The People I Serve VS The People I Bullied

1. All The Words It Can Get Its Hands On

It lingers with me, but partially because it’s the last words we said to each other.

I’ll explain what was said to me, as my longest-running friendship dissolved for the second and final time, but before I say the line, first some framework:

“Diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on,” -Albie Duncan, West Wing

He was talking about how taglines are not enough. We must have discussions. The situations we find ourselves in are incredibly complex. West Wing was a show about governance, and some of the stories and troubles in the show were international disputes, and this character, Albie Duncan, was imploring that we take more time in discussion, not less.

Because our friendship had worn down, and I lashed out and got lashed back, and then silence for years:

I don’t really know, for sure, what I was being called out on.

This sentence (which I will explain in a moment) hurt me, but I think it hurt more because there was no follow up, no explanation, no clarity, no, “What did you mean by that?”

It’s like when a parent yells, “Quiet down up there; don’t make me come up there; you won’t like it,” which is a damaging masterful manipulation designed to render the recipient trapped in their own mind, filling in the blanks of the punishment with whatever their worst fears are.

It’s like that.

Because the parent could instead have a clarified system of requests and proportional punishments for infractions. But the parent would have to be clear and parents, historically, tended not to want to do the homework to figure themselves out before copulating.

Similarly, friends falling out, are falling out because they’re not both clear on who they are and what they want- and there isn’t an agreed upon understanding of what actions within the friendship cause damage.

It’s all just guesswork until both parties have figured their emotional crap out, and presented clear cases to one another for what they each need.

But this was the longest-running friendship I’d had.

We’d met early. Before either of us had any chance of knowing who we are.

There was no likelihood of our lives taking us in directions that would keep us around in each other’s lives; we had to work to keep the friendship together.

It was a mountain of work to keep us from falling apart.

The only move I eventually had was to take my needs out of the equation; we never talked about the things that mattered to me; all the energy could go to support.

“I hadn’t realized how self-involved you’d become.”

Those were the final words.

I had taken myself out, not gotten one of my needs met for years; was still waiting on an actual apology for the shitty thing that was done to me four years prior.

But I’m self-involved????

I got pretty dramatic about this line to anyone who would listen.

I picked apart what I could.

But it was one line.

And, “Diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on.”

I needed more information, but was not about to reopen communication. For all the worming and twisting that this final jab was doing to me, to go back to get clarification would have opened us up to far more damage.

There’s a line in the Tao, that says it is better sometimes to retreat 1,000 yards than to advance one step.

I believe in stepping back from relationships that don’t have a clear way through. Even if years go by, sometimes we have the tools we need to rebuild, the next time we meet.

So I was on my own to figure this out.

Well, again, on my own, and everyone who was in ear shot while I melted down about it.

It tortured me, because it called into question, everything I’m working toward.

It threatened my life’s work.

I believe that introspection and understanding our own pain is our responsibility, and if working through that means self-involved, then I’m an advocate that we all become more self-involved, but…

I’m not even really sure that’s what I was being called out on.

The thing that pisses me off most of all, is that clearly, someone who knew me for a very long time, wanted me to grow in some way.

Some way.

We’re really at the start of the culture’s ability to express accurately our interpersonal problems, and, “Diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on,” and this was a pittance handful of words, so I suspect that though I was called out for being self-involved, I think it was actually something else, something worse, something I did do:

And I regret it, and I’m sorry.

2. Know Thyself

Chekhov is probably most known for, “The Chekhov Gun,” which is a rule Anton Chekhov had for play writing.

His thing was: if a gun is seen displayed in the background set of a play, then it had better be fired, or it has no business hanging there.

Writers use this axiom to make sure they are not misleading their audiences, by including unintentional “clues” to storyline twists that will never happen. Anything that catches the audience’s eye, should be an intentional maneuver by the writers/directors to make some relevant part of the story happen inside the mind of the audience members.

I have seen this used in the reverse one time, in a comedy about hell, where there were constant Chekhov Guns woven into the story, that never paid off to anything, because it was a story about hell, and the writers wanted to 4th-Wall torture: the audience.

But standing in my community college theatre wing on a break, I saw a different quote from Anton Chekhov, and I’ve never run into it again, so it doesn’t seem to be as widely known, and I was lucky to catch a glimpse of it then.

