Can I become a better person inside?
December 16, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Can I become a better person inside? Not just in actions, but in thoughts?

I think that in actions, I'm a pretty decent person. Not amazingly virtuous, but good enough. I donate to charity, I listen to my friends and try to make their lives better even when the hole they're in is of their own making, I don't tell people I hate that I hate them or that they're stupid fucking morons who aren't safe to use pencils unattended.

But inside, I am a bastard. While I'm listening to my friends talk about their problems, 90% of the time I'm thinking it's their own damn fault and that they don't deserve help if they're going to do stupid things. I have fantasies about telling my coworkers exactly what I think of them. I mentally sneer at people who have dumb reading material on the subway or teenage boys who have their pants hanging down. And I don't actually give a shit about starving children in Africa.

The good things I do, I do because I know intellectually that I should do them. I have been convinced by logical arguments about victim-blaming. I can argue myself around to giving money to charities for various logical reasons. And I support my friends because when they're not being morons I enjoy spending time with them, and I want to keep them as friends. And I don't like being a jerk to people - it's no fun.

But having so much negativity inside makes me feel like I'm in essence a bad person. That I should care about starving children in Africa. I should want to make other people's lives better. I should value other people just because they're human beings. I should do good because I have good feelings, a good heart. Not because of practical or logical reasons.

Can I learn to be a better person in my heart? Can I learn to give people the benefit of the doubt, to love my fellow man? Are there mental tools or exercises I should be doing to stop the knee-jerk negative reactions and be more positive?

(For background info, I am a middle class female in my early 30s, living in the US, atheist all my life. I am unlikely to find Jesus at this juncture, but I'm open to spiritual practices that aren't too heavy on the woo.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Buddhism has a practice of loving kindness meditation, where you start by wishing peace and comfort and happiness to yourself, then your loved ones, then expand into the world.

You might like it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2010 [15 favorites]

It's action, not thoughts, that make a difference. If you do good things, you are a good person, even if you have bad thoughts.
posted by mono blanco at 11:12 AM on December 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

I hear you about the victim-blaming, but if you don't tell your friends the truth when things are their own fault, they will never be able to fix their mistakes and you will never really be able to empathize with them. Biting your tongue is just another path to separation/aloofness/feelings of superiority. Obviously you need to present it in a somewhat palatable way if you want to stay friends with them, and other answers here might help you with the empathy you seek to improve that. But a blanket policy of holding back with your friends is *not* loving or friendly, and only makes the problem worse for both of you.
posted by xueexueg at 11:17 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anger like this can be a sign of depression.
posted by yarly at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Lots of ways to look at it. In some sense, you're not responsible for your thoughts. They just are. It's the actions that count.

That being said, you can examine your thoughts and/or transform/differentiate/articulate your perspective more accurately:

Key issues: Do you really believe your thoughts? Are your thoughts (self talk) really what you think?
posted by zeek321 at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2010

I think it's awesome that you see this tension in your life and have a desire to change it. Two things have helped me (though the first one might not be much use to you):
  • Recognizing that every person around me is a creation of God, created in his own image. This especially helps me deal with people I might normally view as an "enemy" or adversary.
  • Being more readily aware of my own failings and weaknesses as a human being, that I might have more patience and humility toward those around me.

posted by BurntHombre at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

"While I'm listening to my friends talk about their problems, 90% of the time I'm thinking it's their own damn fault and that they don't deserve help if they're going to do stupid things."

Maybe not 90% of the time, but we ALL feel like this from time to time. We ALL have friends or relatives who are like this ALL THE DAMN TIME, and EVERYONE is like this some of the time. (And sometime you want to vent more about the problems you brought on yourself, because it's so much more galling when you know it's your fault.)

I teach college kids without a lot of experience of the world, who are often surprisingly intolerant of others' mistakes. This is in an ethics class. One thing I do with them, over and over, and try to help them stand in someone else's shoes and understand how someone ended up in that situation. Most people don't just up and screw their lives up; there's a long string of events that got them there, and often it does go back to substance abuse, or a shitty childhood, or untreated mental illness, or a phase of irresponsibility it takes years to recover from, or whatever. And lots of times people make choices many of us would make, and it just doesn't work out, and they get screwed. So try to sympathize and understand, not just judge, as long as these friends aren't people who make careers out of creating problems for themselves as an excuse to never cope with anything.

