I’ve been reading some of my Twitter posts and there seems to be a pattern developing:
You need to take this crowded elevator from the 5th floor to the 4th? Really? I don’t see a limp. I should stab you and get it over with.
How bout you drop the umbrella when under scaffolding so you don’t hit us with it? I’d remove your thyroid with a rusty pen if I knew how.
It’s a big elevator. Stop standing so close to me or I’ll punch you in the neck. Hard.
How much ammo do I need to take out every NYC mom who works a stroller, Bluetooth and iTouch simultaneously while running over my feet?
What can we learn from the words that sound eerily like those of raging, homicidal maniac? That firearms and brass knuckles shouldn’t be for sale anywhere near my office? Perhaps. But if you look more closely, I’m engaging in one of the most common cognitive errors that make people miserable: “should” statements.
“Should” statements are part of the repertoire of our inner monologue that tells us how the world is supposed to work. Sometimes these thoughts are conscious: you should have told me that you were sleeping with my sister. That wasn’t very nice of you to withhold that information. At other times they are just below the surface of conscious thought, almost like an automatic mind set. In the first example of Dr. Rob’s Homicide Log (above), I’m not actually walking around muttering my beliefs on the elevator system in my building. But there is an implicit rule that I’m stating: if you can walk one floor down, you have to. You shouldn’t waste other people’s time by stopping the crowded elevator so you can have a trifling convenience. If you do, I will be silently enraged. And while many will agree with me, there is a problem with this way of thinking (aside from the fact that I’m a seething pot of anger).
The problem is that I’ve created an arbitrary rule about how the world should work, how it’s supposed to be. There is no law or decree that says anyone has to walk down a flight of steps instead of using the elevator. I simply created it in my own head. And that simple rule, that subtle command has made me very angry because the world is not functioning the way I insist. Moreover, implicit in my statements about how things must be, I’ve decided that my mood will be dictated by the actions of others. I’ve essentially become a glorified version of a petulant child who screams when he can’t have a candy bar for supper. That’s what I want, so therefore it should be.
This is not to say that everyone should simply roll over and take whatever comes at them without question. Far from it. However, being a wailing brat never put anyone in a position to change social etiquette. That approach simply makes a person look self-entitled and arrogant. What does put people in a position to change daily policy is the recognition that certain behaviors are far more pro-social than others. And if I had tweaked my thinking just a bit, into something more factually accurate, such as,it’s unfortunate that this person is slowing up the elevator; everyone would be better served if he simply walked, I’m no longer angry, at least not at the same level. Annoyed would be a better term to describe my mood with that mind set. And not only does annoyed feel a lot better than unbridled rage, but it actually makes me more likely to adequately address the behavior that I’d like to change should I so choose. When emotions run too high, interpersonal effectiveness suffers. You know a lot of people who respond well to a stranger whose blood is boiling over a simple elevator stop? Me neither.
I’ll keep typing out my murderous musings on Twitter because people seem to enjoy them and it’s a format for me to see, in print, how neurotic my mind can be. Feel free to call me out on these dysfunctional thoughts, however. I can use all the help I can get, especially in a city like New York.