being described as “laid back” is one the greatest compliments an adult can receive. these are the fun people at parties.
but there is an inclination to grow bitter as we age.
as children we have little to worry about: guardians are responsible for shelter, food, and [if we’re lucky] Pokémon cards. by our 18th birthday, however, reality punches us in the face with our first electric bill; a low-paying job; a break-up.
so we have it on good authority to build walls to our heart, schedule, and thoughts. after all, the flip side of being laid back is being a pushover. the flip side of agreeableness is an asshole. the flip side of trust is being robbed at knifepoint.
in this stage of life it’s easy to fall prey to survival mode. to exact revenge on anything threatening our livelihood. it is in this place we are branded a “Karen,” a “Debbie Downer,” a “you must be fun at parties.” we blow our shot at being described as laid back when we fail to practice flexibility.
how do we balance existence on earth with our innate longing for virtue, to live a life that’s good for us and others?
we all admire an acquaintance who is unwavering in some belief.
- “John is always home on time for dinner with his family, even though it hurts his opportunities at work.“
- “Sarah will do anything for her friends. one time she moved in with me to take care of my cat while he was sick.“
except John and Sarah are achieving virtue through rigidity. this doesn’t preclude them from being laid back, but it does suggest flexibility stems from conviction, vs being diametrically opposed to it.
here are a few more virtues — coins — that have two sides to the untrained eye:
relaxation while waiting for a late arrival to an important meeting, or training someone not to value your time?
“accepting different ideas,” a classic form of liberalism, or “silence those who disagree,” the modern Left’s interpretation?
freedom from poisonous tension, or vulnerability to future attacks?
you get it. virtues appear to live on a spectrum.
we want to be good, but not too good or we’ll be taken advantage. we want to be fun at parties, but don’t want a DUI on the way home.
for most people, practicing virtue means fine-tuning a position on a spectrum. “if i can change how i react to X, Y, and Z, i’ll finally be laid back.”
spending decades calibrating an imaginary How to Win Friends and Influence People emotional quotient is bananas.
here’s your medicine: flexibility is the ability to be flexible about being flexible.
on Friday night at a house party i am agreeable. at a product meeting i am stubborn. to the earnest request i am generous. to homeless bums i am merciless.
flexibility is thus governed by context, which is dynamic, vs muscle memory, which is mostly static.
years ago i loved ketchup, hated mustard. today it’s the opposite. years ago i was selfish. now i look for ways to give. i said i was merciless to homeless bums, yet occasionally i buy them food.
this is not bipolar disease, it’s the integration of context as a driving influencer of behavior. on Twitter i get called an “asshole” for my opinions yet become more open-minded than my adversary name-caller when i don’t retaliate.
in business i apologize to some customers, while ruthlessly cancelling the accounts of others.
flexibility is a magic trick. will you learn it?