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What do you do when friends of yours turn nutter on you, such as when they descend into conspiracy theories, Trumpism, etc?
If they’ve otherwise been good friends, it can be distressing to watch them go down such a dark path. You may wonder if something happened to their brains, like a buildup of toxicity that made them turn. You may wonder if you could have done something to prevent their excursion into anti-truth. You may wonder how on earth they could be so ridiculously deluded.
You may ponder how to frame this situation going forward. Did they just turn stupid? Turn into assholes? Get sucked down some racist rabbit hole?
Start by accepting the obvious. So they went nutter on you. Let that sink in. Maybe it’s from ignorance. Maybe it’s from stupidity. Maybe it’s some latent assholishness that’s currently flexing itself. Maybe they did this to themselves, or maybe they got sucked into it.
Sometimes people go nutter. It happens – a lot. Perhaps it finally happened to people you know, including some friends, family, or coworkers. And maybe this is surprising or upsetting for you.
You can make yourself crazy trying to answer the “why” question. You’re not really going to know the whole truth about their descent (or the revelation of a pre-existing descent that you were previously unaware of). Regardless of what your friends say and regardless of how you try to explain their nutter descent, those answers aren’t going to satisfy you.
One problem is that even if you ask and probe, you’re unlikely to hear the real truth. You may get a sanitized answer, and it probably won’t make much sense. When someone goes nutter, they’re unlikely to see it or admit it. But you see it plain as day, and maybe it pains you that they can’t see it.
Another problem is that you don’t want it to be true, and that desire clouds your ability to see and accept the simplest version of the truth. You probably believed in a more idealistic world than the one we actually inhabit. So the realization that so many people are total nutters is hitting you hard. Your world doesn’t fit your expectations.
Maybe you thought the nutters were around 2% or less of the population, possibly surging to 5% in a bad year. But 40%+ is unfathomable. Do you really live in that kind of reality?
Yes, perhaps you do. Let’s stipulate that you do live in that kind of reality. Let’s accept for the moment that this reality happens to be abundant in nutters.
I know – it’s not what you wanted, but it’s here, it’s real, and it’s what you’ve got to deal with.
For the sake of simplicity and your own sanity, I suggest you let go of the why question because it will only run you in circles. Accept the obvious. Your friends have gone nutter. Maybe it’s temporary. Maybe it’s permanent. Maybe you could someday come up with a satisfactory explanation. But first just accept the simple truth that’s staring you in the face: their undeniable descent into nutterdom.
Here’s another tip: When asking “why” doesn’t give you good answers at one level, it will likely make sense at another level of asking. So instead of asking, “Why did my friend go nutter?” as if they went down some crazy rabbit hole, ask questions like, “Why is reality poking my boundaries like this right now? Where’s the lesson or invitation to grow here?”
Many people are realizing that the answer in this case isn’t just to see things from the other person’s perspective, shake hands, and go on about your business as if nothing happened. That works with disagreements where both people are reasonably aligned with truth and when both are willing to communicate honestly. It doesn’t work well when someone is over-invested in falsehoods. When someone is willing to accept a lie as their truth and defend it emotionally, you’re at an impasse, in which case you may be better off questioning why you’re tolerating having a relationship with a nutter in your life at all. Is it time to socially graduate to spending more time with intelligent and sensible grown-ups?
A nutter, almost by definition, will violate your boundaries. How do you want to relate to people who behave like that?
After the recent election, the L.A. Times invited Trump supporters to share their reasons for supporting Trump, devoting a significant amount of editorial coverage to this purpose. As you might imagine, it was a shit show, full of the usual disinformation and vapid nonsense you’d expect from such nutters. The Times took a lot of flak from their readers for this stunt, especially for legitimizing nutterdom as if it’s on the same level as intelligent discourse. Some even felt that featuring this content was cruel to the nutters, like gawking and poking at zoo animals.
This has been a nutter-rich world for a very long time. Look at how many different religions teach falsehoods that millions of people profess to believe, even though those beliefs make no sense. It’s not particularly difficult to find nutters just about anywhere.
Perhaps the problem is that you didn’t realize and accept this. Maybe you thought you’d carved out a social space separate from Nutterland. You thought your friends were smarter, nicer, and less delusional than they actually were. Their descent (or revelation) took you by surprise.
So you had some faulty assumptions that you need to bring back in sync with reality. You were simply wrong about those people and about the allure of Nutterland for them. The reason they surprised you is that your predictions and expectations about them were wrong. You’ve probably been wrong about those people for a long time, and you’re just realizing it this year.
