Lessons From Service & Moviegoing: Let Others Be The Hero & You Always Win

How do we end up rooting for anti-heros?  Film and television characters that aren’t 100% virtuous have always managed to get our full support.  They don’t always do the right thing, but we want them to succeed at whatever they are doing (even if it’s something with questionable morality).  In a sense, we aren’t cheering always for the success of ethics, but success itself.

The last decade of television has taken things even further.  Not only are the main characters marbled with rough characteristics, they’re sometimes just completely shitty.  Think about shows like House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad. We find ourselves rooting for the success of rather sinister protagonists.  Why? Because they’re the central figure – and we naturally take on the experience of any central figure. Central figures that are wildly different people than we are still feel like the closest characters to us for the simple fact that we too are central figures.  We are the central figures of our own lives. The entertainment world knows this and has become highly skilled at establishment character centrality and making us not want to experience their failure, even if they are failing at doing something horrible.

Basically, the character we have the most intimate relationship with is the one we are most likely to root for.  And, in life, the most intimate relationship we have is with ourselves. It doesn’t matter how close you and a soulmate-like romantic partner are…you don’t live inside of their consciousness.


How Seeing Everything With The Subject-Object Model Gives You A New Understanding of Yourself & Others

Funny, in studying both film and Eastern spirituality, I never expected such overlap: both involve understanding what are known as “subject-object relationships”.  In brief, this model reveals that we are the subjects of our lives, and our reality is populated by objects, which are basically the food of our experience. The inner world of the subject is considered primary and the inner world of the objects is secondary, since they are just meant to feed the story of the subject.  Basically, as the subjects of our lives, we tend to think of ourselves as a complex central inner world surrounded by an orbit of simple objects feeding that world.

The goal of both art and spirituality is to take us beyond that simple subject-object dynamic and more deeply connect us to the world around us.  So all those objects we are surrounded by can also be subjects… all you need is a change of perspective (especially if those objects are humans, or animals, or things that are understood to have some degree of intelligence).  Hence the Golden Rule (“do unto others…”), which basically calls us to recognize that “others” are the subjects of their own reality, not just objects of ours. A healthier relationship to our lives would indeed involve living in a world not just full of objects, but subjects just like us.  This means we can imagine that other people are having an inner experience that we need to consider before we indulge the needs of our own inner experience. This is why objectifying someone is such a disservice to them.  Looking at everything as secondary, or just a means to maximizing our own experience of life is to dehumanize the world and siphon its energy for your own gain.  Out of any animal, the human brain is most equipped with these higher order mechanisms that can tap into someone else’s subjective experience (early research into mirror neurons has actually found physical hardware that allows us to understand and respect the fact that other people are a uniquely conscious person).


You’re Good At Letting Others Take The Stage In Films/TV…But You Really Benefit When You Can Do This In Life

This becomes evident when watching film/TV.  It’s amazing how easy it is to fully leave ourselves and invest ourselves in its characters.  We are transferring the subject role to the central figure(s) of what we are viewing. But how strange that it is so difficult to do with the flesh and blood humans standing in front of us on a daily basis.  This is probably because entertainment renders us a passive observers (one of the reasons why it’s so attractive…we get a break from our ego’s endless demands). But in our lives we are so actively involved (I hope) that our minds tell us that we are the central figure (AKA: the subject) and reality is a world of external objects.  We interact with our environments and reality gives us feedback. Our actions yield clear consequences and those are most deeply felt by us. More so than observing anyone interacting with the world and experiencing its consequences.

So reality is really good at keeping us established in our minds as the protagonist.  Even if you’re the most selfless, compassionate person on earth, you’re the center of your story.  You’re the “helpful to others” protagonist of your story. And your decisions, even if they are in service of others, are governed by you and where you want your story to go.  This is not a bad thing. It’s necessary. If our focus was not the integrity of ourselves and our journey through life, then we would be at the whim of the needs of those around us.  And if our lives have characters with even a fraction of the destructive power of the ones of our entertainment, then the needs of others could consume us. This is the value of our “ego selves”.  In a previous article, I’ve made a case for how our egos are not the unwanted growth we may think they are.

The purpose of this article is to have you understand the egos of others and their own need to maintain centrality.  This means understanding that most people, most of the time, are entirely self-concerned. It’s important to remember this.  Not to cultivate a dreary picture of the world, but to understand why, in any given moment, someone doesn’t care if they’re inconveniencing, insulting, or otherwise upsetting you.  This is not because you are worth less than they are (they are probably too self-absorbed to even allow that thought to cross their mind), but because as the protagonist of their story, everyone’s needs are secondary to their own.


Why It’s Vital To Not Let Your Ego Make You Think You’re The Center of All Situations

It hurts to be considered less important than someone.  But remember you aren’t being considered objectively less important, but subjectively less important (subjectively according to them, the subject).  And that’s simply because you cannot be the center of someone else’s story.  You can at most be highly influential.  Ultimately, this is only really a problem for people that are egomaniacal. They have the need to be the center of the other people’s universes.  You may have experienced people like this in your lives.  Always attempting to eat up everyone’s attention, push others down to bring themselves up, baffled why their needs aren’t put before everyone else’s, etc.  This is toxic behavior that everyone can feel corroding the room. But in little ways we all do this. We attempt to establish our centrality to others. We try to break through other people’s stories, pulling them from their own sense of centrality so they acknowledge our significance.

