Why you should ignore people who say, ‘Don’t Take it Personally’

Feedback is good; it helps us to improve as well as recognise strengths (and blind spots). But there are some forms of criticism that I hate, which are especially prevalent in the business world. Any type of advice that goes along the lines of, ‘You need to develop a thicker skin’ or ‘Don’t take things to heart’ makes me furious. Let’s analyse it. Telling someone, don’t take it personally is basically the same as telling them to be less human. I AM a person so, YES I would like to take things personally!! Since when did acting like an authentic breathing human being become such a bad thing?

The answer is capitalism. This political system breeds obedience. Sure, the captivating lure of untold freedom and individualism is delicious; work hard and you can forge your own way in the world, success is limitless, blah, blah, blah. What no one tells you is this shiny promise comes with a rich price tag: your soul.

In developed capitalist societies, individuals spend their entire lives learning to be obedient. We study and waste our youth doing boring internships for the mere purpose of getting a job, not for the sake of learning in itself. We are taught to follow instructions well enough to appease the bigwigs. We learn to be just collaborative enough so we can live in harmony with the other lemmings (revolutions are so passe). And we become just smart enough that we can make money for others, but never overthrow them.

Company Psychology

Let me share a psychological tidbit from my own professional experience. Myers-Briggs, also known as MBTI, is a popular profiling tool in the corporate world. It measures individual preferences across four dichotomies:

  • Introversion vs Extroversion (where we get energy)
  • Sensing vs Intuition (how we receive information)
  • Feeling vs Thinking (how we make decisions)
  • Judging vs Perceiving (how we navigate the physical world)

When I was getting my MBTI practitioner’s qualification, I learned most company CEOs are an ESTJ type: (extroversion, sensing, thinking, judging). Even worse, I discovered companies prefer to hire ESTJ types. An ESTJ is considered the perfect corporate citizen. They are described as follows:

Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.

Surprised? Get real, please! Corporations don’t want shakers and movers. Look to AI developments. AI bots are programmed to be highly organised, obedient, detail-oriented, and unemotional. Just like an ESTJ. They get shit done in an orderly fashion without breaking the rules, and that’s what the money-makers want. Trust me, no one is attempting to program a revolutionary. And that’s why middle-management are always pleading, ‘don’t take it personally’.

don't take it personally

As a quick aside, my career profiling questionnaire is far more accurate (and interesting) than MBTI. You can check it out here.

The Cow Analogy

I’m a big fan of Yuval Noah Harari, and I particularly like his cow analogy when examining modern humans. In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) he argues we have become domesticated animals. Like docile cows that have been bred to produce tonnes of milk, we are evolving into tame humans who are efficient in mundane operations but otherwise inferior to our wild ancestors. He writes:

We are researching and developing human abilities according to the immediate needs of the economic and political system, rather than according to our own long-term needs as conscious beings. My boss wants me to answer emails as quickly as possible, but he has little interest in my ability to taste and appreciate the food I am eating. Consequently, I check my emails even during meals, while losing the ability to pay attention to my own sensations. The economic system pressures me to expand and diversify my investment portfolio, but it gives me zero incentives to expand and diversify my compassion… if we are not careful, we will end up with downgraded humans misusing upgraded computers (71).

don't take it personally

This is so true!! And there is a real risk for some of us unenlightened ones. The pace of change is growing faster with each generation. When I was born, mobile phones and computers didn’t exist. Now, I cannot imagine life without them. With incredible technological and biological advancements occurring almost daily, it makes absolutely no sense to kill the next generation with rote-learning in technical subjects like computer science, programming, or even calculus. I’m not saying these are unimportant. They are good skills to learn in the short-term, to compliment one’s overall development, or to teach how to think. But let’s also acknowledge that computers can store and process more data than humans ever will, and do it far more accurately. Computers are smarter than us. So, if a computer can beat you in scrabble today, do you really think your basic data-processing and analytical skills will be worth a shit in ten years?

don't take it personally

The only competitive edge humans will have over the machines is our ability to feel and, (to a lesser extent) be creative. Computers are a safe bet because they function predictably. Meanwhile, humans can be prized for their ability to act on impulse, behave irrationally, do the unexpected, perform acts of charity, feel empathy, and show kindness. But, this is only the case when our sensations are not constantly dulled by the blue light of our smartphones or the drone of middle-management.

In short, invest in developing your – and your children’s – ability to feel, empathise, and think creatively. In other words, learn how to be a proper human being again.

Slowing the Rise of the Machines

You can stand out from the crowd by telling people to ‘shove it’ when they comment, ‘don’t take it personally’. Starting today, give yourself permission to feel and to exist as an emotional being. Don’t push down your emotions! If someone is rude to you and you feel like crying, then just do it. What have you got to lose? Computers can’t cry, can they? And, you may actually realise positive results. Perhaps the idiot will apologise, and stop being so rude in the future.

don't take it personally

Human feelings are natural, and they serve a purpose. Emotions help humans to connect, enjoy genuine communications with one another, feel empathy, and they serve as a critical feedback mechanism. They can also protect us from danger. When our ancestors faced attack by a vicious animal, do you think they just stood there with a blank-faced expression? No! They yelled their lungs out and ran like hell. I don’t know about you, but I’m so tired of being surrounded by apathetic zombies who never react to anything except their Instagram feed or bank balance. It takes an act of God these days to solicit any kind of emotional response from anyone because they’ve been beaten into a comatose submission by their stupid phones, and too many years of working.

If displaying your emotions is too much of a jump for yourself, then there are other things you can do for the salvation of our human race. Push diversity agendas in your workplace. They are good for everyone, including white males. Normalising diversity is the first step towards accepting different behaviour in the corporate world. The light at the end of the tunnel promises no glory in being an ESTJ! You can also limit your time on your smartphone. The more you scroll, the more like a zombie you become. Maybe try eating a meal without being glued to a device? Re-learn what it feels like to savour food, rather than just stuffing it down your face while watching YouTube.

So, the next time someone tells you ‘don’t take it personally’, what are you going to do?

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