20 hours of my precious life yesterday and today worrying about someone else’s behavior.

I need to print this one out, because equating inconvenience with morality is probably the most severe anger trigger that I have.

Jon Haeffner March 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

A fun experiment might be to ‘accidentally’ run into the one who cut you off, or noisily bump into/past the shopping cart in the middle of the aisle (if the user of said cart is nearby) and create a situation for them to react to, thus turning the tables, and, really, just making that part of everyone’s day a little more interesting than just moral stew.

Jayadeep Purushothaman March 24, 2013 at 10:29 pm

In this part of the world(India) there is this belief that others jealousy about some of our stuff or well being could cause doom for you. So you tend to hide things so that they don’t see it or know about it. And when things go wrong you blame others. They call it “drishti” in local lingo. For a loong time, I too believed in it till it dawned on me that this is the perfect method to shift blame on others !

Found your blog just now – via MMM. Love the unconventional thoughts here!

Verna May 25, 2013 at 3:05 am

Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
The words in your post seem to be running off the screen in Safari.

I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.

The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon.

mick handyside May 30, 2013 at 10:07 pm

awesome post! i’ve often moralized and been furious with ‘them’. the guy who cut me off, jumped ahead in the queue etc. thanks for your words!

Sensate August 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm

David, you are right in terms of your own quality of life – nothing is solved by you being angry at someone you perceive to be oblivious or inconsiderate. However, that impulse often does bear fruit. In countries where one’s own agency is deprecated, the traffic is horrendous; pedestrians are utterly heedless, and everything takes at least twice as long as it does here. I’m not saying the spirit of moral opprobium cannot be taken to extremes, or isn’t used to lightning rod individuals’ own failings, but the idea that one *might* be taken to task for failing to uphold civic virtue keeps a lot of bad behavior from happening. And that begins with the spark of your impulse to condemn.

Kari August 30, 2013 at 1:45 am

I just have to say this is such a well constructed piece that I’ve found myself reading and re-reading it often since the first time I stumbled across it over a year ago. Any time I’m feeling overly frustrated or tense, I remind myself of this blog and how important it is to take a deep breath and not let others’ moral issues affect my own well-being. It truly is so simple to allow yourself to be happy all of the time if you are unaffected by poor choices of others; and in turn makes it easier to be aware of how your own actions can impact others. So thank you for this great essay!

John Robinson August 30, 2013 at 7:28 am

After the tens of seconds skimming this article, I want to (not so seriously) suggest the life changing song “World’s on Heroine” by “All.” Identifying both the displeasure of being inconvenienced by “too many lazy morons in my way” and the contradictory fulfilment by “Going for All”, these revolutionaries identify ups and downs of a lazy consumer culture. “I’m A Coffee Guy In A Stoner Place” again reiterates their frustration, noting the difficult-to-cope times in our lives as you have “And The World Keeps Turning At A Turtles Pace.”

shelley November 6, 2013 at 10:41 am

This is such a good and timeless article. I saw the title and thought “Guilty as charged”. What helps me is a phrase that popped up in my mind one day: Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load. The days that I can keep that uppermost in my mind are the days I don’t moralize about others’ inconsiderate behavior. The days I forget…well, I walk around with a cloud over my head, of my own making.

One thing I like about this blog is David’s ability and willingness to be rigorously honest with himself.

Natas December 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I’m looking at it this way… it’s the kind of crap that would make a good stand-up rant. “do you notice that people exit shops in the mall just when you pass by?”. or a great movie scene… guy’s cart runs into someone else’s and guy starts a fight. as a matter of fact there was a character of this kind in Trainspotting, funny one.
not saying that personal development, growth or whatever is BS, but I think there’s more to life than this “let go” thing. imagine a world where everyone is at peace with oneself. kinda boring, right?

Gastrointestinal surgeon in dubai June 9, 2014 at 3:55 am

That’s exactly it… it’s an inane feeling of right which keeps us connected to fake, problem-free editions of our minutes.

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