You can’t fix the entire world

How to stop letting every asshole ruin your day.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

A dog attacked me in the park last week, and the owner wanted to flirt. His charm fizzled when I didn’t laugh it off, or try to trade phone numbers. Instead, I suggested he buy a leash for his boxer. And so he told me to go fuck myself. Not the best meet cute.

Okay, so I didn’t suggest. It came off more as a demand. Silly me, demanding things. Like compliance with local laws.

Tanned and marginally muscled bros think they own the world. They don’t like it when someone points out their shortcomings.

Don’t like being bossed around, either. Especially when they’re used to doing whatever they want.

From now on, maybe I should pack leashes and hand them out to be people when I go for hikes. Charity for bros on the go.

And I could do the same thing for people who play music on their iPhones at top volume. Imagine me, toting a bag full of leashes and earbuds for strangers without manners. I’d be providing a public service.

On top of that, I could print leaflets explaining common courtesies. Like not talking in movie theaters. Washing your hands in the bathroom. Using your turn signal. Not taking up two parking spaces with one car.

Chick tracts for douche bags.

Sometimes my head gets wrapped up in these fantasy narratives. Like if I try hard enough, I’ll rid the world of inconsiderate pricks. But that’s impossible. The only thing you can really do is control your response. Otherwise, the assholes of the world will exhaust you.

Bad encounters can torch your day.

Even now, I’m reliving my encounter with the bro. Thinking up all the fancy one-liners I could’ve shouted back. Like right after he said fuck me, I could’ve sneered, “You wish,” or “Not today, pal.”

Those comebacks did come to mind. Almost immediately. But I didn’t say them. Because the bro’s exact words were “go fuck yourself.” Not “fuck you.” Not much material to work with.

The perfect comeback did hit me a few seconds later. If he’d only said, “Fuck you,” then I could’ve said, “Only in my darkest nightmares.”

Maybe I could’ve flipped it around. When he said, “Go fuck yourself,” I could’ve said, “So you can watch? Only in my worst nightmares, pal.” Feel free to use this comeback the next time someone verbally assaults you.

Not that the perfect comeback changes the outcome. Or makes you feel better. The quickest wit or dazzling quip will never make someone alter their behavior. Nobody has ever said, “Jeez, that chick burned me so bad. I’m going to have to stop and reflect on my actions as a human being. It took sarcasm to make me want to become a better man.”

I’m a results person. Despite all my jaded cynicism, I’m trying to live a meaningful life.

That means shrugging off my encounters with assholes. It’s not impossible that they’ll change. But I’m not the one who can start the process for them. Someone else has to get through.

It bothers me that some seemingly nice people don’t reflect on their behavior more. For starters, my own relatives. They toss recyclables in the trash every day. They don’t use their turn signals.

One of my relatives throws trash on the road. Even jokes about it. He thinks he’s doing the city a favor. “They’ll pay someone to clean it up,” he chuckles. “I’m creating jobs.”

Imagine how close I come to backhanding this relative every time I visit. But I can’t do that. All I can do is tell him the truth. That people like me and my spouse are the ones who pick up his trash. Like once a month, we go somewhere with grabbers and clean up litter. Who knows? There’s a chance I’ve actually cleaned up after my own uncle.

Make games, not war

Nothing makes me want to create more than these random encounters. They fire me up. Maybe some people feel the need to pay the punishment forward. Not me. Instead I’ll write, or sing. But only in the shower.

Back in college, I used to draw when I got angry. Before that, I locked myself up in a soundproof room and practiced my cello.

That might sound lame. But it beats the hell out of other methods.

How you deal with your emotions is a choice. It defines you.

Not everyone makes the healthiest decisions. That’s why we still see cycles of violence and abuse. It’s easy to try and ruin other people’s lives when you feel like a victim.

Someone slighted you, and you can’t slight them back. So you slight someone else. For no other reason than to feel powerful. People who get bullied go on to bully other people. And so on.

Creative types know better. Somehow they convert negative emotions into music, art, and poetry. It’s the best kind of therapy. And it’s free. Plus, I’m always reminded that art tends to do the most good.

Anyone can be creative. And creativity doesn’t always mean writing, singing, drawing, or playing an instrument. Athletes are creative. They take the same negative feelings and push them into performance. Gamers and designers are creative — even when they’re blowing shit up.

The quickest way to recover from a negative encounter is to make something. Play something. If someone cut you off in traffic, the best thing you can do is decline to flip them off. Save it, and then go play a game. Or write a poem. You’ll thank yourself.

You can’t change strangers

Nothing I could say in two minutes would convince a bro to buy a leash for his big ass, aggressive dog. He may never understand the irony of verbally abusing someone after letting his dog attack them.

Sometimes I consider confronting rude people a civic responsibility. One of my professors once said the only way you can alter someone’s behavior is to make them feel guilty or ashamed.

Doing that takes a lot of energy. Sure, I guess the decent people of the world could all band together and collectively shame assholes. But we tried, and now we have one of the biggest for a president.

You don’t exactly feel great after shaming someone, either. There’s no sense of victory or fulfillment. You can’t keep tabs on every asshole you meet. Check up on them. See if they’re still tailgating, littering, or talking during movies. Even if you could, imagine the wasted time.

Stand up for yourself. Don’t let assholes slide every time. But it’s a short high. Afterward, you’ve still got to somehow cleanse yourself. So go draw. Write. Sing. Dance. Play a game. Make a porno. You’ll feel better. Who knows? Maybe a lot better.