"I have fantasies about telling my coworkers exactly what I think of them. I mentally sneer at people who have dumb reading material on the subway or teenage boys who have their pants hanging down."

Yeah dude, we all do that. Well, I don't really pay attention to other people's reading material, but I have to frequently restrain myself from commenting on the "pants on the ground" crowd. ("What are they hurting?" I remind myself, "OTHER THAN MY EYEBALLS?")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:28 AM on December 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

I've tried to change those thought patterns in myself mainly because they make me feel guilty and judgey and because I realize they have much more to do with how I feel about myself then how I feel about strangers on the subway.

So I've tried to build compassion by remembering a time when I read a trashy book and really enjoyed it. Or I try to remember that my choice to wear pants that don't hang down is just My Choice in my own circumstances - they have Their Own reasons for wearing pants that do.

I find that if I spend my time looking for good or beauty or fun or quirky in other people, I'm Far more likely to enjoy myself and my own life.

That said, isolated moments of snarky judginess are natural and can be really fun - but listen to your own inner monologue and actively change jt when you want to.
posted by ldthomps at 11:33 AM on December 16, 2010

Anger like this can be a sign of depression.

And chronic pain.
And job stress.
And family troubles.
And and and and.

You say that you've intellectually convinced yourself to help others, but still think disparaging thoughts about them. I'd spend some time making sure that your own garden is in order.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:39 AM on December 16, 2010

I wouldn't suggest silencing your inner bastard since it seems to help you make sense of what's going on. The fact that you help people even when they may be the cause of their problems sounds like the sign of a mature and decent person. FWIW, developing your diplomacy skills might be a way to harness your inner bastard to produce better advice for people.
posted by Hylas at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Misanthropic female atheist in her late 20s, here! I think you are taking yourself way, way too seriously here, and you are being too harsh on yourself. The most important part of this whole thing was:

And I don't like being a jerk to people - it's no fun.

HOORAY! You aren't an asshole! And if you were literally IN AFRICA for a day and you had more food with you than you could eat in a week, would you really throw it in the trash before you gave it to a starving child? According to the statement above, probably not!

What I see is a person who is ACTIVELY trying to be a compassionate person, even when the feeling isn't there, which I think is pretty normal. You are supportive to your friends, you give to charity, you aren't a dickwad to every dumb ass on the street.

Some things that have always helped me stay grounded and head off my misanthropy:

-Try new things. Pick up a hobby that interests you and requires a learned skill/strength, but that you have never tried before. Rock climbing! Baking! Sculpture! Who knows! But nothing makes me feel more humbled than trying and failing at something.

-Rant! Find a fellow misanthrope and rant to them! GRAAAAAR! Maybe even talk to a therapist.

-Be honest, but don't be an asshole. If someone is ranting about their DRAMA to you, just say, "Hey, I'm a little tired (of listening to you talk about how much of a moron you are), do you think we could continue this conversation later?" Unless they're in immediate distress, this is usually OK. Some people might even realize that they're drama isn't really all that interesting to you.

-Stop hatin' on yourself! You can't give others the benefit of the doubt before you give it to yourself. You are fine. You are slightly angrier than normal. You are allowed to be angry; there are so many fucking dumb people out there! Honestly, once I realized that, I sort of stopped paying attention. I don't notice the folks reading Twilight or Ayn Rand on the bus any more! Because the people I know, including my "lovely", "wonderful", and "delightful" family was enough for my (and my SO's) crazy misanthropic mind to handle. And I remember that time in my life when I listened to way, way too much Third Eye Blind or skipped class so a friend could do drugs, and I realize that I'm pretty stupid sometimes, too.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

In brief, you think you're a bastard because you think badly of your friends, but you also are thinking badly of yourself. This isn't just a coincidence. If you can accept your own nastiness, you'll start being tolerant of your friends as well. To do that, you need to become more acquainted with why you're so angry (and accept that as well.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:51 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your thoughts are making you unhappy, yes, you can change them.

If you think your thoughts should be making you unhappy, you can change that.

Up to you which you want to do. I've mellowed a lot through the years myself (this may seem hard for folks here to believe, but I used to be a lot more sour, judgmental, and angry than the Sidhedevil of today) and it has made me a happier person.

I know other people who have become more ego-syntonic with their anger toward others, and I think that's made them happier people.

Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are has been a great resource for me; I am not a Buddhist, and as such really appreciated how she presents wisdom she has found in Buddhism in ways that are accessible to people of other, and no, faith or spiritual traditions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a really mean-spirited and vindictive inner bitch, but I've toned her down in the past few years by doing a few different things:

1) Taking care of my own business. If I am not living a life that makes me feel good about myself (note: this is not the same thing as not feeling bad about myself), the inner bitch will rise up.

2) Playing devil's advocate with the inner bitch. Yes, that girl on the bus IS reading a romance novel, and her backpack DOES have the Twilight logo. No, neither of those things are to my taste. But she is still a person with her own thoughts and feelings, she still deserves respect and decent treatment, and she probably would disdain various quirks of mine, too. I find that the more I remind myself of this, the more I actually believe it.

3) Making a point of occasionally doing some volunteer work that puts me in a position where I have to routinely come into contact with -- and talk with -- people who are really, really different from me. People whose taste in entertainment and politics are opposed to mine, people who not only found Jesus but keep trying to get me to look for him too, people who occasionally make me cringe with things that come out of their mouths... Before I spent time around people who thought very differently from me, I was a lot harsher on them. But I've lately come to realize that even people who I would have secretly made fun of and mentally dismissed as complete write-offs can actually be surprisingly interesting and pleasant to talk to. Even if they listen to Glenn Beck. (I just don't talk about politics with them.)
posted by kataclysm at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

It can help, if you really feel you need to change these thoughts, to not indulge yourself in them. Just stop yourself when you catch yourself starting to think, "She brings this on herself!" and encourage yourself to think, "She's really hurting right now," or something else more compassionate. I have found that over time the negative thoughts have diminished by doing this (and, for me, not encouraging them by speaking them aloud, even to my partner, has also helped).
posted by not that girl at 12:03 PM on December 16, 2010

I wonder about this too a lot of the time. I think it's a slow process to move where you are inside to a better place and feel better. I think it's just about feeling better; these sorts of feelings are not good and they can actually work in a vicious circle: you feel bad for not feeling compassionate toward others or accepting them and then you start to blame them for something that's going on inside at a very private level and so you may end up resenting them/hating them even more. It's hard to do the work to "see" them a different way. I've found in my experience that it is work, it takes work to do this. But it gets easier.

Due to economic hardship I had to move from a nice young college grad neighborhood in L.A. to an area near South Central L.A. and the first six months there were miserable. I remember when my car broke down I had to take the bus for a month and I saw homeless men who talked to themselves, young men who sat next to women and whispered things to them, and people having conversations with hateful opinions that seemed to greatly supersede their education/experience.

I began to feel a certain way toward them and it was not positive. I began to carry these feelings and perceptions to other environments (let's call them "upscale" environments) and I began to see how easy it is, once you've started to have negative feelings toward people around you, to carry these feelings everywhere and apply them to everyone else. I even experienced this with my family. It's like a filter that becomes you and gets more layers of the same material after a certain point. The work is to try to overcome this and see the stuff in a different light. It is a cliche but it's certainly what's worked for me.

Meditation was one of the things that helped me do this work. Meditation is about becoming conscious of what's going on inside you, achieving a greater or wider amount of consciousness. It helped me gradually "release", if you will, my filter of resentment and impatience toward others and toward the world.
I'm afraid I'm not making myself very clear. I hope that helps in some way.


You may have already seen this: This Is Water, a speech by David Foster Wallace

If you want to read more about meditation and consciousness in an introductory way check out Catching The Big Fish, by filmmaker David Lynch

And finally, a quote from a 1968 speech by environmentalist Baba Dioum:

"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."
posted by fantodstic at 12:07 PM on December 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

The answer to the question posed in the title is Yes. You CAN change the thoughts and emotions that you experience in your head. Not 100%, not quickly, not easily. But you can train them in the direction that you want them to go. You're already doing it, just by noticing them, and questioning them. It's a lot like making a new road in difficult terrain. It's hard to move out of the old ruts, but, if you keep working at it, someday you'll have a new road.

One mental exercise that helps me is this quote (from Greek Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria):

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Sounds like you're doing well with "being kind," but you're looking for deeper understanding of the fact that everyone out there is fighting their own great battle, and is really deserving of compassion and support. Those kids have reasons for wearing their pants like that--it doesn't mean they're stupid or evil. It's possible to train yourself to see these differences as more intriguing than irritating.

