Two very simple words (okay, “I’m” is a contraction and that’s not that simple, but shut up, okay?). Nothing offensive about those words. Nothing to see here. This was a pretty short blog. Only…
These two seemingly-innocuous little words often start some of the lamest bullshit sentences that exist.
But I’m a nice person!
But I’m not racist/sexist/otherwise bigoted!
But I’m smart!
But I’m a good dancer!
Fair enough, there exist situations in which that kind of sentence is appropriate. If a tree fell on your car, and you’re cursing Odin or whomever for the injustice in the world, then you can shout that you’re a nice guy (for all the good it’ll do you). You can say “But I’m smart” if you’re part of one of Aesop’s fables and you’re going to continue by detailing the smart thing you did, and how it kept you out of trouble. The problem with these sentences is that they’re almost always used defensively, or as a way of justifying something shitty.
I provided emotional support during a tough time, and she still didn’t have sex with me. But I’m a nice guy!
You were offended when I made racist jokes about black Santa? But I’m not racist!
You expect me to support my arguments with evidence? But I’m smart!
I didn’t get into such-and-such level of classes/so-and-so doesn’t want to dance with me. But I’m a good dancer!
To be clear, I don’t think that all of those things are like all the others. Perpetuating a system that is unequal and abusive is way, WAY worse than being hurt because you didn’t get the recognition you feel you deserve in dancing. The nature and degree of the impact on the world is hugely different, but the basic mistake is the same. We don’t use those defenses because they’re ironclad. We use them because we’re deluding ourselves. We do it because we’re lazy, or we don’t want to consider that we might be wrong. We’re using the made-up version of ourselves that exists in our heads as justification for our real actions in the real world. You want to know a secret? Just about everybody thinks they’re nice. Even if they don’t think they’re nice per se, they certainly don’t think they’re bad, no matter how many bad things they do. Almost nobody thinks they’re racist, no matter how many racist things they say or believe. Everybody thinks they’re at least average intelligence, and most believe they’re smarter than that. But why do we think that? Because we want to. Because it makes us feel good. The worst part is that just about everybody is guilty of this in some area or other, to one degree or another.
But do me a favor. Think about one of those ideas you may have about yourself. Let’s start with the “nice person” one, because it’s a pretty good bet that you think that. Review the last couple weeks. Would somebody who doesn’t know you think you were a good person? Did you do good things and avoid not-good ones? Did you purposefully do not-good things, because you thought you had a good reason? Remember that someone who doesn’t know you wouldn’t know how great your reason was. Did you do not-good things accidentally? Don’t even answer that, because the answer is you bet your ass you did. Everyone does. The important thing is how you reacted if someone brought it to your attention. Did you apologize because you care about that person, or did you justify it because you care more about your made-up image of yourself? Did you learn from it, or is it going to keep happening because you refuse to accept that you made a mistake?
What about racism/other –isms? When you accidentally did/said something X–ist (because you bet your ass you did), were you full of bluster and defensivenessness…es, or did you accept that you don’t know everything, apologize, and then try to learn more so you could avoid similar offenses in the future?
About that dance level or social dance fail. [Ignoring, for the moment, that dance ability rarely has anything to do with someone not wanting to dance with someone else] Look back at your behavior. Do you practice? Do you videotape yourself? Do you let new knowledge affect your old knowledge, so that small insights can become large changes? Did you follow the rules of etiquette in asking? You may believe you’re a good dancer. I believe that you are too. But whether you actually dance well is a different question altogether, and is dependent on behavior. Who you are inside only matters insofar as it guides your actions. As far as being a nice person, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to hurt me if you just go on hurting me. If you learn from it and try to avoid hurting me the same way in the future, then it matters a lot.
So I’ve convinced you that you aren’t what you thought you were. You suck, and you finally know it. But don’t worry. The secret to actually being the person you thought you were is pretty simple. Stop focusing so much on the kind of person you are and think a little more about what you do. Even Batman needed someone to tell him this.
If you want to think you’re nice, act the way a nice person acts. Treat people the way a nice person treats people. Avoid the type of behavior that leads to you starting sentences with “but.” If you want to think you’re a good dancer, then do the things that good dancers do to become good. It doesn’t mean you’ll always dance well or act well, because failure is a constant in life. It does mean that your failures won’t make an endless string of BS that cordons off awesomeness and keeps it forever out of your grasp. Instead they’ll be discrete moments, punctuating and highlighting and even furthering your awesomeness. And that’s lemons-to-lemonade if I ever saw it. Which I have. So it is.