Note: The Life as a Loser series is ending at No. 200, which will run on March 29, 2004. There are now five left.
Look at yourself right now. Seriously, drop what you're doing, take off your headphones, close that Excel document and walk to a mirror. It won't take too long. Take a good look. Do you like what you see?
Sure, you've got stuff you don't like about yourself. You weren't as nice to that one old lover as you should have been, it didn't end well, you could have been more honest or upfront or whatever you weren't doing. You don't call your family enough. Sometimes, rather than give your best effort at work, you just kind of zone out and hope that nobody notices you're not working today, at all. You're grouchy in the mornings. We all have those things. We all have our flaws.
But you think you mean well, don't you? I mean, you don't look in the mirror and hate everything you see in those eyes, do you? You have moments of kindness, you have a good heart, you're just trying to get along and go along. Somebody out there loves you, right? Somebody is rooting for you. Somebody sees the goodness, the generosity, the compassion. Somebody is on your side.
How does it feel when you look into that mirror? Do you have to look away? How long can you keep the gaze?
I hate arguing with people. I mean, I can't stand it. In the movies and on television, when people argue, they speak with one mind, the mind of whomever wrote the words in their mouths, and their arguments are opposite sides of the same coin. They are arguing to come to a common understanding. I believe this. Yes, but I believe this. I support my viewpoint with this piece of anecdotal evidence. I contrast that with this piece. Perhaps you are right. But perhaps I am right. I see your side, and I appreciate that you see mine. I am glad this discourse has occurred. I agree. Let us hug.
Real-life arguments are nothing like this. They are messy, chaotic, confused and senseless. They are a tennis match with no lines, boundaries or net. They follow no logic or storyline. They simply involve two people attempting to refute the last statement their opponent made. Punch, counterpunch, punch, with no hope for a knockout. There is no absolution, or mutual understanding. In real life, people are not characters invented by a writer who wants them each to be happy. In real life, each person has their own agenda, created by their own background, values and prejudices. One arguer cannot see another arguer's position because he is not that person; it's a game of frustration and one-upmanship. Not only can one person not understand what the other person is thinking, they also can't understand why they don't see the situation exactly the way they do. What's wrong with them?!
They get nasty, and they careen off-track repeatedly, to the point that, by the end, no one remembers what the argument was about in the first place. Not that it matters. By the end of a lengthy argument, the journey itself has become the battle. In the heat of argumental warfare, most of the damage is done during the argument, not before. Nothing is settled; everything just gets worse. Arguments always bring out the worst in us. And for what? For nothing.
I don't like myself when I'm arguing either. My voice becomes high-pitched, like a hometown radio broadcaster calling a grand slam that cost his team the game. I wear my exasperation on my sleeve; the more I talk, the less I want to. I become whiny and petulant. I can't help it. I hate arguing. Most people, when they're arguing, are attempting to get the other person to understand why they are right and the other person is wrong. I am just attempting to end the argument as quickly as possible, with minimal bloodletting. These two techniques do not mesh well. I either come across as the spineless half who just lets himself be walked over for the sake of brevity, or I just walk away, exasperated, which just makes things worse.
And there is no referee. Imagine a football game with no scoreboard, no overriding authority and no rules: That's what arguments are like. The only people who can bring about an end to the battle are the participants, which is a recipe for trouble, every time. By the end of the game, half the players are paralyzed, the score is still tied at zero and not a second has gone off the clock.
In Annie Hall's best moment, Woody Allen, after watching a guy behind him in a movie line prattle on to his companion about the merits of social commentator Marshall McLuhan, brings out Marshall McLuhan himself to set the record straight. After he does, Woody looks at the camera. "If only life were like this." Exactly.
But it isn't. And the battles will always go on.
Look back at that mirror. At some point in your life, someone has hated that face. Someone has found in it everything they find wrong with the world. They can't get inside your head, they can't see that you mean WELL! That you want everything to be OK!
And you can't get inside theirs. You can't understand why they hate that face. You can't understand why, sometimes, they can't understand that they're the one who is wrong.
Every time you take a look, that face appears older. This is how that happens.
And yet, and yet ... you probably can't see how that face can be loved, either. You are too close to it. But that's the other side, isn't it? Just like only you can understand how you are feeling, what you're trying to get across, who you're trying to be ... aren't you the only one who can never understand what it means to love that face too? Isn't that worth being hated sometimes? Don't they go together? Isn't it better than the face inspiring nothing but antipathy?
Of course it is. So look closer. Take a good look. Now smile. Good. It'll be all right. It has to be.
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