When I was a teenager I was an obnoxiously selfish little shit. I mean, I guess we all were. But I look back on those days and more often than not have to shake my head in disgust. One of the things that I remember being particularly snotty about was any time someone tried to suggest that anyone had it worse than me. For instance, claims of inequality for people growing up in more economically disadvantaged situations were met with empathetic responses like “Yeah, BUT I’m poor too and I’ve done okay. So fuck them”. This “Yeah, BUT” concept was often applied to various groups. Women are being treated unfairly compared to men, you say? Yeah, BUT there are women out there more successful than any guy I know, so there you go, why are they still complaining? Don’t you think black men are being treated worse by the criminal justice system? Yeah, BUT there are white guys getting pulled over for nothing too. Sometimes. Probably?
I understand that it is a time for everyone that age to start figuring out how the world works, and I shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t have a strong sense of justice when I would be outraged that I’d have to come home for (graciously provided) dinner and do homework instead of staying out and having tickle fights with the girls that I recently started to notice. Still, it bothers me. Not just my lack of perspective, but my inability to see things in a way that is not so defensive. They say truth hurts; apparently so much that I couldn’t avoid framing myself as the real victim. Don’t make me feel guilty or I will come at you. What a dick. Thankfully over time I became (slightly) more of an enlightened soul and realized that just because I’m a privileged, white, American male, does not mean that I have to defend all of their actions or advantages. It’s quite liberating. Say it with me now: I have it pretty easy and there a lot of awful things that my fellow pasty patriots do that do not deserve our excuses.
Sadly, the more I thought about my shameful history of “Yeah, BUTS” I realized that I was still throwing them around too frequently. Not usually in relation to outdated stereotypes or trying to blame the victim but in the glorious arena of nothing –fights. These should be instantly recognizable even amongst those in good relationships. I thought you were going to help with the dishes this weekend? “Yeah, BUT you said you were going to help with trash. And I’ve done it every time. EVERY GODDAMN TIME. Yes, I’m serious. [Long Pause] Fine, I’m doing the dishes. [Dirty look] No I’m not mad.” But you are mad. It’s their fault. You started to say so yourself before thinking I shouldn’t keep talking. But you’re still thinking it. And why not? Why take responsibility when you can shift the focus onto them? Didn’t you say you were going to drink less? “Yeah, BUT look at how much you drink! It doesn’t matter if what you are saying is true or not, all that matters in that moment is avoiding thinking about what you should be doing. And blaming someone else. You drunk.
Not every suggestion or criticism means you have to dig into the blame bank to throw something back at them. But it does seem like a first response too often for some of us. As a so-called adult there are a lot of things that I’m still scared of (marriage, kids, minivans) but I should be able to handle criticism more maturely. And I should be able to be more empathetic to loved ones that tell me something that might not be so rosy. People will advise you to just be honest with your partner and your friends, but as most people can confirm, that is sort of a load of crap. And… it doesn’t fix the problem. What you say is secondary to actually thinking about your actions first: you’re admitting it’s true with the “yeah” already, why don’t you consider that for 30 seconds before using the “BUT” to battle with them. Otherwise, yeah, you can be honest, but you’re still being an asshole and haven’t thought about the real issue.
At least now that I’ve admitted this out loud, there is some room to fix this in my personal relationships and be more accountable going forward. But this is still an enormous, worldwide problem; the human reliance on avoiding responsibility under the guise of justice. Democrats and Republications can’t pass the simplest of bills because of the blame game. Do you care about getting things done or pointing fingers? Nevermind, we already know that answer. Not that the rest of the world is much better. It’s amazing anyone can come to a peace treaty agreement when it’s so much easier to bring up, distort, and rally against your rival’s most recent aggression. And don’t forget to downplay your own attacks. Political and religious opponents around the globe holding tight to their ridiculous beliefs because the other side’s more ridiculous in their opinion. Why try to agree on anything if means you can’t point out all of the faults of your enemy anymore? How else are we supposed to feel good about ourselves?
The Israel-Palestine conflict? Probably the most egregious “Yeah, BUT”-ers of our time. We know, we get it, unspeakable violence has been committed. But seriously, is there a more juvenile argument than “Yeah, BUT they did it first”? Has that EVER fixed anything? As Brian Regan recently joked, they need a good dad to come in and solve the problem. If you can’t find a way to share, I’m going to take it away from both of you. Not an ideal solution sure, but neither is refusing to make progress because you feel you’ve been wronged more than the other side and refuse to consider any other possibilities of the truth. At some point recounting your history is just a huge waste of time, made worse by the fact that each account is entirely biased.
It spreads to the national and international levels because as groups and individuals this behavior is not only acceptable, but we are personally rewarded by engaging in it. Yeah, it’s dumb to continue fighting forever BUT it’s really embarrassing to admit you were wrong. Even an admission of guilt can be softened by more harshly judging the other person in the conflict. “Yeah I called her a bitch, BUT she deserved it. She wouldn’t change the fucking channel even though she knows I hate that show.” Let’s break this down further. Would you be mad if someone else called her a bitch? Yes. Is her not changing the channel really that big of a deal? No, BUT... Stop it. No “BUTS”. Now even though you let your preferences be known, is there any reason why your opinion on what to watch matters more than hers? No. Okay, good. Now apologize to your grandma, she had to put up with a ton of your awful shows growing up and she just wants to watch her damn stories in peace.
Most adults have the sense to not “Yeah, BUT” their grandparents, but I’ve heard more than enough from people old enough to rent a car sounding like they are young enough to be driving one made by Playschool. “Did you ditch your roommate last weekend?” Yeah, BUT he never does anything fun and I felt bad turning him down again. Not good enough. (Wo)Man up and tell him he’s too boring. Or don’t. But stop making excuses for yourself. You shouldn’t stand-up your friends. Even ones more boring than watching golf. “Did your parents buy that for you?” Yeah, BUT they owed it to me since they were such assholes growing up. No, they don’t owe you shit and everyone else’s parents were assholes too. Be grateful, not ashamed. (Sorry, I may have just yeah-butted their “Yeah, BUT”, especially if their parents were dicks. Damn, this is tough.) You should treat your friends like they are intelligent (even if they’re not) and don’t assume they can’t see through your bullshit. And for the love of god, if your boss asks you if you finished something that you didn’t get to, don’t throw someone else under the bus. “Didn’t I say I needed this done today?” Yeah, BUT Gail didn’t finish either and I had way more than her to do. NO. Grow. The. Fuck. Up.
Before rationalizing and judging others to let yourself of the hook it makes more sense to take a few steps back and not respond so defensively. Ask some useful questions instead or (god forbid) ask yourself what really happened. Think about what’s actually fair, and what you could have done better to save yourself from some unnecessary hypocrisy. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes, and to be selfish, and to flat out just not like someone else. But we only make ourselves suck more but blaming someone else for our actions with a flurry of “Yeah, BUT’s” Let’s eliminate this phrase together. If nothing else we won’t have to sound like an ignorant teenager that was always mad at someone else for their problems and not changing anything for the better. I mean, there’s probably a reason why everyone hates them, right?