I love reading teen fiction.
It started with Twilight (which will always hold a special place in my heart) then The Hunger Games, the Divergent series and then I opened my world to Nutmeg award winners. That led to me The Fault in Our Stars, leading to me read all of John Green’s books, which takes me to the book Paper Towns.
The quote I write about today comes from this book.
“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it's going with my girlfriend - but I don't give a shit, man, because you're you. My parents have a shit ton of black Santas, but that's okay. They're them. I'm too obsessed with a reference website to answer my phone sometimes when my friends call, or my girlfriend. That's okay, too. That's me. You like me anyway. And I like you. You're funny, and you're smart, and you may show up late, but you always show up eventually.” ― John Green, Paper Towns
This quote stopped me in my mental tracks the first time I read it. I realized immediately the brilliance of what it was saying. This quote could be considered a catalyst that changed my life in a very significant way.
I read Paper Towns back in 2014 when I was in a relationship that needed to end, so naturally I read the quote in the context of how it applied to that relationship. I wrote the quote down in my iPhone notes but I hardly ever went back to it because it was branded in my brain, “You keep expecting people to not be themselves.”
Whether it was the relationship I was in at the time, annoying coworkers, my boss, a family member or friend, the moment I read that quote I felt like all of the issues in my life could be summed up in that one sentence. And I could add myself into that mix, just replace ‘people’ with ‘yourself’.
I started doing the opposite of expecting people not to be themselves, which was, expecting them to be themselves and saw epic changes in my life.
First let’s take a step back and look at an example situation to clarify how this really looks.
Imagine you have a friend who is quite self-involved. You have known her since college, and you consider her family because you are so close. Nonetheless this friend only does what is convenient for her, she will spend hours on the phone with you rehashing the same issues she always talks about but rarely thinks to ask you about what’s going on in your life. When it comes to gifts, she gets a D- if appreciation and gratitude were graded. On the flip side, you know if you need her she’s there for you, she’s as loyal as they come. She is also a ton of fun to be with and you know you can always be yourself with her.
We all have someone in our life who looks a little bit like this, you just might need to replace some of the details.
When we don’t expect our friend to be herself we give her a gift and get upset when she makes a snarky comment instead of a genuine thank you. We say we aren’t surprised by her reaction because that is the way she always is. But the fact is, we are upset by it and continually wish she would just say thank you and appreciate our gifts. This shows that we indeed are surprised she reacted as she did or maybe hopeful that she will one day change.
It’s an interesting thing that happens in these situations when we don’t expect people to be themselves.
We are surprised, hurt, disappointed in others, when they continually to act in the way they do. Then we complain about their behavior to our spouses, to other friends, to our siblings, to anyone who will listen. But why are we so surprised in this hurtful behavior? Why each time it happens do we expect it to be different?
The crazy thing is, during a venting session about someone who has done something we’ll say things like “She always does this!” So then why the heck are we so surprised?
It is absolute insanity to expect people to not be themselves. Just because we don’t like certain behaviors about them we can’t expect them to change to suit our own personal preferences.
Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, uses a phrase that I love. Dogs bark, cats meow and Olivia is selfish or Abby doesn’t text me back. You can fill in the last part with whatever behavior you are working on accepting.
If we decide that despite the behaviors we don’t like, we still want this person in our life, then we must accept people for everything that they are. We can then allow ourselves to stop being surprised when they act in a way that we don’t like. This greatly reduce the drama in our lives.
Or maybe the opposite is true. After finally realizing these behaviors (and therefore the person) aren’t going to change, we decide that we can’t accept those behaviors and end the relationship. That is your choice.
The first step is awareness. Next time you start complaining about something someone has done, ask yourself if this is a pattern of behavior with this person and if you can start to expect and accept this behavior. What would have to happen for you to accept this part of someone?
Long standing family patterns are often the worst culprit of lack of acceptance of who someone is. If you have a relative who is always late, never wants to
host, doesn’t want to drive to you, drinks too much, monopolizes the conversation, complains, curses too much, goes crazy with political nonsense, or any other habit that you find infuriating, ask yourself how you can prepare for their behavior before your visit. Maybe say the phrase, “Dogs bark, cats meow and Aunt Rita drinks too much”.
During this holiday season, see if you can give the best gift of all to your loved ones and to yourself- start expecting people to be themselves.