To Succeed We Must Be Kind
We all want to fit in, yet we yearn to stand out. We want to be universally loved, part of something, in on the joke, a member of the family. And at the same time want to be outstanding, have an outstanding life, outstanding happiness. We want success, wealth, comfort and luxury. We want contentment, respect and to be looked up to. We yearn to be remarkable.
But we crucify anyone else who tries to do just that.
We resent those who achieve the things that we yearn for. We ridicule those who try to achieve something better, who step into the arena, who put their neck out, because we take it personally. Narcissistically, we perceive their efforts to do their thing, achieve something and be something as an attack against us and our place in the world. We take their dreams personally. Gore Vidal famously said, “every time a friend succeeds a little something in me dies,” and that’s because it shows us an uncomfortable truth about ourselves. That if we were to try a little bit harder, to face our fears and put our pride on the line, maybe, just maybe, we could achieve some of those things we’ve always dreamed of.
But the problem is, we’re lazy and comfortable where we are. It’s too much like hard work to give up our evenings in front of the telly. After all we earned that enormous flatscreen and this comfy three seater. This is a symbol of our hard work and achievement, and when someone else threatens that validation by actually ‘doing something’ then it shows it up as all a it mediocre.
It's easier to stay with the suffering we know than the success we don’t, and I’ll follow that up with a quote from Ryan Holiday – himself quoting another person that I can’t remember – “we want everyone to be boring so we don’t have to be interesting.”
So what can we do when our sense of self-worth, which we have attached to the stuff that we own and the status that we’ve built for ourselves, is threatened by an ordinary person who is attempting to do the things we are too lazy and unmotivated to do ourselves? The obvious and easy answer is to find sanctuary in ridicule and cruelty.
Whole industries have grown up around ridicule and cruelty. Go into the newsagent and you’ll see shelves full of celebrity and gossip magazines with images of famous people looking fat on the beach. They reveal stories about their drink problems, their breakdowns, their bankruptcies, their breakups and their heartbreak.
From our sofas, we can tweet cruel comments about that idiot on the X-Factor who was stupid enough to think he could hold a note, as we shovel Pringles into our mouths, unable to reach the remote control. We find ourselves ‘fitting in’ with other cruel people, united in our shared laziness as we judge and undermine those people who want a life that’s just a little bit better, want to be a little bit better, and who are trying just a little bit harder. And when they fail it reinforces our status, validates our laziness, and makes us feel good.
Look. Just look what happens when you try. Better not to then. Just fit in, sit on the sofa, and be validated by other cruel people who would rather wallow in their mediocrity like me.
Someone I’m connected to recently posted a short video to social media. It was a of an overweight man in a gym, attempting to do press-ups. After each press up, he would collapse to the floor, his belly slapping the ground with a clapping sound. It had gone viral.
The comments were, as you can probably imagine, nasty.
On LinkedIn, someone had shared a post ridiculing a young man who was trying to break into the world of marketing, seeking his first clients. As he clumsily reached out to potential clients, as he’d seen pretty much everyone else reaching out on the platform, a self-proclaimed marketing veteran decided to make an example of him, and plenty of people piled on.
Recently a young Swedish girl disrupted a flight when she found out that a man on her plane was being deported back to Afghanistan, where he may or may not have faced cruel punishment and even death. She refused to sit, until he was taken off the flight and returned, temporarily, to safety, and in doing so she prevented the flight from taking off.
Video of the girl’s action was shared around the world. Most applauded her, but many derided her. She was called stupid, disruptive, a criminal. But how many of those people have ever stood up for something they believe in?
When I worked as a van driver I would often see owners of expensive cars waiting to pull out at junctions. They would wait and wait and wait. Rarely would anyone stop to let them out. There was a sense of “you’ve got a good car, you have it far too easy, so you can wait.” There was no recognition of how hard this person may have had to work to pay for the car, no sense of celebration for someone who managed to get something nice out of life. Just resentment because this person has something that everyone else wanted, and that’s not fair.
When people try to make something of themselves, we laugh at them, ridicule them, because it makes us feel better about our own lack of motivation to get off our arses and do something. When people stand out by standing up for something, we deride them, when people start to show signs of success, we resent them. Yet we should celebrate them, if we ever want to achieve anything other than mediocrity in our own lives. We should applaud the fat man doing press ups, because he’s braver than us. He’s a hero. We should all be encouraged by him.
But because we are cruel, finding humour in other people’s failure, we know what people will say when we step into the arena. We’ve seen the cruel things that get circulated online when someone tries and fails – we’ve even liked and share them ourselves – and we’re terrified that’s what could happen to us. We know that the world is harsh, because we’re harsh.
We’ve made cruel comments about the fat person who dared to go jogging, and that’s why we don’t have the courage to dare ourselves. We’ve laughed at the person who got up and sang badly in front of all those people, and we’re terrified that we’ll be laughed at too.
So much braver, then, are the people who get up and do it anyway.
So much more courageous are the people who act on their dreams. The people who sign up to the dance classes knowing what their mates will say. The people who put their video on YouTube knowing that they'll likely get nasty comments if they get any views at all. The people who send their first draft to the publishing house. The people who make their first piece of art. The people who draft their first business plan and ask the bank for a loan to make it happen. The people who apply for the job that is way, way loftier than anything they’ve applied to before.
These people are the flag-bearers for anyone who dreams of a better life. Rather than resenting them and ridiculing them, we should be celebrating and encouraging them. Rather than undermining their confidence and trying to knock them down to our level, we should be giving them a leg up, applauding them as they step out on stage, and studying their moves so we can help them when they slip, learn from them when they succeed, and maybe find encouragement to make our own bold moves tomorrow.
There is so much to celebrate, so much hope to find in our dreams and the efforts of others as they work to realise theirs. Yet often we prefer to turn to the dark side, and knock them off their ladders before they’ve even stepped on the first rung.
So next time you want to have a giggle at someone who’s trying something new, stop and celebrate and encourage them instead. Because one day you might summon up enough courage to overcome your fear and step out into the spotlight yourself.
And you’ll need all the support you can get.