Here is an absurd story about online video game drama.
I used to be quite into World of Warcraft. In WoW (as we all abbreviate it), after a certain point, you had to join a guild in order to do the best content in the game. So here I am in this guild called “Clan Meteorites” or something, in an online game, with a bunch of people I have never met in real life, and never will. In this game I was playing a healing wizard-type character named “Backleshark.”
One day, a married couple who always played together got in a huge argument with my guild leader. After hours of agonizing over how I should handle the situation, I got involved. I took sides with the married couple, because I felt like they were being treated unfairly. The argument raged over the internet, and eventually I quit the guild, but only after getting so stressed out that I nearly became depressed. The conflict completely dominated my waking thoughts during the time I was involved in it.
I probably dreamed about it.
And then eventually I left that guild. I continued to play online games with some of those people for a while. But as the years passed, they drifted out of my life. I am no longer connected with any of them in any way. At one time, I had cared so much about their opinions and arguments. Now, they don’t even exist.
As the online video game guild dissolved, all the old conflicts dissolved with it. I find it strange that when I was inside the conflict I couldn’t see that some day none of it would matter to me at all. My lack of perspective is truly bizarre, especially given that this wasn’t even the real world. It wasn’t my world at all. It was Backleshark’s world, a world of goblins and sorcery, and it could never have lasted.
Why couldn’t I see that the group of people whose opinions I cared about so much then would someday just be a weird story I barely remembered? Why couldn’t I see that my social circle at that moment would not be my social circle forever?
Anyway, that’s about the most absurd story I can think of from my own life. So now it’s honesty time. Look back on your life. How many times have you gotten caught up in drama, stressed about what people thought of you, angry about what folks said behind your back? Go ahead, take some time to remember. Now, how many of those people are still a part of your life, at all?
How many of them ever really were a part of your life?
It’s not 10,000 years ago. We are not going to spend our whole lives only knowing a few hundred people (at most). But in some ways, our emotional brains are still stuck in a world that is thousands of years old, a world that is, in its own way, as unreal as Backleshark, Clan Meteorites and WoW. So our brains keep telling us that the drama matters, that gossip is important, that our social circle is crucial.
Here are two things I wish someone had told me decades ago:
First, my circle of friends now won’t be my circle of friends forever. Some day, I may not care about these people at all. I should act accordingly.
Second, I need more than one circle of friends. Any group of friends can become toxic, and if I only have one group, how do I know whether I’m the toxic one?
I didn’t need to learn these two lessons from experience in the way that, for instance, I needed to learn from experience that love isn’t enough to keep a relationship together. No one could have explained that one to me. I needed to learn that from life’s body blows. But I did need someone to say to me, or I needed to read somewhere, that my brain is just not always rational given the society we live in now. Sometimes my brain is stuck in a past age of stone tools, illiteracy and mass infant mortality.
For me, once I intentionally tried to keep up multiple circles of friends who did not know each other, and who did not share the same beliefs or values, I was very surprised to see how my own deep values emerged. I always thought that I was individualistic, but until I had multiple groups of friends, I was actually following the herd more than I realized.
You have a 10,000 year-old brain that, on some level, thinks the people you are friends with now will be your clan forever. It isn’t true. How much differently would you act if you ignored what your social circle thinks, given that most of them won’t be around 10 years from now, let alone forever? How much differently would you act if you had many social circles, who didn’t always agree with each other? How would you see your own deep values, and your own priorities?