Today I’m going to tell you the secret to everlasting happiness: you don’t have to respond to everything that flashes your way, especially if it’s “not your game.”
Do you remember this rule from your childhood: “If you don’t like our rules, then you don’t have to play”?
Now, that may sound harsh—and it was usually uttered in a nasty tone whenever I heard it in elementary school—but nevertheless, the principle has some merit.
We tend to think that all ideas, actions, and behaviors should reflect everything we believe, and if someone is contrary in any way, we call foul, or are “shocked,” or “offended”.
But here’s something to consider: the world wasn’t made for you. Or for me. Or for any specific individual. It was made for all of us, and at times, we’re going to step on each other’s toes.
When that happens, don’t throw a fit, don’t get angry, don’t criticize—just move your toes.
For example, I follow a lot of Facebook groups, a few which I probably shouldn’t. One is a group of southern women who are romance writers. I don’t write romance, and I don’t live in the south. I know I’m not fully “one of them,” and I can’t play by all of their rules.
Not long ago they had a discussion about “What’s your favorite coffee for editing?”
I don’t drink coffee.
But I didn’t go on and comment about that. I didn’t say anything. I followed the thread for all of five seconds before realizing that everything I know about coffee comes from watching “Frasier” on Netflix.
Instead of announcing I couldn’t play because they were breaking my “personal rules,” or announcing haughtily that I felt left out, I did something astonishing:
I just moved on.
No judgment, no statements of “I don’t think this is appropriate,” no nothing. Just moved on. (Same thing when they had a discussion about wine, and I realized, once again, that all I know about wine comes from “Frasier.” This Mormon girl can say “chardonnay,” but I haven’t the slightest idea as to what it refers.)
I followed that group later again, when they had a discussion about drafting timelines. That was a game I could play and learn from.
I do the same thing with blogs I follow. Not all of them conform to my “personal rules” of what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
For instance, one collective blog filled with excellent insights on character and plot development references a lot of shows and movies I know nothing about, nor would ever watch. (Everything I know about “Game of Thrones” I’ve learned from these bloggers.) Quite often their language becomes coarse, even vulgar. Sometimes their descriptions are rougher than my tender eyes want to witness.
But I’ve never commented about those so-called offenses. I’ve never complained.
Because this is their game. Their rules. If I want to play, I’ll play. Otherwise I sit on the sidelines and wait for the moment when I feel it’s safe to jump in.
It would be highly inappropriate of me to comment that I occasionally find them going too far, or citing too many R-rated works, because this game isn’t for me. It’s theirs. I asked to join, because when these guys nail it, they really nail it, and I appreciate their candor and insights.
They let me be part of their game on the assumption that I’d let them play their game their way. So I do.
I could always leave them, if I find their game no longer fit my needs. I’ve quit following many blogs and Facebook groups for that reason.
And when I do leave, I do so quietly. I make no fuss. I don’t proclaim in a loud and angry post why I’m leaving the group. I don’t lambaste the blog owner, or the members of the group, or say anything at all . . . because it’s not my game. It’s theirs.
I simply tap the “unfollow” button, or the “unsubscribe” button, and go find something else that works for me.
(Yes, I’m boasting here about my elevated attitudes, because guess what? This my blog, and I get to set my rules. If you don’t want to play this game today, you may move on as well.)
I’ve walked out of performances, I’ve left gatherings early, I’ve even quit a job once because “their game” just wasn’t working for me. I never drew attention to myself, just slipped quietly out the door in search of a game whose rules fit my attitudes better.
And, unsurprisingly, I’ve found myself far happier as a result. It’s exhausting to pretend you’re one thing when you’re another, or to try to force yourself into a group where you really don’t belong.
There comes a time to be honest with yourself and those around you, to recognize that you’re playing their game wrong, and that you should go in search of a game more fitting to your needs.
How did I learn this? From a very brave woman. She grew up with my husband, married a very nice man, had several children, then everything fell apart. Her husband developed a mental illness for which he refused treatment, and after several years of anguish and violence, she divorced him. I know this only from personal conversations, because she didn’t deride or complain or advertise her pain online.
She simply, quietly, changed her status and last name when the divorce occurred, and moved on to begin her own game.
A few months later, she decided that there were too many hard memories for her in the LDS/Mormon church, and she and her children left it. Again, she did so quietly, without any fuss or public exclamations about doing so, nor did she deride those who choose to stay with it. The only way I knew they had found a new church was that she began posting sermon snippets from her new preacher, and advertising for their retreats and youth groups. She found a game that was more suited to how she wants to play this life.
There is no railing about her past, no criticisms of the groups and extended family that she left–she and her children just moved on.
So here’s my challenge: if you don’t feel comfortable with a situation—be it on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media platform, walk away from it. Don’t waste your time complaining, or antagonizing, or even dispensing what you perceive may be your very righteous judgment.
Just walk away.
This goes for larger issues, too. I’m astonished with many people who are angry at a political organization, or a religious group, or a long-time set of friends, or a difficult job, or painful family, and want to leave . . . yet never do.
Instead, they sit and harp and make everyone else around them miserable, intent on dragging everyone down with them, when they could instead get up and leave and find a group more in line with their philosophies.
To those who won’t make that clean break, but insist on venting like a self-centered teenager that the world’s not exactly as they want it, here’s my plea: Don’t waste everyone’s time getting mad at those playing the game you no longer like.
Go find your own game! Make it, if you must!
There are MILLIONS out there–go get one!
Create your own group, or blog, or even your own political/religious/grassroots movement!
Do something constructive, instead of going back to the same old stuff you don’t like, and being destructive there.
Who knows—maybe you’ll change the world with your new game.
At least you’ll no longer be unfairly burdening those whose games you no longer care for.