But this can make you needy and annoying.  It is very easy to cross this threshold in service.  For example, the “guest experience” at a restaurant is basically a ceremonial honoring of someone else’s centrality.  All of the employees in the restaurant, though they have their own lives (complete with dreams, fears, anxieties, stories and all the other ingredients of a central protagonist), their own stories are considered irrelevant in service of the guest’s needs, desires, fears, and dreams.  The guest is paying to be a protagonist surrounded by supporting roles.


Being A Skillful Supporter…And How This Is Beneficial To You

That’s why, when serving, having a light presence is major currency.  In Japanese tea ceremony, the server’s role is highly conservative, moving conversation forward, but never stealing the spotlight.  Skillful bartenders (maybe ones that have studied Japanese tea ceremony) will be able to do the same. Although you may think that charismatic figures are really good at attracting attention, the most masterful ones tend to defer it.  This video of the famously charismatic Chris Hemsworth, provides a good study of what’s so loveable about him.  One key trait is how much he highlights the awesomeness of others.

If you have a role in customer service, then having to constantly play this game of positioning others as more important than you might be wearing on you.  Humbling yourself and not needing such service to your ego is much more powerful than luxuriating in it. And the fact that you are making the guest central and yourself secondary is not something that has to be in the foreground.  Really good experienced servers are very natural at it, and maintain kind, accommodating, and highly engaged interactions with their guests in a very breezy way. Stiff, sycophantic, nervously servile ones can strain even the most attention-hungry guests.


“But…What About Me?”:  How To Be Supportive While Being In Control

It’s important to remember that this dynamic is not just used in professional hospitality, but ones where the person relinquishing centrality is actually in control of the outcome:

-Psychotherapists use a light, neutral, non-judgmental position that allows their clients to feel comfortable enough to explore themselves and how they really tick.

-Coaches work solely to inspire and shape their players, and ideally involve very little of their own needs or personal story in their player’s lives.

-Corporate executives (the smart ones anyway) get the most out of their team by validating the importance of each member without involving any of their own needs or worries.

It’s the same with parents, teachers, and many others in power positions.

-In tea ceremony, although the server has a conservative presence, they are in charge of the event.  And it’s their very restraint that allows them to properly lead it.

-All Power that involves having a certain domain over other, demands attention away from yourself and into the other.  

-In fact, the better one is at doing this (considering the whole over their own needs), the more effective of a leader they can be.

-True leaders spend much more time collecting information than preaching what they know.  Believe you need to spend any time demonstrating your importance to the world is usually the result of an inferiority complex.

So, although you are giving centrality to the guest, you can decide the terms by which you are doing so.  Is it just because you are a lowly server? Or is it because both yourself and others benefit from you investigating their needs and providing for them?  Is it because you gain from learning about others? Is it because it just simply makes you more lovable than directly declaring your awesomeness to the world?  The list goes on.

I suppose this whole article was a very long-winded way of saying, “Life’s not just about you.”  However, really knowing the benefit of that is vital, since your ego is so good at steering you into feeding its base needs for validation.  And you won’t get to reap the rewards of thinking beyond that. Anyone that has succeeded at anything will tell you that the nectar of life is not found in others confirming how important you are.  It’s found in the process of learning, growing and bringing out the best in others. Go in with that as your intention, and going outside of yourself becomes much easier.

And this also makes all the little misconducts of others much easier to shrug off.  Know that people aren’t spending much of their time thinking negatively about you when they’re so often wrapped up in their own story.  Surrounded by a world of objects, they may only perceive the two-dimensional aspect of you. I know you want them to see the 3rd dimension of you, but that need for recognition actually enslaves you to them.  And that neediness will actually make you present yourself forcefully rather than relaxed and naturally, so even if you receive validation, it won’t even be acknowledging an authentic version of yourself. So understanding the tendency of others to make themselves central is not binding you to servitude, but liberating you to be yourself, free of what they might think.  Even if they are thinking negatively about you, it’s an opinion colored by their own subjectivity – their own needs, fears, and paranoias. It is, by definition, not an objective opinion. Either way, it is less likely for any aspect of yourself to be on trial if your presence is light and attentive to them over yourself. It’s those that demand validation that find their egos on the chopping block.


Tips For Walking That Powerful Line Between Leader & Supporter

  1. Ask questions more than make statements.  Be interested rather than interesting (this, ironically, makes you more interesting).
  2. Respond to what people say by re-emphasizing and then expanding on it (i.e. they say, “______________” then you say “________________” .
  3. Notice details about people that you find interesting or charming (you don’t have to vocalize these things…simply noticing them has a powerful effect).
  4. Do Metta Bhavana meditations (see the guide here).