Insensitive, compassionless people

October 15, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog

This blog talks a lot about beliefs and how you can create your own. I don’t always talk about the limits to what skills creating beliefs can give you. If your mind can’t accept a belief, it won’t work for you. For example, maybe I’d be happier if I believed I could fly, but I have too much evidence to the contrary. I just can’t believe it.

Sometimes a belief works great until some experience stops you from believing it any more. Then your life gets worse. Sometimes someone does something so outside your beliefs that you can’t hold it any more and you lose all the reward it brought you.

It sucks.

When I started graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I found what looked like a great place to live — a house close to campus for a ridiculously low rent. The house wasn’t in great shape, but what do graduate students care about the place? I was prepared to sleep in the office under my desk a lot anyway. Another Penn student had found it and was finding three other people to share the house. We’d each have our own bedrooms and plenty of common space.

My experience there changed my views on people. When we first moved in they asked who would sign up for the utilities, like phone, electric, and heating. It sounds painfully naive to me now, but never in my life to that point had I encountered the concept of someone who could afford to pay not paying their bills, especially to someone they saw every day in person. I knew poor people who couldn’t afford to pay, but not who could pay but didn’t.

Within a few months my house mates were a couple months behind paying me. My name was still on the bills so I kept paying. They kept not paying me. More than that, they lied to my face about paying me.

Eventually I moved out, but they changed my views on people. I didn’t think people lied like that — causing you to suffer so they could enjoy things at your expense.

Doing business with someone based on a handshake is such a joy when it works. Your mutual trust increases. You work more productively knowing they have your back. You save time and resources not having to document agreements. I hope you’ve worked like that before.

When someone undermines that trust so blatantly as to challenge your beliefs about all people, it ruins your relationships with everyone, not just them. Those house mates undermined a basic level of communication and trust I assumed of all people to that point. Now and forever I have to be more careful with all the credit I issue to people — or be willing to risk suffering losses again.

Being unable to pay someone doesn’t have to mean lying to them. If I owe someone money I don’t buy luxuries or other non-necessities until I pay them back. Seeing someone who owes you money buy unnecessary things or not go without resets your feelings about people.

People who amuse themselves at your expense, devoid of compassion challenge you to feel compassion for others, particularly them.

Some people suggest dropping feeling compassion for people who hurt you, especially if they did so to benefit or amuse themselves. I understand that perspective, but if you don’t like when someone treats you insensitively, you hurt yourself to behave like them.

Insensitive, compassionless people are on my mind because of one a colleague put me in touch last week. The connection was a stretch and my participation would make me vulnerable, so before being introduced I asked my mutual friend to make sure everyone knew my conditions for collaborating. The other person agreed. You like to think that having mutual friends helps build a solid foundation to a relationship, even if just starting. We started working together. I contributed resources at my personal risk. Yesterday I found out the other person never intended to honor my conditions, even as they watched me invest my resources. This person, in fact, told me they intended to try to change my position.

I was probably half my age when I learned the counterproductivity of trying to change people.

Anyway, I can’t go into the details so I apologize for the vague post, though I’m sure most readers can related with comparable experiences. The details aren’t critical. It’s just that I write about beliefs and take for granted the limitations on how far you can take a belief. Those limitations are often set by the least compassionate people you interact with — such as people who meet your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable with intentional deception and self-protection, like my colleague yesterday.

I still believe you can’t go wrong feeling compassion for someone. The challenge is to feel compassion for someone who abuses you.

I don’t want to end up like them. Such experiences can make you jaded, but I don’t think I lose my compassion. Some people, when they feel someone else caused them suffering, want that person to feel that suffering. I don’t want the other person to suffer so much as to realize they can improve their own lives with a little sensitivity and trustworthiness.

Overcoming these challenges strengthens you.

