People should be loyal: How to make peace with reality

A friend of mine, let’s call him Peter, was complaining to me about how one of his colleagues, Hans, was being disloyal. Hans said something supportive to another colleague’s face, and then five minutes later over lunch said the exact opposite. Peter was furious. “People should by loyal. I get so upset when they’re not. It’s just wrong. Don’t you think?” he asked me.

So I asked him back.

Me: “People should not be disloyal. Is that true?”

Peter: “Yes! Of course they shouldn’t.”

Me: “Well, what’s the reality of it. Are they sometimes?”

Peter: “Yes”

Me: “Can you know with absolute certainty that they should never be disloyal?”

Peter: “Hmm, no.”

Me: “So who are you, how do you feel, how do you behave, when you think that thought that people should always be loyal?”

Peter: “I get angry, mad, upset when they’re not.”

Me: “And who would you be if you could not think the thought that people should be loyal?”

Peter: “I’d be at peace with it, calm, relaxed.”

Me: “Yeah. Exactly.”

Svendborgsund bridge at duskThe world should be exactly as it is. How do I know? Because it is, and reality is the only thing that is.

Your thought that the world should be any different from what it is is just that: A thought. It’s an illusion. It doesn’t really exist.

The reality, on the other hand, is real. There are people in it, some of them are loyal, some of them are not. Reality doesn’t care what you think it should be. It is what it is.

So you have a choice.

You can choose to hold on to the thought that the world should be different from what it is. Or you can choose to accept that reality is what it is, and stop the suffering.

Suffer. Or not suffer. That’s the choice. It’s up to you.

If you choose to believe reality should be different, you will suffer. You’ll be playing a movie in your mind that shows how the world is and how unfair that is and how it really should be instead. “I can’t believe he did that.” “I can’t believe I just missed the last bus.” I’m sure you have plenty of experience doing this.

And because you’re playing that movie, you will have less mental energy, fewer resources, to actually deal with the situation and come up with a creative alternative solution.

On the other hand, you can choose to accept, and tell yourself “it is what it is, right now, at this moment, this is what’s true”. Take a moment to fully and completely accept that. Then the suffering will stop.

You may still be in pain. Maybe you just hit your finger with a hammer. But at least you’re not adding a layer of suffering on top.

The suffering, the resisting, the movie in your mind’s eye, will have ceased. And you’ve freed up your mental energy to focus on choosing the best course of action. You might still want to change the situation, and that’s fine. But you’re doing so from your most resourceful state.

The choice is entirely up to you. You’re free to choose suffer if you prefer. No-one is pushing you.

Choosing to accept reality may not make the thought to go away. Generally you can’t – thoughts come and go as they please, they’re not in our control. But sometimes it’ll stop, because you’ve seen through the illusion of it, because you’ve realized that it simply is not true.

If not, there’s two more things you can do to hit the final nail in the coffin. One is to turn the original statement around. “People should be disloyal.” Why? Because they are. In my experience, saying it loud will often make people laugh, and it seems to connect some circuit in the brain that makes the thought let go of us.

Another technique is to understand. If you really try, I bet you could come to realize why Hans was being disloyal. Perhaps he’s insecure and was afraid to say what he thought to the person’s face. Maybe he was treated poorly in school or at home and that’s why. Whatever it is, there is a reason, and by finding a plausible reason, we can get to “Of course!” Of course he was disloyal! It couldn’t be any other way, given the circumstances.

In fact, you can be certain that if you were in the same situation, with the same mental model and resources as him, you would have done the exact same thing. Of course you would. But that’s a post for another day.

PS. There’s a book about this, called Loving What Is, and it’s really fun and mind-bending in a good way. The four questions in the dialogue above are from there. Check it out.