And also, this does sound like it could be the language of depression talking.
posted by Corvid at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

Figure out what you do that makes other people think uncharitable things about you. Bring it to mind when you get annoyed with others to generate empathy. "Well, those damn kids won't wear their pants right, but hey, I undertip / leave dirty mugs in the office kitchen / complain about work." Being annoying or having blind spots is part of being a person.

Also nthing the depression and lovingkindness meditation suggestions. Self care is good stuff.
posted by momus_window at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2010

To some degree I think you can, and that it's in your own best interest to do so.

Why bother to judge anyone? What does it give you - an outlet for some displaced anger, or compensating for a feeling that you are lacking somehow, it keeps you from dealing with some legitimate issue that you really should be dealing with, it's simply a reinforced habit, etc?

That's a serious question, and one that you probably can't answer right off the bat and maybe don't need to - it's probably more valuable just to have the concept in mind. Deliriously happy and confident people usually don't mentally sneer at the lady reading an US Weekly article about Teen Mom.

(I get thinking that your friends may have done stupid things/gotten themselves into their own messes - arguably, judge away on that if it's appropriate.)

You don't have to value everyone just because they are human, or want to help everyone. But maybe when you catch yourself judging someone or having thoughts you don't want to have, you can take a second and think about the other person's story, particularly what you don't know about the other person and their circumstances. I think that might interrupt the knee jerk reaction eventually.

You aren't inherently better than anyone - by a set of criteria that you have defined, sure you are. But not inherently. I prefer ice cream, but whatever, frozen yogurt is fine if that's what you like, and if you'd rather have lima beans then okay, whatever to that too - different choices that are not inherently better or worse. That baggy jeans'ed kid has friends that think you are totally messed up and ridiculously not cool - you are unsuccessful and not especially smart by their standards.

Previewing, I think I am describing some bastardized mashup of cognitive behavioral therapy plus some Buddhist thoughts. I don't know. I'm in a really tolerant and accepting phase, I certainly have times where I do the same thing you're describing. I don't think it's uncommon at all, not talked about maybe.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with a little misanthropy and cynicism. I think they are healthy in small doses... But I agree with @Stagger Lee... Your disposition and general state remind me a bit of the fire/pitta type in ayurvedic medicine, aka the anger type in Buddhist thought, aka agitated depression in western/biomedical thought. To see what the heck I'm talking about, I'd recommend reading:

The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom by Henry Emmons and Rachel Kranz.

It changed my life, as well as those of many other people close to me.
posted by Betty's Table at 12:19 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Other folks have mentioned this, but I think it's really important to start first by accepting these thoughts, acknowledging that they are part of you, and becoming cool with them. That doesn't mean you have to agree with them or start acting on them, but I think it's more important for you to not beat yourself up about them. The irony here is that you're not accepting of your own weakness—your judgmental, intolerant side—and I can only imagine that this contributes to your critical view of others. Try first accepting your own humanity, acknowledging that you are only human and that it's okay to feel this way. As two lights above the sea says, "you can't give others the benefit of the doubt before you give it to yourself" (great line, btw). If you accept yourself, you'll find yourself naturally more accepting of others, I suspect. This is far easier than trying to simply beat these thoughts down into fact, that may end up just being frustrating and impossible.
posted by dubitable at 12:21 PM on December 16, 2010

Everyone does these things in their head, to varying degree. You aren't an asshole.

It's great, however, that you want to change this about yourself. I agree that you can severely limit the nasty thoughts in your head, to change from a negative-thinking person to a positive-thinking person. I don't think you can entirely eliminate the negative thoughts 100%, but you can certainly change things drastically. I have had success with changing my thought patterns, it can be done.

In my experience, changing your thought life requires not just stopping the thoughts you want to eliminate, but actively encouraging thoughts of an opposite nature. So if you want to stop being so negative about others in your head, then you need to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. For your co-worker that acts like an ass, think about paying him a compliment rather than an insult. For the kid who's dressed like an idiot, find some aspect of his demeanor that you can mentally praise. If you can't see anything praiseworthy, make something up. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works.

You got this way, you created this habit, by doing the same thing over an extended period of time - and that is how you must change the habit. Make yourself do the opposite for a while. You are essentially re-training yourself, and it will likely be hard at first, but it will get easier.
posted by hootenatty at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2010

Oh hey, it's a younger, female version of me!

