You guys may notice that I’ve written extensively on the topic of human nature, and I promise that this post will be no different, but I will touch on a topic that I’ve honestly not thought I’d touch on for another few years.
When I was getting married, years ago, two of my friends came to me and both told me: don’t go through with it. It will end badly. I told them that I’d do it anyway. And it was true: I was in a set of circumstances that made it next to impossible to back out of this marriage. I was desperate, destitute, and yes, I did believe I was in love with the guy. It was a perfect storm of a bad decision. One of my friends, when I told her I was leaving, ripped me apart on a number of points. I am not sure if I kept the e-mail; I probably did. To say that it was scathing would’ve been a nice statement.
Here’s the thing, though: on more than a few points, she was right. And it took me a long time to see that not only was she right, but that it took me quite a long time to forgive her for being right. What I didn’t know was that I’d be on the other side of the same situation.
In about 2009, I found myself telling one of my current friends to get the hell out of her relationship of the time, because what she told me about the ‘arguments’ that she and her then-boyfriend were having, it was a textbook start-up of an abuse cycle. It was bound to escalate and end badly. She fought me tooth and nail, insisting I was wrong and had no idea what I was talking about. We didn’t speak for about a year, and one of the first things that she said to me was, “You were right.”
While I will never deny that it was a little bit satisfying to know that I was right, this was not something I wanted to be right about. I take no pleasure in seeing my friends suffer, and I definitely don’t hold my “I told you so” as more important than being there for my friends, regardless of whether or not they prove me right.
The story my friend told me was hair-raising. I can’t recall the details, nor do I want to, but it’s the kind of thing I was hoping I’d never hear.
I had to hear a story of abuse from one of my male friends as well, and it got to the point where he literally took whatever he could, and ran for it. It was a harrowing thing, and hearing his story was like hearing the story of my own leaving my marriage, in reverse. Likewise, I warned him about it before.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up is in regards to – bear with me here – a Harry Potter quote: “It is much easier to forgive someone for being wrong than it is for being right.”
It’s an interesting concept, and one I’ve found to be true.
More than once, I’ve said to my friends that I would pay a pretty penny to be wrong about a situation, especially if it concerns someone’s happiness. Unfortunately, I have a good instinct: my gut never lies, and I have learned to listen to it in a series of very painful lessons. When people ask me about a situation, the first thing I do is ask them if they’re absolutely, 100% sure that they want to know what I have to say. Because I can promise that 90% of the time, it will not be what they want to hear.
But after all is said and done and I am proved right, believe me when I say that it’s not a nice feeling to know.
What, being right isn’t what it’s cracked up to be?
Never said it was.
Because, friends mine, you don’t know just what you’d have to watch to see it unfold to the end result that you predicted. And watching is sometimes a lot more painful than seeing the end result.
It’s a lot easier to forgive someone for being wrong because when they are wrong, it is easy for the person in the right to explain to them where their judgment went in error. It’s easy for them to make the clarification, and a lot easier for the other person to accept that they are by no means infallible. It’s easier to also accept being wrong. Being wrong is a reminder that sometimes, people surprise you. Sometimes, people can surprise you, or conversely, disappoint you. When you’re wrong – either in making the assessment or if someone else’s assessment proves you wrong – it’s a reminder to keep your perspective and know that you’re far from infallible, and that your perception can still stand to be fine-tuned.
But when someone proves you right – especially when you don’t want to be right – you’re looking at a fallout from that. The friends who called me out in regards to my marriage – it took me years to forgive them for having been right, and almost ended up costing the friendship. I’ve had people brush me off, only to prove me right later in the same year and then not at all speak to me. I’ve called out my very first boss for his behavior and the culture he created in his practice, and got proved right later down the line – but it’s safe to say I would never work that job again if I needed to.
No matter how you slice it, people do not like someone else being right. It’s an insult to their pride. It’s an insult to them and their own judgment. It tells them that they have no idea of the situation that they’re walking into.
Truth be told, very little of that is true. At no point is someone else being right a slight on the person asking. The only thing I will hold to is the last. Because sometimes, they do not know what they’re getting into. Sometimes, that business deal really is too good to be true. Sometimes, the person they’re dating really is putting on a front, and until they’re actually in the situation, they will have no way of knowing that.
But, for the assessor, don’t ever take the ‘I know better’ side. Even if you do know better, that’s not the perspective that works.
When I spoke to my friend again, years after that relationship petered out, I asked her, “How long did it take you to forgive me for having called it?”
“About a year,” she told me.
Truth is, I think we didn’t speak for the entirety of that year, and more, and this is someone I’ve known since college. But once we broke the ice on that topic, one of the first things she asked me was, “How did you know?”
Well, on one hand, the abuse cycle is extremely predictable. But there was something else: when I actually looked at the guy and saw that his eyes were, for lack of better words…dead. It was like talking to a machine. I couldn’t tell the way he felt, what he thought, etc., not like with most other people. He said all the right words, did all the right things, but all I could think of was, “None of this shit is real.” Just something in my gut sent up an alert the caliber of an air-raid siren, and I could not ignore it. No matter how much I wanted my friend to be happy, I knew very firmly this guy was only putting on a front. The only thing I didn’t know was what he was hiding with that front, and after my friend told me the story, I certainly didn’t ever want to know.
People’s behavior is extremely predictable. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends on your experience, but in my general experience, as well as those of anyone else who spends time around people for a living, if you know a person, and know their personality, you can easily forecast their behavior in certain situations. And if the first impression they make sets off certain alarm bells, rest assured that they themselves will show you just why those alarm bells go off whenever they’re around.
It may make me seem as a very pessimistic and callous bitch, and I will not deny that in the slightest, but I will repeat this until it will sink in: people don’t change. They don’t change unless they have a damned good reason to, and they will not change unless they know that it’s for their own benefit. They are who they are, and they’re hardwired that way. If the question of nature vs. nurture comes up, both are equal contributors, but no matter how you change one’s environment, they will always be no more and no less than the people they are.
And if they manage to turn around a previous negative impression, then please hang in there and be patient, because if it is in their hardwiring to be a certain way and do certain things, then rest assured that they will show their true colors eventually. Time is the great healer and revealer of all things; give it some time and you will see.
But know this: be cautious with what you ask for. If you want to be right, be prepared that it can, and will, cost you certain things and people in your life. Instincts don’t lie. Impressions don’t lie. People show themselves. But you don’t control the fallout you will have from having been right. Trust your gut – and brace for the consequences, because even if you’re the observer, you will have to deal with having seen this ahead of time.
Just in case you ever wanted to know what you’re getting into… be careful what you ask for.