Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better

Today I had a frustrating conversation about post-colonial discourse from an Indian acquaintance of mine, as well as a frustrating experience dealing with customer service, and it struck me that both of these experiences were deeply similar. My Indian acquaintance was seeking to blame Europeans for the brokenness of India and its politics and economy and so on, and I was having none of it [1]. Similarly, when we deal with the customer service systems of various companies, we find that there are often elaborate and extensive efforts at justification at why the person who we are talking to–whose understanding of English is often shaky–are not to blame for whatever problem we are having with the company, and of course can do nothing about it to fix the root causes of our inquiry and dissatisfaction.

Ultimately, such efforts at justification and avoiding blame are entirely profitless because people do not care about the origins of the brokenness of individuals, institutions, and societies, or who is to blame for it, but rather are interested in what we are going to do about it. It is this latter matter for which we bear total responsibility. We are deeply concerned with questions of blame because we desire to absolve ourselves of the responsibility for our present broken state. Yet the question of who is to blame is ultimately unprofitable and useless in helping us to get better, which is ultimately all that anyone else really cares about. It matters not who is to blame for the state of the world, the state of our institutions, or the state of ourselves. What matters is what we plan on doing about it, and the effort that we spend trying to absolve ourselves of blame for these problems hinders us from actually getting better, which ought to be the main goal.

Why is this so? What accounts for the gap between what we spend our efforts in and what other people expect from us? There are all kinds of asymmetries in humankind by which we judge ourselves by our intentions but judge others by their results. We know our internal state–or at least we can know it–but we have little insight into the internal state of others. And that which we cannot determine ultimately does not matter to us. We may judge the intentions of others to be friendly, hostile, or indifferent, but we have little capacity for certain knowledge however we may judge. And ultimately, this lack of knowledge into what is going on inside of other people’s heads leads us to spend most of our effort and interest on that which we can see and judge, and that is what others do. Because our behavior is most of interest to others, and the behavior of others is most of interest to us, our efforts need to be based on that which affects our performance and not that which is of interest only to we ourselves.

This is an incredibly difficult point to truly understand. Because we are deeply interested in the question of what limited extent we are to blame for the difficulties that we struggle under, and that which affect our performance in all kinds of matters of interest to others, we waste a great deal of time and effort seeking to justify ourselves. Institutions and governments write humungous regulations that seek to divorce front-line employees from any kind of meaningful ability to do something about the frustrations and problems that are involved in dealing with government and corporate bureaucracies. Again, though, these are useless, because what matters is not that we have followed procedure but did these institution serve us and our interests and do what we wanted. If they did not, the fact that their employees followed procedure matters not a single bit. Your justifications don’t matter, your procedures don’t matter. Only the results matter. Only the behavior matters. Everything else must be judged by God, who alone apart from ourselves knows what is going on inside us anyway. You can either spend your life trying to get better or get bitter, and it’s pretty clear what the better option is for your own well-being and that of everyone else who you have to deal with. It simply remains to do it.

[1] I reminded her that by the time Europeans became deeply involved in Indian politics that India’s political situation was already deeply divided by civil war within the Mughal dynasty as well as hostility between various nawabs who were seeking to gain or maintain a high degree of independence from central authority in Delhi, and that while the British and others certainly exploited these differences, it was not as if the British were invading and corrupting a paradisical society, but rather were exploiting the existing brokenness of Indian society. Furthermore, India had an ancient tradition of cyclical rise and fall going back at least a couple thousand years or so. Similar traditions can be found in other cultures, especially China.

About nathanalbright

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3 Responses to Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better

  1. Para mejorar siempre se requiere estar consciente de cual es el error, no sirve de nada no mirar culpables, continuar o cambiar un proceso, de que sirdve si no se acmbia la raiz del problema, lo nuevo que se haga seguira teniendo errores y culpables y un círculo vicioso se seguira extendiendo.
    Evidentemente sirve de mucho saber cual es el error, porque se cometió, cual es el error de la persona, porque a partir de eso podemos instruir acciones correctivas. Todos los avances científicos de hoy están basados en esa premisa, porque el hombre natural carece de la capacidad de decidir siempre bien. Mientras este mundo esté como esté debemos tener polítiocas de mejora continua, pero eso solo se consigue haciendo un análisis crítico y objetivo de cuales son nuestros errores y las consecuencias en los procesos de la vida.
    Puedo citar un ejemplo. Un matrimonio se rompe y es fácil la salida rápida….cada uno busque una nueva pareja sin buscar culpables y la acción sanadora de una nueva vida les dará una nueva posibilidad de ser feliz….¿Es eso correcto? o acaso no es mejor verificar cuales han sido nuestros errores como persona que nos llevaron a ello, si reaccionamos demasiado tarde tal vez se perdera el matrímonio, pero si cada vez que hay una crisis analizamos la situación y reconociendo nuestros errores buscamos una salida tal vez podamos salvar y fortalecer nuestro matrimonio. Si el varón actuaba siempre frio y nunca llegaba con flores…bueno eso es una culpa y el varón trabajará sobre su Culpa, pero si tapamos el problema no buscando culpables y centrándonos en avanzar en forma ciega de nada sirve.
    Dios previendo esta situación diseñó su ley como un espejo en donde contemplarse y el hombe natural hace precisamente lo que dice el artículo, se mira en ese espejo, ve los errores, pero no ve culpables….se considera a si mismo, se va y luego se olvida de como era su rostro y obviamente cuales son sus errores. ¿Importa el procedimiento de mejora?…por supuesto!, porque si no lo aplicamos volvemos a caer y cometener los mismos errores de siempre, ¿Cual es el procedimiento?….mirarse en ese espejo, reconocer nuestros errores, arrepentirnos y buscar la ayuda de Dios.

