Man, Are We United?

Manchester United, the football team I have barracked for since I was a young boy, lost this week to the bottom-of-the-table dweller. Sheffield United, by all accounts, were not expected to win. After all, they had won just one match at the half-way point of the season. Man United had to win, to cement themselves as title contenders – a title they last won in 2013. Yeah, that is a long time ago, for a great club. But, they lost when they were supposed to win easily. Typical of them. The way they have been playing for the past few seasons isn’t the way true champions play. Unless they think they are playing yo-yo, up and down, and up and down again. The Man United fan club in my chat group is named the Fuanclub – Fuan being the die-hard fan who is the most vocal. The most parochial. The one with the blinkers on, I say. No ifs no buts, a no-nonsense man. To belong in his club, you have to be absolutely biased for the team. You have to be absolutely positive, even when they are losing. Even when they are losing when they should be winning by a comfortable margin. You make an honest remark about a sloppy pass or share the poor stats of Anthony Martial, their No. 9 striker and daggers will fly at you. No negative comments are allowed! NO BAD VIBES, he will shout at you. Well, no one else will dare to be honest with Fuan around. So, all the daggers are aimed at me, an easy target due to my boisterous remarks. The red cards are flashed at me – OUT! Get off the field. NO BAD VIBES, he yells at me. Yeah, I have been red-carded so often I think I have copped a lifetime ban from the Fuanclub. To be fair, the others do occasionally voice their frustrations at certain players or at their lack of urgency and intensity. It may not be far off the mark to say Man United are the most frustrating team to support. They have fantastic players but these young millionaires don’t often turn up to play. They give the impression they need to just amble about for the first half before showing up to kick their opposition after the interval. Fuan is willing to overlook all the negatives of the team – that is what a loyal fan does. But, I am not made like that. After all, I cry out “urghh” in disgust when I write about us humans. The ugly earthlings. Urghhlings. There are so many negatives about humans that the some of the ugly traits appear during a football match. The brutal tackles, some career-ending. The “dives” to win a free-kick or a penalty. The referee whose blatantly wrong decisions that changed the results of a game were so obvious we had to ask if he had been bought by some online gambling consortium. The feigning of an injury to sway the ref’s mind and flash the red card at the opponent. The lazy millionaire players who do not give their 100% in every match.

Fuan is a caring friend. We have been friends since 1965. After the Man United loss earlier this week, he reminded me to be positive. I know, I know. A positive state of mind is not only good for me, it benefits everyone around me also. Who doesn’t want sunshine? Who would walk away from laughter? Who would avoid happiness and a positive outlook? My world will be a better place, he assured me.

First Son suggested yesterday I should change what I write about. After all, “Urghhlings” can only be about the ugly nature of humans. As a writer, if I am only looking at the negative aspects of life and at the ugliness of people generally, will I not miss out on the many positives? Am I not focusing purely on the bad stuff people do or say? Will this constant looking out for negativity in life eventually affect my mental health? But, the truth of the matter is that I do not even need to search for the negatives! They are simply everywhere, every day! I see them often since I work in retail and for decades, I have witnessed the many ugly tricks the customers do to gain a refund or discount or a free replacement.

