Avoiding Explosive Reactions

Towards the end of George Saunders’ letter for James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, Saunders writes, “enter a new moral space in which the emphasis is on seeing with clarity, rather than judging.” He writes this as an explanation of his actions when someone is deliberately infringing upon his rights, intentionally damaging his property, or simply doing something that upsets him.  What he is explaining is that we can choose how we want to see a situation, and by adopting new perspectives we can make better decisions with how we react to other people’s actions.


Saunders in this quote reminds me of Paul Jun whose blog Motivated Mastery has been a huge inspiration for me.  Jun often writes about self awareness and self control, and being able to pause and think in situations where it is easy to become highly reactionary.  While Jun’s focus is internal, Saunders’ focus is more external. Both advocate for self awareness and self control, but Jun follows a more stoic mindset and encourages you to forget the other and not let their actions affect you, while Saunders encourages you to take action to protect yourself, but only if your actions are constructive as opposed to punishing or explosive.


What Saunders pushes for is a society that does not want people to instantly deem others as evil monsters.  His letter begins with a thought experiment that focuses on two babies born at the same time, but born to two very diffenet families. One child is born to a strong and supportive family, while the other is born into a broken home of drug addicted parents.  The child who grows up with an unsupportive family, in Saunders’ view, is not a monster,  but simply does not have the advantages and support needed to grow up in a way that society typically deems respectful and appropriate. Rather than creating more obstacles for that individual and finding excuses to judge their negative behavior, Saunders would advocate that we understand their past, and take constructive steps to prevent ourselves from being harmed by their bad decisions, but still accept who they are.  For him this involves a clear understanding of other people and their situation, and a willingness to be open minded so that we can invite these individuals into a conversation about how we can all create a better place.  Immediately judging others shutting them out of conversations to improve society by labeling them as evil monsters harms everyone in society, not just the individual who is excluded.

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