    • Para mejorar siempre se requiere estar consciente de cual es el error, no sirve de nada no mirar culpables, continuar o cambiar un proceso, de que sirdve si no se acmbia la raiz del problema, lo nuevo que se haga seguira teniendo errores y culpables y un círculo vicioso se seguira extendiendo.

      Evidentemente sirve de mucho saber cual es el error, ¿Por qué se cometió?, ¿Cual es el error de la persona?, porque a partir de eso podemos instruir acciones correctivas.

      Todos los avances científicos de hoy están basados en esa premisa, porque el hombre natural carece de la capacidad de decidir siempre bien. Mientras este mundo esté como esté debemos tener polítiocas de mejora continua, pero eso solo se consigue haciendo un análisis crítico y objetivo de cuales son nuestros errores y las consecuencias en los procesos de la vida.

      Puedo citar un ejemplo. Un matrimonio se rompe y es fácil la salida rápida….cada uno busque una nueva pareja sin buscar culpables y la acción sanadora de una nueva vida les dará una nueva posibilidad de ser feliz….¿Es eso correcto? o acaso no es mejor verificar cuales han sido nuestros errores como persona que nos llevaron a ello, si reaccionamos demasiado tarde tal vez se perdera el matrímonio, pero si cada vez que hay una crisis analizamos la situación y reconociendo nuestros errores buscamos una salida tal vez podamos salvar y fortalecer nuestro matrimonio.
      Si el varón actuaba siempre frio y nunca llegaba con flores…bueno eso es una culpa y el varón trabajará sobre su Culpa, pero si tapamos el problema no buscando culpables y centrándonos en avanzar en forma ciega de nada sirve.

      Dios previendo esta situación diseñó su ley como un espejo en donde contemplarse y el hombe natural hace precisamente lo que dice el artículo, se mira en ese espejo, ve los errores, pero no ve culpables….se considera a si mismo, se va y luego se olvida de como era su rostro y obviamente cuales son sus errores. ¿Importa el procedimiento de mejora?…por supuesto!, porque si no lo aplicamos volvemos a caer y cometener los mismos errores de siempre, ¿Cual es el procedimiento?….mirarse en ese espejo, reconocer nuestros errores, arrepentirnos y buscar la ayuda de Dios.

      • This is really more about the other side of the picture. As human beings, we naturally seek to avoid the blame and responsibility for things ourselves, and spend our energy arguing over who is to blame for the various errors of life. Most of this discussion is unprofitable–it is a given that those who are to blame will likely fail to take the responsibility for it anyway and will argue about it fruitlessly and endlessly so as to escape the blame even if it belongs there.

        We may note that this is especially a serious problem when it comes to blame for historical events. Why is it that Europeans get all the blame for the Atlantic Slave Trade while comparatively little ink is spilled looking at the Arab slave trade? How come blame is given to outsiders when the Europeans largely exploited existing African systems of unfree labor rather than creating new ones and would have been unable to get a supply of slaves without the active cooperation and willingness of local actors, ranging from states to the service of locals. Is it profitable to sit around and try to apportion the percentage of blame that belongs to all of the parties involved (except those who were kidnapped and transported overseas, it should be noted)? Not really, what is more profitable to note are the effects of what happened and a remembrance of such dark events in the hope that they never happen again. We may know that the blame needs to be shared and that contemporary political trends tend to blame some people unjustly for what responsibility belongs to others, and then to leave it at that and move on to more worthwhile endeavors, namely the practical question of what if anything can be done about it at this point, a question which people in the present must deal with for ourselves.

        The search for blame is often a poisonous one because it is conducted by people who are themselves partial and often partially to blame in an effort to foist the blame on other people who, quite naturally, are unwilling to take the blame. And the fighting over who is to blame for such and such a problem often prevents us from doing anything worthwhile about the problem because solutions require buy-in and support from a great many parties, who may be alienated by the search for blame but who may be willing to work for a better solution for everyone involved so long as such issues are off the table. For the most part, therefore, this particular reply gives plenty more reasons why the search for blame is unprofitable but also why it is frequently undertaken, because our own personal desires to be vindicated and to see others receive “justice” for their supposed wrongs blinds us to the reality that most of what we want out of the brokenness of life is reconciliation, and that requires the active goodwill of everyone involved, most of whom are disinclined to take the blame.

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