I've made peace with the fact that I'm just irritable and judgmental on the inside (hell, I'm judging you right now for needing to ask this question, hee) and once I did that and stopped worrying about OMG WHAT AM I THINKING so much, while still trying to do good things, I became more peaceful and kinder on the inside. Yes, yes, people and friends can be idiotic, children, irritating and a host of other things, but they're still human, you know? They still have deserve to have a bit of kindness and compassion, we all do.
posted by nomadicink at 12:34 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound really really angry, and I would think your first step would be to figure out why. To do this, you could take a look at MoodGYM. Among other things, they have a bunch of exercises that help you hear your internal dialogue more clearly, which can be a bit startling but in a useful way.
posted by colfax at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2010

I think the answer I gave in a related question is reasonably relevant. I find that the hardness and lack of compassion I express towards others is generally rooted in feelings that are directed towards myself. Once you were a child who deserved compassion and maybe did not get it: these facts, like the suffering of children all over the world, reasonably make us sad and we avoid that sadness. We turn it off for our feelings about ourselves because they are the closest to us and most hurtful, and eventually find they are no longer available for anyone. Only the hard heart remains available. A good place to start is to work on feeling real compassion for yourself because you deserve it.
posted by nanojath at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

A concept that might shed some light: "moral luck."

If you're feeling guilty for the way you think, don't.

I think that if you know that it isn't you that decides what you think, then you'll have less trouble letting those thoughts come and go as they please.

This obviously bothers you enough that you would make a post on it. I humbly suggest that it isn't the negative thoughts that are the real problem. Thoughts happen. The problem is that they're bothering you.

Several people have recommended Buddhist approaches to this. I recommend looking into that. Try sitting meditation!
posted by edguardo at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2010

When I'm not getting what I need emotionally (support from friends, kudos at work, whatever), I feel the way you're feeling now. When I'm getting what I need, I feel the way you'd like to feel. You need to be secure to feel empathy. Figure out how you can get your needs met and feel secure. Therapy worked for me--maybe it's worth a try for you, too.

Oh--also--I'm guessing (from my own experience) that keeping the inner bitch silenced around everyone you care about is frustrating and exhausting, and it's probably making you feel very, very alone. Again, therapy might help the bitch to tone it down enough that she can actually be allowed out every now and again as your confident, assertive voice.
posted by TEA at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't have a inner jerk so much as an inner critic. An inner critic is a great thing to have. Ties in with skepticism and logical thought. You're questioning the choices of others, questioning the sob stories of your friends. This is a good skill.

However, like all skills, it is better to be able to turn it on and off. If you become concious of it on a meta-level, you can use it to even greater power because you'll decide when to use it, and use it without guilt and with more focus. Your inner critic is taking bad jobs, in other words. She's just phoning it in because she's getting paid an hourly wage. She's not even trying. So, hire her back for important projects and focus on her results, not her hourly input.

I have had success training myself to forcibly stop thinking of things. Of course, it's impossible to literally stop thinking for long, so this means I have to focus on something positive. The way I look at it, my mental energy is getting sapped every time I notice something I don't like that I can't do anything about. I could be solving other problems that are more immediate or relevant to me, or better yet, actually DOING things.

Every time you notice this going on, just tell your inner critic to go home to take a sick day and come back when it's crunch time for deciding what school to apply to, listening to politicians, or picking drapes.
posted by Nixy at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

- You're probably not hiding what you are really thinking all that well. Our facial expressions and body language tend to give us away to others. I can't think of better motivation to help yourself get this under control!

- Positive input helps. Stay away from snarky TV shows, blogs, and music for a while, just until you re-calibrate your inner dialogue. The Snark is rife right now in popular culture and that's sure to be influencing you, whether you realize it or not.

- Mindfulness about what you are thinking when you are thinking it. I know some people wear a rubber band on their wrist and snap it to "catch" certain thoughts. I don't know if that works for everyone, but similar techniques abound if you do some research. I work on actively re-phrasing mean thoughts about others when they come up. It's a sign of your growing maturity that you are seeking to tackle this very personal issue. Find a technique or two and stick with it, I know from experience it takes time.

I believe there is a great and powerful distinction between blindly believing the best about the other guy vs. acknowledging the truth of people's choices and actions in this lifetime.

If you accept that everyone has a divine soul that is Good (and why not, since that is a common premise in most spiritual practices) then I believe it is also Good to acknowledge the Truth of what they've chosen to be in this life and acting accordingly.

