It is remarkable how much more enjoyable your life can be when you refuse to participate in situations that you know are going to end poorly, or work with people in environments that you know are going to cause problems. When you see something like this on the horizon, employ the Grandpa Simpson strategy. In your head say, “Nope”, turn around, and keep walking.
Don’t make a fuss about it, don’t stir up trouble, don’t try to come up with a snappy exit line, just continue on your way and make it impossible for others to draw you into their mess. Surround yourself with good people and you’ll find that life becomes considerably easier. Not only do you get more peace, the unstable weed themselves out of your proximity because you aren’t giving them what they need to be fulfilled. It’s a wonderful, virtuous cycle with no downside for you.
This is connected to the strategy of always focusing on the primary mission of your life. You have to know what it is you want so you can know what it is you should avoid. Given the influence of the most powerful mental model of all, social proof, there is a good chance that, over the years, you will eventually become like the people with whom you spend most of your time. You will pick up their mannerisms, be influenced by their morality (or lack thereof), participate in the same sorts of activities, and generally mold yourself at the peripherals through their influence. Look at your peers. That is your destiny. If you don’t like it, change it. If you want to be a high quality person, surround yourself with high quality people.
What constitutes “high quality”? In my mind, the traits include things like stability, loyalty, intelligence, compassion, wisdom, the willingness to do what needs to be done even if it isn’t pleasant, honesty, integrity, and a general recognition of the absurdity of much of the world. You need to decide the behaviors that you consider desirable.
How do you spot these people? Two thousand years ago, our oft-quoted Jewish carpenter put it best: “You shall know a man by his fruits.” If someone has a long string of broken relationships in his wake, or constant accusations of harassment, if they are always attracting trouble or always need to be explaining themselves, if they show up drunk to their kid’s birthday party or scream at a waitress or assistant that makes a mistake, these are pretty good indicator that you’re not dealing with a high quality person.
My suggestion? Keep walking. Grandpa Simpson got it right.