So update your predictions and expectations. Now you know. It’s unlikely that the nutters are just going to flip around and start satisfying your erroneous expectations again, although you can slide into that pretense if you want. It’s better not to wallow in denial though. Let the truth have its say. Okay, so they’re nutters. You can still accept that and deal with it.
Choosing Your Response
Grieve if you must, but what you’re really grieving is the death of your own inaccurate expectations.
You didn’t think your friends would turn nutter, but they did anyway.
You didn’t think so many millions of people could go nutter, but they did anyway.
When reality surprises you, don’t blame reality. Confront your own false expectations. So you were wrong. Reality behaved differently than you expected. That happens sometimes.
When reality surprises you, see it as an invitation to upgrade your thinking and to improve your alignment with truth.
Accept the truth as presented to you, even when you think it’s an ugly truth that you’d rather not have to deal with.
When the truth sinks in, it’s easier to choose a sensible response. If your response is an honest one, you can also make it compassionate and empowering. But don’t try to be compassionate while turning your back on truth. Keep truth alignment front and center. Don’t pretend someone isn’t a nutter when it’s plain as day that they are.
If you want to continue having a relationship with nutters, then relate to them on that basis. Don’t pretend that they’re smart, kind, and caring people with minor character glitches that just need “healing”… while they continue to share the most ridiculous conspiracy theories.
Maybe you want to keep connecting with certain nutters for secondary benefits while keeping them at arms length, figuring you can limit your exposure to their worst aspects. Or perhaps you may conclude that nutters are beneath your standards for genuine friendship and let them go, so you can build or maintain a more truth-aligned, nutter-free social network. Maybe you can still appreciate their emotional expressiveness, even if it’s mostly fear and anger, and then you can decide what kind of relationship you want to have with people who wallow in fear and anger.
Are nutters worth your ongoing investment? Are they worthy of your friendship?
The scarier question to ask is: If you release the nutters, then what? Then you might build stronger relationships with smart people who care. And that’s a lot more difficult than you might assume.
Nutters have lower social standards. They’re more likely to accept you as you are, even when you succumb to delusional thinking. They’re less likely to hold you accountable to be your best, think your best, and do your best. They won’t really challenge you to grow, except in your tolerance for nonsense.
So that’s a temptation to watch out for. Nutter friends are easier in a way because once you accept that they’re nutters, they start looking pretty predictable after a while. They’re fountains of nonsense. Yes, it’s ridiculous what they believe, but it’s also easy in a way because you know it isn’t true. So they don’t really challenge you in the realm of truth.
It’s like being a 10-year old in a friendship with a 5-year old. You have the advantage because you’re older and smarter. You can see the 5-year old’s personal zoo of silliness for what it is. And there’s safety in that. Now flip it around and imagine being in a friendship with a 15-year old while you’re still 10. That’s going to throw you off balance – that friendship is likely to challenge you a lot more.
So just consider how you’re using your relationship with nutters. Have you been getting clingy with them because you don’t feel as safe playing with the older, smarter kids who challenge you? It’s all too tempting to spend a lot of time poking and gawking at the nutters and lamenting their predicament… especially when this lets you avoid more daunting social challenges.
In that regard you can think of your relationships with nutters as a form of social porn. What’s the non-porn alternative? If you stopped fussing over the nutters and just let them conspiracy-circle-jerk to their heart’s content, what would you want to do and experience instead, especially socially? That’s a much harder question to answer. Visiting the zoo is often easier.
Consider taking just 5-10 minutes today to ponder these questions. Stare off into space to let your mind float, or actively journal about this. If you released the nutters from your life, where would you want to take your social life instead? What kinds of people would you want to connect with? Where does your social attention actually want to go?
In general a great question to ask whenever you get confused about what reality is doing (or the people within it) is: What’s the bigger invitation here?
I’ll bet if you face the honest truth here, it’s going to scare you a bit. And you’ll likely see that you’ve been leaning on your relationships with nutters to keep you from exploring a bigger realm of uncertainty.
Let the nutters push you away. They could be doing you a huge favor. Now you can leave that old comfort zone behind (because it’s broken), and go explore the unknown. And oddly this will transform your relationships with nutters for the better. They won’t bother you so much when you recognize and acknowledge their “why” in your reality and start acting in alignment with that understanding.