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.


Pind, come on - you make it sound too easy. I agree, that reality is the only thing out there. But there is reality inside as well. Emotions and thoughts are not yours to control. That would make them something else. I'm not saying you have a certain wiring from age 6, that you cannot do anything about. But if you turn everything into rational thought and consious choices, you are missing the point of life's complexity. Sometimes people dissapoint you, sometimes the world hurt, sometimes you think like this: And that's ok. Part of being alive. Stop running!
By Jonas Thing on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply
I like the immediate psychological effect that it surely has - soothing to the critical and somewhat haunted mind. But isn't one in danger of falling into apathy and procrastination, if one takes it too far? <br> (Ah, wait - you're going to ask me those 4 questions again, right? Concerning "the danger"?) =)
By RasmusJ on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply
I'm sorry, I can't resist the temptation to play devil's advocate: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." George Bernard Shaw. I think you are right in asserting that "reality is" ... like "The Tao" ... and yet, as Bruce Lee would say, there is "The Tao", but you are in "The Tao" and you have your own "My Tao" ... so there is "Reality" and there is the reality that you are in reality and so it comes down to, as the American Indians would put it, which wolf do you wish to feed? The "reality is as it is and must be accepted" wolf, or the "reality is, but our personal realities include our dreams of how reality should BECOME, and we are here to make it so!" wolf? Don't forget that once upon a time the "reality" was that we were all a bunch of cavemen living in constant ignorance and fear of "out there" ...
By Adrian (yes, "that" Adrian) on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply
Please do play devil's advocate -- I'm sure he's in need of one, and too few people are willing to step up to the plate ;) It's a common misconception that if we fully accept the world as it is, we would stop acting, fall into apathy as Rasmus puts it, just watching TV all day. That's not what happens. Even when I fully accept and love my daughter, I still nurture her, I still give her food and love. Even if I fully accept the world, I will still act out of love and joy to make the world a better place for all. What I'm saying is that the _thought_ that reality should be different is _only_ a thought, a thought that _isn't even true_, and that it is possible to ask that thought, that illusion, to let go of us. When I'm under the spell of that thought, I'm less happy and less effective, because part of my mental energy is caught up in that thought, which isn't true. Start with yourself. Fully accept that you are as you are, just for this moment, fat and ugly, lazy, insecure, stressed, fearful, sad, whatever it is. Fully accept that other people are as they are, just for this moment. By letting go of the resistance to what is, you can connect with the love that you are. If you choose to work out, you do so because you enjoy it, not because you have to run away from the fact that you resent yourself for how you look.
By LarsPind on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply
Good point(s) ... but just for the record, I'm not fat and ugly; I'm about as sexy as a man can be without being accused of being Angelina Jolie's younger, prettier sister in drag ...
By Adrian (yes, "that" Adrian) on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply
Nice one Lars. I'm a big fan of Byron Katie.
By Brian Fenton on Wed, Oct 10, 07 at 17:29 · Reply

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