How to Avoid Being “That Guy”

Although I actually feel like this should go without saying, I’d like to tell you how you can avoid being “that guy.” You know the one. The one who fights to the death. Who makes you feel small and insignificant. The one who believes so wholeheartedly that he’s right, until one day he realizes he’s wrong. The one who, until he’s directly affected, has no ability to empathize with “the other.” He’s the one you see in the history books as the bad guy–unforgiving, lacking compassion, preaching his view to the world–only to rescind it later. He’s the one people will go to war with over fundamental human rights. Please, don’t be “that guy.”

This figurative “guy” we’re talking about is all the people, throughout history, on one side of an issue, insisting they’re right on religious grounds, or on political party lines, cultural norms, or simply because that’s how it’s always been. They’re the ones who refuse to open their minds, hear any other view, and who end up feeling they’ve lost something when the fight is over.

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who hide behind their religious texts, stating that their behavior is “God’s will,” and there’s no room for interpretation. They can mold any passage in their text to fit their worldview, and if there comes a time when the world shifts enough that they can’t possibly continue to hold that worldview, they find another several passages to support the new view.

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people in the political parties that so strongly oppose an issue, something that so many believe is a fundamental human right, until they are directly affected by the issue. The politicians who are strongly opposed to gay marriage for… religious reasons… until their son/daughter/significant other/parent/sibling comes out as gay. The people who are so strongly opposed to government funding for health care, food stamps, Medicare, or any other government assistance, until they or someone close to them is in need of that assistance.

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who fight so hard for what they think is right, that when the opposing side wins, they feel a loss in their very being. Those people who literally feel depressed and saddened when the other party wins the vote for president for another four years. Not only are they depressed, but they instantly begin to lay blame on anyone and everyone they can. The people who insist, regardless of which side they take, that their party WILL win, they HAVE to win, because if they don’t, the world will end. Then, when their party loses, and the world doesn’t end, and things keep moving in just about the same way it had been beforehand, they think up every excuse in the book to help themselves feel better about their horrible loss.

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who continue to blatantly discriminate based on tradition alone. Those that continue to say that’s how it’s always been done, so that’s how it should continue to be done, despite continued evidence to the contrary. These too are people who will cite their sources right and left, until the collective body eventually decides to make a change, and then they’ll immediately cite the same sources supporting the new view.

Don’t be “that guy.” In 40 years, when the world has changed and your view is recognized as the unpopular, or incorrect view, you’re going to look like an ass, plain and simple.

If you’re starting to feel like you might be “that guy,” here’s what you do instead. Allow yourself to step outside of whatever tradition (faith, political party, cultural norm) that typically influences your decision-making and your worldview. Research another worldview. Maybe even several different worldviews. Look inside yourself, and ask yourself how you’d feel if you were on the other side.

Ask yourself how you would feel if you were gay and the people around you didn’t accept you for who you are. Or, if being gay is too much of a stretch, pick anything else. How about your hair color? Your skin color? Your gender? Your age? Your birthplace? Any of these things will do. Now image how it would feel to know that people around you–friends, family, neighbors, co-workers–hated you because of one of these things. Hated you so much that you had to hide it from them, and lived in fear every. single. day. that one of those people would find out. How might you feel? This is called empathy. Start using it to help determine if you’re being influenced by something outside of yourself. Then decide if you’re comfortable with that influence or not.

Ask yourself how you would feel if you were called to serve God as a Catholic priest, but were not allowed to fulfill your calling from God because you’re a woman. Then, ask yourself if a woman’s calling from God is any different from a man’s. The only genuine, heartfelt, compassionate answer to this question is that it isn’t, and if a woman is called to serve God as a priest, by all means, she should be welcomed with open arms. If you are inclined to cite tradition here, read the previous paragraphs, step outside your damn tradition, and think as a human who is capable of feeling both empathy and compassion, not as a male-dominated hierarchy would view the same issue.

Ask yourself whether it really makes that big of a difference that your political hopeful won or not. Before you start spouting blame all over the place, ask yourself what your own political party is doing to help reach a compromise. In some cases, you also need to ask yourself whether or not your party is preventing the current president from actually accomplishing any of the goals he stated he wanted to strive toward. If the answer is yes, then at least be a big enough person to recognize that fact and place at least some of the blame on your own party. Once that’s out of the way, look inside yourself, separate yourself from your party, and ask yourself whether or not your “guy” (or woman) is truly any better. Remove yourself from your own shoes, put the shoes of the other side on for a minute, and really see how it might feel. Go even further, if you’d like, and actually walk in those shoes. Figure out how to do that–it’s probably not as horrible, or as difficult, as you might think.

In all of these cases, start really looking at how the “other guy” might feel, how you would feel if your circumstances suddenly changed. It is truly only then that we as humans, as Americans, can really start moving together, working together, and progressing together. Figure out where your compassion is, and then start living as though that’s your driver, first and foremost. Allow yourself to see all sides of every situation, and then make an informed decision. Allow your children this opportunity even more than yourself–work hard not to mold them to be just like you. Recognize your own prejudices, shortcomings, and failures, and then help your children to be even better than you.

Bottom line: stop thinking from a political perspective, a religious perspective, or a traditional perspective, and start thinking from a human perspective. We all have to live here together, and it tends to go better for everyone if we can start to have open, honest dialogues with each other. Two different “sides” can, and should, be able to have a good discussion in which they both leave, at the very least, feeling a little more informed about the other side’s perspective.

Note: I used the pronoun “he” in this post simply because it fit well with the “that guy” title of the article. Seriously, there’s no deeper meaning than that. Just keeping it simple.

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About Jamie Schwoerer