“If you want to work on your acting, work on yourself.”

Stella Adler, and acting coach whose book I read years after this, would explain that if you are going to be a stage actor, you are going to play people from other time periods, and you may, for example, be called upon to play a Roman centurion.

Roman Centurions have irrefutable posture.

The posture is so much part of the character, that you will be unable to perform the role, if you slouch and slump the entirety of the rest of your life, but try to “turn on” good posture for the two hours a night you are in the play.

You might be able to fake it through willpower, she admitted, so long as nothing goes wrong.

But this is live theatre.

Things will go wrong.

When things go wrong, you will revert out of your Roman Centurion stance, and into your 21st century slump-posture, and the illusion will be just as broken as if you’d disrobed out of your Roman armor and put on a hoodie.

“Oh, that’s just a dude, from our century! That’s not a Roman!”

I’m paraphrasing this story from memory. Stella Adler probably didn’t say dude.

But the principle remained in my mind: the things that you will need to rely on in times of stress, have to be things you have developed ahead of time and live within so solidly that they cost you nothing to activate, they are automatic, they are your way through the world, and it would actually take effort to remove you from the good habit.

“If you want to work on your acting, work on yourself.”

Stella Adler wanted you, if you were an actor, to work on your posture and movement and speech, so that you were by-default, someone composed, so that you were already ready already to be an elegant, purposeful character in a play on the night that something goes wrong.

When I read Anton Chekhov’s work on yourself, I took it in a different direction.

I wanted to be a good friend.

I knew from experience that when I’m in a bad place, I’m dramatic and anarchic in a way that is uncomfortable and unfair to everyone around me.

I did spend a lot of my life working on myself.

It was important to me that I work through the parts of myself that caused damage to others.

But it didn’t seem like a bad thing. It didn’t seem like it was making me self-involved, just self-informed.

Being self-informed is an important skill in this century; life comes at us WAY too fast for us to be unclear about our inner world.

We have to know why things happen to us, and why our moods shifted, and if this fear or that one is relevant or self-created.

We’ve never been so responsible for navigating our lives, and we’ve never been more responsible for how we affect others.

If anything, at the time, I was convinced that the worse crime was to be self-ignorant. To lie to yourself that your pain is your own and isn’t impacting the people who love you. Always pain spirals out to those who we share our lives with, that’s why it’s altruistic to deal with your pain, by getting as much help and expertise as you can find.

Eventually, I was sure, this was simply a heat-of-the-moment accusation.

The pain was real. The pain and damage I had caused.

But I was listening to the letter of the accusation, not the spirit of it.

3. Bully

Dating gay guys is terrible.

These are the dating pools that contain some of the sharpest, meanest people.

There was a model I met on a dating site in my early 20’s, and he talked about starving himself in order to fit into clothes.

I had absolutely no filter at the time -not because I was unaware of what I was saying, but because back then I was radically honest as a selfish way to figure my life out. (Had someone at that time accused me of being self-involved: no question, I totally was back then. Zero tact or understanding of what my impact on another person would be.)

I said to the model, something along the lines of, “I hope in our generation, we’re able to change the culture in a way that you won’t have to starve yourself just to do your job.”

And the response I got was, “While your message is appreciated, your activism is unnecessary.”

It’s the most eloquent, “fuck off,” I’ve ever received. This is a guy who would not break composure during a play about Romans…

That was one of the first times that I realized that trying to help, when I haven’t been explicitly asked to help, is a transgression against others.

I do think we should work as a culture to make it so that anyone trying to do their job, not just models, is never again expected to do something painful just to receive the intended result.


I could have kept that shit to myself and put my energy into becoming a person who can actually make that world happen.


I inserted myself into this guy’s life and tried to tinker with things I had no permission or expertise to do so.

I think it probably wasn’t that big of a moment in this guy’s life, but to whatever degree, large or small, I didn’t know him enough to know anything I could say that would make his life better. I was saying it to aggrandize myself.

I had a different online interaction around that same era, where I was playing World of Warcraft, and got into a fight with some strangers in the general chat.

I don’t remember the specifics of the fight, but two people were fighting, and one of them was saying, something like, “I’m not bullying you I’m just telling you the truth,” and I messaged that person and explained that you absolutely can still be an aggressor while using only the truth.

“I’m doing it right now,” I said.