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14 responses on “Insensitive, compassionless people

  1. Excellent post and excellent reasoning (Callous people shouldn’t make *you* jaded and make you become like them).
    To add a little something: try to see ‘incidents’ like those in the long run; as long as they are limited in scope and time, everybody can see that “investing in trust” has a positive outcome.

  2. I think this has happened to many people, including me. Sometimes I want to ask the people who hurt me why they did what they did. I would be curious why they acted so insensitive. Sometimes this would be counterproductive since they may get defensive. I guess sometimes you have to stop communicating with people who are compassionless.

    • I’ve found dealing with such people challenging, as evidenced by my writing about people who otherwise wouldn’t be important in my life two decades later.

      My challenge today is to find ways to use the experiences to improve my life. In the case of the jerk I linked to in my comment above this one, I didn’t try to stop communicating with him and I still see him every now and then, though much less since he became a father. With the people in the house from this post, I never saw or heard from any of them again, which was fine with me. Actually, I didn’t have a problem the woman who organized the group, but I still lost touch with her.

      A couple years later the incident reentered my life, when I applied for my first credit card. When I left that place I canceled all my utilities subscriptions, leaving them to pay for myself. Apparently one last bill came after I left that they never told me about, so I had one bill for about twenty dollars unpaid for over a year that I had to explain to the credit card companies. There’s probably a lesson in there about not burning bridges, but I’m just presenting it as an anecdote.

      • To be honest burning bridges seems sensible. Those people are more likely than not to waste your times and energies, so why bother?

        • I’ve thought the same thoughts.

          Experience has shown me that the desire to burn bridges fades faster than I expect and opportunities to benefit from the other person show up sooner and more often than I expect. Others’ experiences may differ.

          I have regretted burning bridges but never keeping one up. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future performance, but that’s been my experience.

          If I want to get back at someone I think “Living well is the best revenge” and live the best life I can, crowding them out of my concerns.

    • yes J I have now done the same thing myself move away from such people. If you see my comment and also my comment to Rosamund. You don’t need these people I wonder in some instances if they are envious and are trying to belittle others.

      • I haven’t talked to her since, nor felt inclined to. I once saw her around New York. I had things to do and didn’t pause. Back to live and let live.

  3. My issue with certain people who are insensitive and tactless is with my sister-in-law and a relative of my husbands. The sister-in-law bring into any conversation she has with us about children and babies. Although I have dropped lots of hints we don’t like it she still continues. The relative visited us once and went on about what was the point of her daughter getting married she didn’t want any children and the she continued to say her friend had been married 3 times she must be lonely she hasn’t got any children. By this time my blood started to boil and I said I am not lonely we haven’t any children and anyway some people can’t have any or don’t want any in an annoyed voice. She then backed down and said yes you are right. I haven’t bothered to contact her again and have distanced myself from my sister-in-law thank goodness.

    • I have experienced the same dilemma rosamund I would do the same thing myself distance yourself they cause some people distress and can’t see their tactless remarks are hurtful.

      • I hope things worked out for you. I think things like this happen to everyone. The question is how you respond. Some withdraw, become angry, or some other response that they probably don’t like. The challenge is to use it to make your life more how you want. At least that’s my view.

      • Hi Rosamund and Carole. I think Carole’s comment regarding Rosamund’s dilemma with the sister-in-law is very good. I to have ha a similar problem but it is different to Rosamund’s. Mine is my husband’s inability to stand up to his sister and put her in her place as she says nasty things about me at times. I to have now distanced myself from her and i feel a whole lot stressed. I think sometimes some men no disrespect meant don’t like to say anything as they feel it will cause a big argument. But you can’t let some people get away with being nasty to others as they just keep doing the same thing.

    • I know how you feel. I wrote that post over a year ago and I can still remember the person whose behavior prompted writing it—deceiving me for her benefit.

      The best I can do is live the best life I can, learning from the experience. Unfortunately, I have to check a bit more sometimes if someone intends to take advantage of me like she did, but it doesn’t stop me from living as best I can.

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