Am I crazy to be looking at the negatives rather than the positives? I should feel lucky. To have Fuan and now First Son both reminding me to look at the positive side of everything and everyone. Something has to be clearly wrong with me for both to be so forward with me just two days apart. This is serious, I told myself. No one had ever come to me to spruik the benefits of being a positive person. For two people far away on opposite sides of the world and unknown to each other to come forward on the same week to encourage me to be a positive person tells me very loudly that I have a problem. What has happened to me? Why have I become like this? So negative. Have I always lived with this negative mindset? Am I prone to looking at the dark side rather than the bright side? When did I become this cynical? Petty, I am sure someone recently said. Was I born this way? What does it matter – why ask so many questions? Just be aware and change for the better, right? I like to think I’m analytical. Find out when and why I became this annoying person with these unwelcome traits and then nip the problem so I can fix these issues for good? But, I should be careful not to be too defensive or be overly sensitive. It sounds bad that I am considered a poor sport. A bad loser. A toxic person. A grouch. A whinger. That can’t be me! I’m nothing like that. Yet, this is what they say about me. Instead of arguing against them, I chose to accept they were telling me the truth. They were reaching out. To pull me from the black hole they see me in. Have I been so out of touch of my own reality? I have long suspected I am a loser in the popularity stakes, so I told myself there is no need to be popular. There is the story about the man who tried to please everybody and ended up pleasing no one. Yeah, I won’t want to be that person. Popularity is for those who aren’t comfortable in their own skin, I reasoned to myself. Just be myself, be honest, this is who I am. Yet, here I am, finally being forced to look into the mirror today. I don’t like what I see. I am asked to consider that actually I am an urghhling because of my negative attitudes. I am petty and super critical to point out people’s faults rather than praise them for the good they have done. I whinge too readily about their flaws and scoff at their weaknesses. Philip, a friend from my secondary school days left a forum I belong to two nights ago after I insensitively cut him down with some “facts” that challenged the source of his political views. His often-pedalled anti-Biden conspiracy theories and his vexing anti-China rhetoric bristled me. I wrote what I wrote and pressed “SEND”. So trigger-happy, so easy to press my buttons. I felt so rotten I regretted the whole night and lost precious sleep. I was truly disgusted with myself. Why did I not just let him share his views with us without interrupting him? What made me think I should question his views? Gerard, another old school mate who now resides in Ireland, comforted me by phone last night. He was thoughtful enough to call and tell me not to be tough on myself. I had just as much right to share my opinion as the other chap, Gerard said. Thank you, Gerard. You’re very kind to reach out to me to help me wash away my guilt. But it got me thinking again about myself. Why do I let out this unpleasant character that’s inside me every so often? My words are so unpalatable that an old friend would rather leave? Why couldn’t I be nice like the other 95 members in the forum? They remained silent and allowed Philip the space and time to ramble on. No, I had to be that annoying fellow who must “correct” an utterance he thinks is wrong. Now, I do accept that what I think is wrong may of course not be wrong but it doesn’t stop me from “correcting” it. That makes me a lousy friend to spend time with, I do get it. I am fully aware of my character flaws, yet why do I carry on with such bad behaviour? Why can’t I be a better person? It seems so easy, just be nicer, friendlier and kinder! Smile and the world smiles at you. Look out for the positives and everyone will enjoy your company. Be more agreeable. That is happiness, right?! Be more understanding, less judgemental and definitely try to be more forgiving. I have read Dale Carnegie’s very influential book, How To Win Friends And Influence People. So, why haven’t I improved myself? Why aren’t I popular with friends and family? His proposals sounded so easy to adopt at the time. Six easy ways to make people like me. Be genuinely interested in other people. Smile. Remind myself that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound. Be a good listener. Focus on the other person’s interests. Make the other person feel important, but do it sincerely.

I will try and balance my views with some positive things which happen around me. My world is not all negative. Not all earthlings are urghhlings. My blogs aren’t all negative, I defended myself. I write about Murray, my son’s dog! Murray is the loveliest and happiest personality around me. He exudes unquestioned loyalty and implicit trust in me. He teaches me unconditional love and shows unbridled joy at my slightest attention at him. He is a treasure trove of fun to be with.

I think it was my management training early in my career that made me into who I am. We called it “Management by Exception”. We produced reports that highlight the inefficiencies, the deadwood, and the weaknesses in the system. We sought out the bad to fix them and if we could not fix them, we got rid of them. We left the good ones alone – if it ain’t broken, don’t change it. The working cogs of the wheel do not need changing. We said thank you to the good workers, but our focus was always on the negative ones. Good employees received praises and bonuses, but they also heard the honest negative feedback from me. Bad employees did not last long. I think we become that person in our job, and I have been doing mine for a lifetime. Managing by exception invariably means looking out for and focusing on negatives to get rid of in the business. I have become that person who focuses on negatives. This is certainly true even during a football match. I hurl criticisms at the Man United players with the lazy strides, or those defenders whose feet are flat on the ground when the opposition striker scores and especially at Anthony Martial who too often kicks the ball straight back out to his team-mate who had just executed a slick pass to him inside the 18-yard box. I have been my own boss for so long I have become dictatorial. “It is always your way or the highway”, a close relative said of me last week. Sure, I do listen to other opinions, but the final decisions are always mine to make. That must make it very difficult for people close to me to even breathe! Sadly and belatedly, I am realising that is the price I am paying for my “success”. I have become that urghhling whose company no one enjoys. Petty, defensive, depressing. Despicable and therefore, often ostracised.