“You’re bullying me right now?”

“Yeah. But I know I’m bullying you. I probably shouldn’t be doing it, and it’s not probably going to help, but at least I know that I’m using my right-information to beat up on you, not truly to help.”

And I don’t remember what they said, but I did get the impression that this person truly was going to think on what I’d just said, though… I’ll never know if they did: because I was bullying them with information, not actually partnering with them to solve a problem they wanted solved.

I have had many wonderful times, mostly in my 30’s, where someone has explicitly asked for my help, I provided it, we worked together, they loved the help and told me so.

If you are qualified to answer a question, and that question is being asked, then you can help move a person from turmoil to stability, and the world is better for it.

But if you are qualified to answer a question, and that question is being avoided, and you try to answer the question anyway: that is an infraction.

This is what I think I was actually being accused of when my longest-running friendship dissolved.


Because I’m sure I caused damage; maybe this was it, maybe it wasn’t; for sure the friendship had been limping along, had almost two decades of unresolved problems that were compounding and we were having a worse and worse time together every time we’d meet.

My bullying came from a place of desperation about the health of the friendship.

That doesn’t make it a good strategy. That doesn’t remove any harm it did.

But when I did this, it was because I understood that we could not continue unless both of us were lifting the friendship back up onto its legs.

There are a lot of people in my past, that I tried to be friends with, because I want to be friends with everybody, and now we don’t speak.

And in each one of them, without explaining what I was doing, I tried to teach the skills that would keep our friendship viable.

Don’t do that.

Only answer a question that has been asked.

I wanted people to skill up so we could work together.

I wanted to be friends with everyone, and in many cases, it led to attempted friendships that were probably doomed from the start. We had so many missing components that would have been required for us to truly get along well.

I was force-feeding philosophy and ideas and training, to people who did not want it, so that I could make them into the friends I wanted to have.

That’s shitty.

I’m sorry that I did that.

I wish I had just found the courage to leave.

Leaving was the right choice.

All I did was cause damage and resentment by staying.

Ego drove me.

I was trying to prove that even if we didn’t have what we needed, I could still make it work.

Leaving would have been the less-shitty thing to do. I wasn’t getting what I needed, and instead of leaving and finding someone who could build the kind of friendship I want, I bullied these people with info and training that they did not want.


4. Find Your “Who?”

Simon Sinek is famous for his talk on “Finding your why.”

Find your why, he says, figure out why your endeavor matters to you.

Don’t chase after fads.

Know your why.

Know which way you should go, because you understand why you’re doing this, and that understanding should be enough to help you to navigate effectively through the chaos of your life’s journey.

There is a cycle, laid out, in a book called “How the Mighty Fall,” that illustrates what mistakes have to happen to topple a good and powerful company.

The first step is, “Hubris Born of Success.”

A company would become so successful at that thing that made them into a giant, that they now feel infallible.

Not to make this the post where I talked about Romans all the time, but I was once told that when coming back from war, someone was assigned to walk alongside Roman generals as they marched back into Rome, victorious.

“Remember, thou art mortal,” would be said softly to the general, over and over again, as the welcome parade showered the victors with adoration as they returned home.

“Remember, thou art mortal.”

Hubris born of success happens when no one is there to remind you thou art mortal.

Next the book says a company goes through the following stages: The undisciplined pursuit of more, which leads to denial and risk of peril, then grasping for salvation and magic bullets, which results in:

A choice.

Capitulation to death, or:


This is when I observe ‘knowing your why’ to be very useful.

You ever fuck up royally, and watch everything you’ve invested yourself in crumble around you, if you want to get through that, you’d better know why the hell you started in the first place, and that reason had better be something you can rally behind.

In the book, Jim Collins, explains that sometimes companies would come back from the edge at this last possible moment, and it was always because they realized that they were an important part of the greater infrastructure of the world, and they were unwilling to let their power vacuum be filled by their opponents.

And they stand back up.

This happened to the city of Chicago after its great fire. By all accounts, Chicago should have been abandoned; it was done.

But Chicago was already a major stop of trade, and all of the rail lines were going to go to that spot, whether it was a burnt heap, or a rebuilt thriving city.

The surrounding governments even chipped in to rebuild the city, because Chicago was a necessary component of the greater whole.

This is when I think ‘finding your why,’ is useful.

