My mom works at a nursing home and loves to sneak out scraps of food to feed the local rodents — chipmunks, red squirrels and the like — and has been doing this routinely. A notoriously grumpy resident, miserable and wheel-chair ridden, had recently taken to antagonizing her over this, going as far as to report her to staff. Long story made short for the sake of brevity, traps had been set and no longer does this nursing home have any wild critters roaming around the grounds entertaining residents.
Casting the debate over feeding urban wildlife aside, it was evident to me to see how this miserable person got a kick out of ruining my mothers fun. Then it further got me to thinking about these dejected, disconsolate souls who go around and seem to only interact in a way that contains an unconscionable objective of exchanging misery with those who cross their path.
We encounter them regularly — maybe at work, in public, possibly at family get-togethers. Inside of them swirls an unrelenting rage that is taken out on fellow commuters, cafe baristas, and even relatives or colleagues. They’re inescapable, though they can be as much a gift to us as they are crusaders of unpleasantness.
I’ve learned something about these people which correlates to my own personal philosophy of life. They tend to, quite literally, live in the misery that they create and propagate, as if their sole objective is to dole it out. The miserable try to drag everyone around them down to the same forlorn plane of existence that they occupy. I don’t wan’t to paint a picture where they do this intentionally, and I want to separate this lot from those people who simply have more bad days than most and have a hard time controlling their temperaments. I’m talking about the Ebenezer Scrooges, the Melvin Udall’s (Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets) of the world.
“You like sad stories? Wanna hear mine?” — Melvin Udall
Whether or not they’re living their lives in the proper way isn’t for me to judge, that’s another problem for another profession to sort out. Nonetheless, they are present in our world and we inevitably interact with them every now and again. One thing we can do, however, is to juxtapose their nature of living to that of our own and, consequently, reinforce our own life philosophy.
Take me, for instance. I’m driven by this unrelenting thirst for knowledge and it is this very thirst for knowledge that I want to shell out in the same way that the miserable person doles out their misery. I want to instigate curiosity the way they instigate conflict. I want people to question how the subconscious mind works, try to understand the workings of our solar system, learn of ancient cultures and practices, expand on their perceptive horizons, etc. In other words, rather than drag someone down to my plane of misery, I want to pull someone up to my plane of curiosity.
“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” — Chris Pine
We can do this with our own respective philosophies. Whether we want to motivate people, to challenge people, to simply spread love or knowledge, we all have the capacity to influence others the way that the miserable person does. It sounds very hippie-ish, I know, but there lurks a danger of not acknowledging our tendencies before it’s too late. Ebenezer Scrooge, as the fictional tale goes, had his revelation in the later stages of his life — do we really want to wait to long before we’re prompted to address these issues?
So, through stark juxtaposition, we’re prompted to assess how we influence others. The miserable person not only gives us this prompting to be how we want to be, but they can go one step further in that they also serve us as a reminder. Where we encounter another driver with unparalleled road rage, we can choose to laugh rather than get worked up about it. Where someone tries to push our buttons or rattle our cage, we need not retaliate. Where we’re exposed to the incessant complaints of coworkers about minuscule events, we can to choose to embrace or celebrate the little things in life instead.
Thus, in an ironic way, the miserable person gives us the gift of perspective. And sure, this same gift can be drawn from observing a happy person or achieved through some basic introspection, but encountering these people — which, again, seems inevitable — simply provides us with yet another reason to see our glasses as half full.
In another way to phrase it, we can choose to perceive life through different panes of glass, some dull, some rose-colored, etc. There are times when we may be provoked to look at the world through a cracked or dirty or dark pane, though we do not have to follow through with this. We, as the observer, the protagonists of our own stories, can view life through whichever pane of glass we want to view life through.