Years ago, I was on a date with a fetching young thing and our outing was going smoothly. Or so I thought. Somewhere around the entrees, she grew quiet and when I inquired as to why, her response was “It’s kind of hard to talk to you. You’re a negative person.” She went on, pointing out a litany of things I’d mentioned I hated, or had called dumb. At the time it was easy to dismiss her; to chalk her assessment up to simply not sharing similar core values and beliefs. However, time - and the additional insight that comes with it - has proven her correct.
I’ve never made excuses for the fact that I’m opinionated, judgmental and stubborn. I’m the kind of guy who’s quick to reach a conclusion, one who believes that a gut instinct or reaction is there for a reason: to be followed. And I’m extremely vocal about my positions, thoughts and beliefs. Though when I step back and analyze everything, it’s shocking. If I were to put my daily thoughts into a tag cloud, “hate,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “lame,” and “boring” would each be in 72-point font. It’s apparent that I am a negative person.
And so over the course of any given month, heaps of new things to dislike or hate find their way onto my endless list, running the mental tally higher and higher. I hate things on the granular level (annual physicals, salads, any sort of vegetable or fruit, Kim Kardashian, the Romney/Ryan ticket, and any singing-based-reality-tv-competition) and I hate things on a conceptual level (Republicans, the healthcare system, hippies, free love, Kim Kardashian’s popularity/our nation’s obsession with celebrity, and apathy towards obesity). I hate a lot of things. In fact, I start more sentences with “I hate” than “I love.” Far more.
I hate that.
Hate, when expressed in a Venn diagram, overlaps significantly with fear and ignorance. That’s because they fuel each other. I had a tasting menu at a Michelin-rated restaurant here once. I didn’t understand a single thing that was coming on the plates (I swear the waiter actually said ‘this has been finished with a snail jus reduction’) and, accordingly, was too unnerved to try any of it. I left the meal proclaiming the place horrible and telling my dinner guests I hated the experience. I went to directly to McDonalds after that meal, and a few weeks later, that restaurant was named home of the best cuisine in NYC.
So when my ignorance emerges – applied to any scenario or setting – it always calls its BFFs Hate and Fear to come join the party. Together, they all get a little wild and soon I’m eschewing all positivity and just spewing venom. I wonder how much of this resulted from nature versus nurture. I was raised with optimistic parents who always seemed to have a glass half-full approach to life. I’d peg it all to living in NYC for nearly 15 years; that my environment cultivated the cynical, jaded sumabitch that types before you today.
But while living here does slightly heighten the proclivity to assume the worst in everyone and everything, it’s not Gotham’s fault. It started much younger. I remember being 14 and our soccer team had been invited to go play in Europe for a few weeks one summer. The housing situation – we would be staying with random players from European teams in their homes – made me uneasy, so I proclaimed the trip, and most of Europe, lame and loudly scoffed that I wouldn’t be going. My teammates who went had “the trip of a lifetime.”
This negativity continues to negatively affect my life in several ways. (Alert CNN of this breaking news.) One, it makes it impossible for people to want to open up to me. It’s hard to want to be excited about something when the other person is calling what you like dumb. Who’d want to date/be friends with someone like that?
Secondly, it makes me rather depressed, because a large portion of that hatred is directed back at myself. I hate working out, but I hate that I haven’t gotten back into shape following an injury. I hate feeling out of my element, out of my comfort zone. I hate that I don’t finish many passion projects that I start. I hate expending an effort for anything I feel won’t have a fantastic pay off. I’ve found a kindred spirit in Melville’s Bartleby, famous for his repetitive “I would prefer not to,” because I’d love to say that as often as possible.
Some of the hatred is directed at the universe, at things beyond anyone’s control. I hate that I don’t know, with absolute certainty, that I’ll end up happy one day, beside a woman I love.
Ultimately, my problem is my ego. It’s sizeable. My ego is likely a large reason that I’m successful at work and with women. However, my ego doesn’t know how to process self-errors. And when you rush to judgment or conclusions, you’re going to make a considerable number of errors. For a long time, consolation was derived from the fact that far greater people, with far greater egos, had done spectacularly well for themselves, either in spite of – or because of – their love of self.
John Lennon remarked, “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” I get it. To some extent, I think an enlarged ego is a plus, not a minus. What worries me is that this is all that I’m too enslaved to my own ego to enjoy anything I’ve summarily written off. Over the years, as naïve youth fades in the rearview mirror, I’ve grown to recognize the importance of one key concept: be more positive to be happy. It sounds simple when written. Six little words. Yet implementing them seems more complex than brokering peace in the Middle East.
So what’s the solution to all of this? I’m going to do all the things I hate for a year. I’ll make a substantial list, with everything from Online Dating to Traveling Through a Foreign Country Alone included. I’ll start with the small stuff and build my way up to the bigger things. I’ll keep an open mind during the process. I’m sure along the way, I’ll find new things I love, but the goal isn’t to fawn over everything. It’s to not hate everything, particularly that which I know nothing about. And it’s about the journey, because the path I’m currently on is leading me nowhere. Since my greatest shortcoming has always been my inability to fully acknowledge or address any of my flaws, this’ll be a step forward, regardless of how it turns out.
I found this Rilke quote: “Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” Ordinarily I shrug off passages such as this, but I think I’ll make it my mantra and see where it takes me.