You’re a big success, but that success is about to crumble, and if you want to get back up, you’re going to need a clear understanding of who you are, and what you provide, and why the world cannot live without you.

By all means, once you’re successful, know why you are worth keeping around.

But at the beginning of an enterprise, (which I have to imagine is when the majority of people have heard Simon Sinek’s “why” concept; most people are just starting, most people are not the City of Chicago) I have found that the far more important question is:

Find your who.

To paraphrase a concept from Naomi of IttyBiz:

Most people spend almost all of their time marketing, because they spent a little bit of time on the concept and execution of a product/service, that they spent even less time, almost no time at all thinking about who they can help.

She explains that people think marketing is hard, because they have their efforts backwards. Marketing is hard when you spent almost no time at all thinking about the people you are going to help.

But actually invest yourself in finding the right people to match your skills? Make something thought-out, for the people who are asking for someone like you to help them?

She says the marketing, in that case, often need not be more than a simple notice, “This thing exists,” and people come swarming for it.

People are in pain.

Gabby Bernstein said once, “There are far more people in need, than people helping.” And her point was that there is an unending pool of opportunity for you to do something to make the world better, so don’t worry about the feeling of, “Oh all the smart businesses have already been taken,” that if you get going, you’ll find some people to help, because this is not a world where the helpers outnumber the pained. You’re needed. Go start your business.

People are in pain, and if you take the time to figure out what you can genuinely help with, and find the people who are asking for that help, you can help.

And the world will be better for it.

5. The Ten Things A Who Looks Like

I had ruined all of my friendships from school by the time I found my who.

I wish I could have found my who sooner.

In the absence of having my who, I instead tried to reshape the people around me into the who I was looking for.

That was wrong.

It’s fucked up that I did that.

I apologize that I did that.

It’s not up to us who asks for help. We don’t get to decide who wants what we have to offer.

The trick, in the very-long meantime, before you have your who, is to remember that you do have something to offer, you’ve just been offering it to the wrong people.

Dean Jackson has a criteria for the customer you’re looking for.

I thought I was quoting it accurately for years, and then the day after the last time I wrote out his list, I saw a post of his and I’d been using a different list than his for a long time.

So this is a list of criteria for your who, inspired by, but different from Dean Jackson’s.

  1. They know there is a problem.
  2. They know they play some part in the problem.
  3. It disturbs them or pains them that they are contributing to this problem.
  4. They believe that a solution for this problem exists, or could be found.
  5. They have a history of paying for solutions.
  6. They have the money to pay you.
  7. They believe that you understand the problem well enough that you can help them find or create the solution.
  8. They believe that your solution will work for them. (Many believe in a solution but have more belief that others will be successful with it, than themselves, usually citing some special case that makes them immune to the solution that has worked for others.)
  9. THIS is the problem they want solved FIRST. (We all have gobs of problems to get to.)
  10. They want to solve this top-priority problem NOW. Today. Not a month from now.

I fucked up with the people in my life.

I treated them poorly.

But this is some common as hell shit, to ignore some part of that list.

We are impatient fuckers on this planet, and it’s really common to see most but not all of those criteria being met, and think, “I can convince them of the other parts… They’ll thank me in the end.”

Never get“thanked in the end.” That’s not really the way.

I’ve seen plenty of people running their business online who skip some of the criteria on this list, and then pass the frustration on to their customers.

You may have seen long-form online business ads with caveats such as, “But there’s one group I don’t want to buy my course, and that’s people who don’t take action!

That’s always a teacher who didn’t pick their who very clearly, and has had problems in the past getting solutions to every person who paid for their solutions, and their insecurity is now passed on to you, the new prospective customer.

When we’re the proprietor, it is our responsibility, to assume that there are people right now who are looking for solutions to problems that we solve.

Tara McMullen explained that most businesses are trying to convince people who don’t-yet-want-to-buy, to become people who want to buy.

But that our jobs actually are to find the people who do want to buy, who do want our help, but have no earthly idea that we exist.

Our job is to get out there where people-who-want-what-we-have can find us and get their problems solved.

Our job is not persuasion of people who are reticent; that’s bullying.

I’m tired of being a bully.

The above post was an entry for Paul Scrivens’ 30 Day Prompt Challenge.

Prompt: What’s the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to you and how did it affect you?