If You Can’t Beat Them… Have Them Beat Each Other


Photo credit: Susannah Conway

No one’s perfect, and while for the most part our various failings are viewed as obstacles to us achieving our goals, I want to take a different viewpoint here: each of us has many vices that can actually help us achieve our goals.

I think this sounds weird to say, so here are examples.

Laziness over Gluttony

I can resist any temptation until I can see it.  And when I see food– it doesn’t matter how much plaque it will dump in my heart; it doesn’t matter how much fat it’ll layer over my rock-solid abs– if I have room in my stomach, I will probably eat it.

This is not good.  But there’s a catch.  See, I rarely get hungry for sweets, pastries, or beer on my own.  99% of the time, my stomach will be perfectly satisfied with whatever I give it (but not too many vegetables, k?– doctor’s orders).  So the problem is not eating junkfood when I’m hungry for junkfood– it’s eating junkfood when I see junkfood.

Therefore, the solution is not seeing junkfood.  Removing it from sight.

And this is what I’ve done.

To be clear, there is junkfood in my house.  Cookies in cabinets I rarely use, ice cream at the way back of the freezer, and some chocolates I received as a gift and threw into the trash.  If I really wanted them, I could have them.  Just open that cabinet/freezer/trash and dig out the goods.  But honestly?  It’s not worth it.  My fridge is stocked with healthy ingredients, and my tupperware is filled with healthy leftovers (rule: if you’re making unhealthy food, make a small amount).  There’s almost always a liter of water within arm’s length of me, but the soda’s in the small fridge under the bar jammed in the awkward shelf it’s hard to get stuff out of.

Yes, I’m a glutton.  I will eat three pieces of pie without thinking twice.  But I’m a lazy glutton, and that little qualifier may make the difference between heart attack or not.

  • Stock your fridge with healthy food
  • Put unhealthy food in out of the way places– and never go grocery shopping when you’re craving it
  • Keep healthy snacks/water within reach
  • I haven’t figured out how to control my see-food diet when eating out… suggestions welcome

Pride over snobbery

Do you ever get that awful priggish feeling like you are so much higher and mightier, so much more intelligent than other people that it’s not worth your time trying to relate to them or even to talk to them?

I admit, it happens to me all the time.  I feel like I can find any excuse not to bother with others.

The problem is not that I don’t recognize this as awfully judgmental– I do.  I believe in my heart that if I can’t find a single thing to talk about or relate to or find interesting in what they’re saying, then it’s my problem, not theirs.  But this knowledge hasn’t forced me to change my behavior– and so I remain, in many cases, a snob.

The thing that changed this more than any recognition of every human being as my equal was actually me pretending to be the ruler of the human beings I was talking too.  This is 100% shameful but ridiculously effective.  Teddy Roosevelt– of US president fame– is one of my models for the good life.  I love the man and his whole general attitude towards life.  One of the things he was known for was being a true democrat, a real cosmopolitan– someone who could converse with any other citizen of the United States at their level, about what mattered to them, and come off as a respectable and intelligent gentleman.  Didn’t matter if they were royalty or a ranch-hand, a Harvardian or a lumberjack, he somehow managed to garner the respect of everyone up and down the social gamut he came in contact with.

I try and think about that whenever I’m feeling all smug and ubermenschey.  Say I were this person’s president: could I not only keep a conversation going, but do so in a way that would earn their respect, trust, and admiration?  My pride forces me to be a good ruler– anything less would be beneath me.

I hate the idea that I’m superior to anyone who bores me for more than two seconds at a time.  I’d rather dig into a person and find what is interesting, admirable, and relatable than maintain my elitist silence.  I’d rather be a mensch than an ubermensch– yet it’s the though of ruling the plebes, not appearing before God as equals, that reminds me exactly where I stand.

Yes, I’m a snob.  But this snob harnesses his pride to be less snobbish.

The how is whack, but the what is solid.

* * *

I wish I could eat less than five cookies in a sitting simply because I knew it was bad for me.  I wish I could try to find something interesting and engaging about every person I had to talk to simply because I knew myself to be no better than them.  One day, I hope those facts are true.  But today, they aren’t.  So I cheat.

I encourage you to too.

You have goals you want to accomplish.  They require discipline, courage, and resiliency.  And while those virtues will one day spring effortless from within us, we’ll take the low road for now.  With enough pride, you can meet any promise you make.  With enough fear of disapproval, nothing will stop you from doing the things everyone has come to expect you to do.

We should all get rid of our vices, but until they’re gone, I’m all for using them.

What are you going to do?


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