It's OK to set up some boundaries. It's OK to be decent to someone who has wronged you, but avoid being overly generous with them. It's OK to acknowledge to yourself when someone is lying to you or being misleading - you don't have to give the "benefit of the doubt" to everyone in every situation in order to be good or kind. Sometimes the kindest thing is to graciously withdraw your support when someone is obviously going down the wrong road because to do otherwise will make you complicit in their mistaken choice of action. Support anything that creates a win-win for everyone involved. Withdraw your support from anything or anyone that creates a win-lose.

Oh, yeah! Everything that I just wrote above about how to view others? Well, that all goes double when you are thinking about yourself.
posted by jbenben at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

The David Foster Wallace essay that fantodstic linked to upthread is really excellent, and if you're hesitant to listen to an audio file here's a transcript instead:

This is Water
posted by iminurmefi at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2010

As others have said, my thoughts are more compassionate when I'm happy with my own life. This means when I'm sleeping right, eating right, doing exercise, have a decent work/life balance, and am talking to people who are different from myself.

For instance, on the street I might think the kid with the pants hanging down is a tool, but if I talk to him, that goes away- he just becomes a person. Even if he's has every characteristic of a bad stereotype, I rarely can still have contempt for him. At worst I'll feel bad for him that he thinks that's what life has to be like, and at best I'll end up with a (rather patronizing, sometimes) fondness for him, and start remembering the stupid fashion things I've done, and still do.

Someone once said that "you're not responsible for your first thought." The next one, though, is on you.

It helps that as I've gotten older I've just been plain old wrong about so many things and so many people, that judging them is something I know is a self-indulgent bad habit, albeit one that I still do, especially around people in my life who seem stuck in useless, bad patterns.

In the end, though, if I'm really keeping my spiritual, physical, and mental house in order, which is not nearly as often as I'd like, judging people doesn't even come up; I just don't have the time or energy for it.

A "short-cut" to getting there, though, are the "loving-kindness" meditations someone else linked to. It felt too fake at first but since they worked for me so well, I've kept them around, and use them whenever I start feeling my brain heading towards judgementalism. My life is so much more fun when I can get into a compassionate headspace.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:38 PM on December 16, 2010

Faking external niceness is the first step in becoming a better person, not the last step. Trying to continue to fake niceness for long enough will lead to explosions.

So quit being so judgmental. Don't take things personally- the other person might be a selfish bore, but they aren't doing that TO you. They really don't care what you thing. Because, you know, they are selfish bores.
posted by gjc at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I gradually became this way over a long period -- going through the motions of being happy/nice on the outside, but increasingly hateful and pessimistic on the inside.

Then the rest of the symptoms of depression started kicking in until I couldn't ignore them anymore. In retrospect, I think the inner negativity was probably the first symptom that my brain chemistry was starting to go a little wonky.

I have much happier thoughts now that I take Celexa and Wellbutrin.

So if this is new and not something you've had your whole life, you may want to look up some of the other symptoms of depression and see if they sound familiar. It could just be your brain chemistry is steering you towards focusing on the negative.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't feel bad about this. Thinking "critical" about things (including friends) is normal.

"Critical" is close observation and thought. A useful skill.
posted by ovvl at 6:35 PM on December 16, 2010

I definitely used to be this way. Making fun of other people was a past time. I hated/disliked most people that I met. Coincidentally, I was also very insecure and had low self-esteem. Do you think you hold other people to the same standards you hold to yourself? (Read: high, practically impossible to fulfill standards) If you are lacking in compassion for other people, I wonder how much you have leftover for yourself.

It was helpful for me to work from the inside out. Once I started accepting my flaws, I became more accepting of others.

If you don't think you have a problem with your self-worth, I still think trying to work on compassion would be helpful. It takes energy to hate and be angry. It's so much easier to just not care about what other people are doing/wearing/reading etc...
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 7:15 PM on December 16, 2010

atheist all my life. I am unlikely to find Jesus at this juncture, but I'm open to spiritual practices that aren't too heavy on the woo.

In that case, I suggest looking into Buddhism, but you have to pick the right kind. Stay away from Tibetan Buddhism - that's going to be too heavy on reincarnation-type stuff for your tastes. What you want is Zen Buddhism, specifically Soto Zen (there's another kind, called Rinzai, but that also is going to be a little mystical for your tastes). For a good no bullshit introduction, I suggest Brad Warner's Sit Down and Shut Up.

