A Different Tool For Personal Growth

Not Right, Not Wrong, Not Better, Not Worse, Just Different 

“Hah, look at this guy with his Justin Bieber haircut and his nose ring.  What a…”

I have conversations like this with myself sometimes.

I call that judging people.


“Did you hear she’s dating some guy from Oregon now?”

“Oh God, he doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.  She’s freaking crazy.”

These are conversations I have with other people.

Some call it gossip.


“I heard she started serving tables at that new restaurant.”

“Not surprised, she couldn’t even make it through college.  She’ll never find a good career.”

I call this one talking shit about other people to feed your ego.

Really, all of them fall into that category.

I try to stop myself, but sometimes that insecure part of me comes out to judge.  I have to tell him to shut up because that other part of me that I don’t have a name for knows better.

We all do it.  If you’re thinking “not me, I never talk like that”, then you probably do it more than most.

Identity 

But where does this come from? Why do we judge? 

It’s an identity issue. 

We make choices, that shape who we become – our identity. 

We use judgment – among other things – to defend our identity.

We defend our identity, because if we don’t, we open ourselves to the possibility that we made the wrong choices.

That scares the shit out of us. 

People tell us what to do and how to live all the time.

But what are they really saying?

They’re telling us to do what they did because they need confirmation that they’re doing it “right.”  They need to know that they live the “right” way.

They’re really just defending their identity.

If you don’t do what they say, then in their mind, you’re telling them that they’re doing it “wrong.”  They’re living the “wrong” way.

People don’t like to be told they’re wrong.

I know people into their 40s serving tables in ski towns who seem to enjoy their lives.  They talk about how it’s so nice to have a month off in the spring and the fall, and work in a low pressure environment.  They say “it’s better than sitting in a cubicle working 60 hours.”

Are they right?

I know some people have corporate jobs.  They say “how could you serve tables your whole life?  You don’t make any money.  You can’t buy a house, or raise a family, or send kids to college, or…” whatever else they say.

Are they right?

I’ve had a glimpse into both worlds in my several years after college.  I see both sides.  It would be nice to have a low stress career, living in the moment.  It would also be nice to make good money, raise a family, be able to give your kids the freedom of options that comes with money.

Maybe I fall somewhere in the middle.

Is that right?

Give a Dog a Shot 

Society likes to paint a picture of reality in black and white.

You’re either right or wrong, conservative or liberal, good or bad, introvert or extrovert, outgoing or shy, athletic or nerdy…

I think it’s unhealthy for a few reasons.

That’s such a limited way to view the world.

When you think your view is “right” and dismiss others who are “wrong.”  That means you’re missing out on everything else that the world has to offer.

It would be like going to disney world and riding the carousel over and over.  No disrespect to the carousel but there’s a lot more to disney world than that. 

Rather than right or wrong, what if we call it different. 

With most things, there’s not one right way.  Rather, many different ways.  Different ways that work differently for different people.

When you start viewing stuff as different rather than trying to label everything good or bad a few things happen for you.

You start to consider points of view other than your own. 

Why would I want to do that?

Doing so will strengthen your current values, beliefs, identity, or change your direction in a positive way.

Say you think owning a dog is bad.  They make your clothes smell, they cost money, and they give nothing back.  You’re whole life you’ve chosen to never be friends with dog owners.  You’re really confident that that dogs are bad and that other people who need dogs have security or trust issues.

What happens if you start viewing dog owning as different instead of bad?

You become friends with a dog owner.  You hang out with she and her dog regularly.

Now one of two things will happen. 

  1. You will see that her dog makes her happy.  You’ll recognize why people own dogs, but you’ll also realize that you get happiness other ways.
  2. OR, you will realize that dogs give you joy and playfulness that you never had before and you get one to make you happier.

In the first option you’ll have given dogs a shot.  Next time someone talks to you about dogs rather than just saying “I hate dogs!” with no reason or rationale behind it, you’ll say “I understand why people have dogs but they’re just not for me.” 

That not only sounds more intelligent, but it’s also more attractive.  Nobody wants to be around someone who “hates dogs.”

The dog is a medium for happiness.  It may not be the best medium for you but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad medium, just a different one.

The Show, Don’t Tell Exercise

I used to like arguments because I always wanted to be right.  I had to tell the person to see it my way, the right way.  Usually this resulted in me leaving arguments unsatisfied and often angry because I hadn’t convinced the other person that I was right – which I knew I was.

When I started labeling other people, beliefs, views as different, something changed for me.

My identity was no longer better or worse than someone else’s, just different.

When you look at it like that you don’t have to defend your perspective at all costs.  It no longer has to be right, or better than another.

This opens up a world (literally) of possibilities for you.  It allows you to grow in ways you never thought possible before.

You’ll stop judging the guy with the Justin Bieber hair, because he’s not worse than you anymore, he’s just different.

And guess what?  Bill Nye is right.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” even dude with Bieber hair.

You can learn something new.

That’s also why I still like to argue – to learn how people see things differently.  I no longer leave with that angry unsatisfied feeling, because I always learn.

I don’t feel like I have to convince them of something or tell them I’m right, but rather show them the way I see it.  And figure out how they see it.

This makes arguing a lot more enjoyable.

Sometimes they end up seeing things my way.  Other times I realize their way may be better for me. And at least, I end up understanding their way, even if I think it’s not for me.

Think of something you believe strongly in.  Political, religious, love of cats/dogs, a certain type of music or art.

Got it?

Now find someone who thinks completely opposite of you on this subject.  Go buy them dinner or coffee and discuss that thing you disagree on, uncomfortable as it may be.

Try viewing their position as DIFFERENT instead of better, worse, right, or wrong.

SHOW them your view and why it works for you, DON’T TELL them why it’s the right one or why it’s better than theirs [1].

If you are both reasonable, you will both come out better having discussed it.

You’ll come across people who argue with a lot of emotion and get angry – formerly myself -, probably because you’re challenging their identity.  People who don’t want their identity challenged aren’t worth your time.  Don’t argue with them.  They think their identity is “right” and yours is “wrong”.  They don’t see things as different.

Having your identity, beliefs, and values challenged makes you grow – like the dog hater.  That’s why it’s important to converse with people who think differently – people who do own dogs.

Get Off The Carousel, Try All The Rides

You’re selected for a debate on the best sandwich meat, turkey vs ham.  You have to defend turkey.

Would you prepare by just eating turkey and studying everything about it? 

No, your arguments would be stronger if you ate ham and talked with ham experts.

So we should apply that same logic to our identity.

If I’m trying to pick the best sandwich meat, I’ll ask the person who’s had turkey and ham, and roast beef, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, and whatever else you can put on a sandy.

When I go to Disney World, I’m not going to ask you for the tour if you’ve only done the carousel.

I used to live with someone who I didn’t see eye to eye with on a lot of issues, but we both weren’t afraid to challenge each other’s identities.  In the end we often agreed to disagree, and were still friends with great respect for each other.  We looked at each others views as different.  Not right, wrong, better, or worse.  Just different.


  1. Showing people what to do is much more effective than telling them anyways.  If I tell you to go see American Snipper, you may not go because it was my idea.  If I show you that American Snipper got awesome reviews and broke box office records, then you may go – it was your idea to go.
  • Dude, I’m digging your writing. This shit is awesome, keep going.

    One thing I’ve noticed in myself over the past few years is how many and how vast the number of black/white, good/bad distinctions I was raised with and how hard it is to abandon them. I think parents/society generally do it to “protect” children but it seems to be incredibly fragile.

    Relevant: http://markmanson.net/how-we-judge-others