Here's why I think this might be useful for you - the whole point of this kind of Buddhism is dealing with the world as it is right now. The idea is that we suffer because we wish we lived in a different world, where things were other than they are. This has been misunderstood as "not wanting anything," but that's not really what it's about. So, for example, when I'm driving around NYC looking for a parking space, I want to find one, obviously, and I can't just leave my car in the middle of the street. But the unpleasant experience is much worse if I make myself crazy thinking about how infuriating it is that people parked in such a way that there's space between the cars, but not enough, or fantasizing about a new kind of fire hydrant that I would be able to park in front of and goddammit why are there so many fire hydrants anyway how many fires are there really?!? That's me trying to live in a different world, where people parked differently, and the laws are different, and I just get a space right away. But I can't live in that world, it doesn't exist, so all I'm doing is comparing the real world to that one I made up and being upset at the disparity.

It seems to me that a lot of your anger comes from this same impulse - you're trying to live in a world where people read smart things all the time, and dress neatly, and where your friends make good decisions. Accepting that such a world simply doesn't exist is easier said than done, but if you can get there, you might find that you aren't so angry anymore.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:30 AM on December 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

You might try volunteering where you interact with the people you are helping. You don't *care* about children in Africa because it's suffering in the abstract. My guess is that if you were to say interact with needy kids or families in person you would end up caring very much, but barring that I've got a saying, "you don't have to feel good to do good" and sometimes I repeat that as I'm feeling grumpy and headed out the door to volunteer.
posted by bananafish at 9:47 AM on December 17, 2010

After reading all the comments; my findings are people has to understand the origin of people's differences; they are what they are, what they wear, how they view or feel things, and etc is very complex.
I have an iphone, to some it is 90% just phone dial up, to some it is 95% games console, to some it is a media player, and so on..... (some even buy an iphone he can't afford coz that other guy is using one)
See, a gadget (no emotions) impact our views differently on the functionality.

Imagine another human (emotion, feeling, upbringing, society ecposure, and experiences) -
that is the beauty of life. the challenge to understand them, accepting them, and overcome the bad ones.

That's why Communism is a failed bloc, if everyone is the same, where's the fun? I don't want a mole like MAO has, i don't want Castro's beard, and their unfashionably common fashion. BUT... BUT ... they are human, they thought what they did was cool and right.
But we, humans, spoke and acted through our Free spirited feelings (just harder when there is a gun pointing at our loved ones), we overcome them.

posted by Ilovebeer at 10:55 PM on December 19, 2010

It's probably b/c you are trying to see everything that goes around in black/white. There's always a grey scale which you need to start looking at. I think you are just being normal with a thinking head and would say you are one of those privileged few in billions around the world. Try and be more receptive to more patient. At the same time make yourself ready to get out of the situations if they are hurting you too much. You need to be a bit more aware of the people around you by putting yourself in their shoes with the circumstances they came from, the beliefs they have, their upbringing etc and this will definitely help you develop this tolerance.

Coming to the children in Africa, you may not have an idea on what's going on around the world or you are simply someone who just don't care too much for the rest. It's up to you on how you want to be but also be a bit more responsible and try to look around with some empathy. We all need to build that ourselves. Maybe, go try for some community service a couple of hours a week where you will find the worst of things happening. Your perspective will change.

You seem to have a good attitude which needs a bit of tuning and you are already on your way to it as you yourself identified your issue.

Good Luck!
posted by shmikkil at 8:36 AM on March 5, 2011

If it is at all possible, I would try leaving the country for a little bit. Not just that, go somewhere where you are completely and utterly out of your element; where you not only look completely different, but the actions you consider to be "normal" are actually not tolerated.

How this will help. Well, it will teach you the value of tolerance and patience. Because believe me, you're going to ask for a lot of it from a lot of people. You're going to have to put your judgments and preconception on hold because, you're not allowed to judge.

It seems to me that you might need to think about what your perception of "culture" really is. It isn't just a woman in a sari making chai over a fire in Bangladesh, it's also the girl with the Twilight book and way too many multicolored bracelets on her arm. It's also the guy with really low jeans and the woman with the cross. Differences in culture exist all around you (bless the United States), you just have to be patient enough to notice (and appreciate) the diversity.
posted by northxnorthwest at 9:18 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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