One quick way to detect toxic people before they strike


Once again, my plane malfunctioned and so I missed my connecting flight and am stuck in San Franciso for a couple days! After getting out of my system some snarky remarks about the quality of US planes, I quickly returned to form and whenever things happen to impede my plans, God always puts ideas in my head. Because I am physically frailer than most, I have chosen to spend time resting, gyming, and staying in the hotel, rather than painting the town red. So here are the breadcrumbs of thoughts that just leaked out as I sat in front of my computer. Beware, it lengthy!


Many of us have experienced toxic or cancerous people, and you know that these people can really drain us, or even set us back. So I ruminate on how we can quickly filter new people before letting them into our inner circle. The true friends in your life will multiply your life, the toxic ones masquerading suck life away. But usually, you can only know on hindsight. By then, you would have invested life and effort. Wouldn’t it be great to detect such people before you make significant investments?

What is one convenience first-pass filter we can use to identify the red flag of potential toxicity? Here goes:

This world has always been superficial but today people have gotten very good at hiding it, using faux intellectual reasons to delude and ignore the evil parts of us but justify it instead. If you are trying to size up the quality of the person you just met, how do you do so? The internet has allowed these people to know enough to present their best sides, or to speak of personal philosophies without truly understanding. They know how to look decent and reasonable without truly being that.

So I thought I’d just share 1 tip. This tip is born from my experience of doing well in society when I was younger, to regressing such that I was no longer desirable to society. I saw how the world would treat me differently, and how over 100+ “friends” got eroded to a small handful. But these small handfuls would eventually multiply my life.

Before we get to the big red flag, make sure that the person has a belief system that you truly respect first, and can articulate it to a sufficient point. He/she should be able to explain why they believe it, why it’s good, and how it changed their lives. For me, I truly value those who know Christ’s heart. Those who want to be a lion and lamb, to be the best they can be, and to bless others. Those who believe that they are inherently evil and are willing to find a real solution for it instead of believing that evil doesn’t exist. If a person is wishy-washy about what motivates him to act, that’s already shaky ground. But once you do, how do you know what he says is a genuine conviction?

The big red flag is this: see if this person has any long-term good friends who would call themselves brothers or sisters. If you can’t find any, it’s the best red flag. No, I’m not talking about if they have hundreds of Facebook likes, or even if they look the part; having lots of acquaintances. Remember that conmen and emotional vampires ALWAYS look the part. They have that “thing” that makes you sympathize with them. They always seem to be popular.

I’m not talking about popularity. I’m talking about friends that go back for decades, that are regular in their lives, and are faithful and supportive. You don’t need many, just 2 or 3.

I’ve seen ladies who seem so decent and charming, saying the right things, and even can serve in the church from time to time, and yet they seem to bounce from acquaintance to acquaintance. Even good acquaintance to good acquaintance. On further investigation, they don’t have a small core group of friends or family that would totally vouch for her, have an utmost respect for her or sacrifice for her.

The same applies to men as well.

As Jordan Peterson might say, it shows these people cannot play iteratively mutually beneficial games in society on the long-term. They can do so in the short term but eventually, the game is always tilted in their favor; and THEY don’t even realize it.

Why is this a red flag?

Consider the Roman orator Cicero in his treatise of friendship. Look how he describes his observations.

1) “In the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self.”

This means that a person with no long lasting friends cannot find anyone with the same deep-seated convictions as his own. This could be that he doesn’t have deep values; they are always changing, and hence he can’t see himself in others. Or worse, he actually does see himself in others and doesn’t like what he sees! He cannot trust it, knowing his own selfish nature! Or, He believes he is too different, or worse, likely judges others as not good enough. If this person can’t find anyone like himself in the thousands of others, what makes you think he could find himself in you? Of course, we need to filter and judge unsavory people … but if that person can’t even end up with 2-3 close supporters, the probabilities are not in your favor that he can resonate with your values.

2) “the clear indication of virtue, to which a mind of like character is naturally attracted, is the beginning of friendship.”

Yup. He is basically saying that only truly good people can be friends. Evil people cannot. People with VIRTUE and GOOD VALUES can be good friends, not people with OPINIONS.

Note that 99% of people say “but I am a good person”. Understand that what is evil is not based on what you feel, and an over-reliance of feelings is usually an indicator of the tendency to evil. Hilter deluded himself and others that everything he was doing was for the good of Germany. So if you think “you are a good person”, you could still be evil. Most people will say that they are not a mass murder, so they aren’t evil. But few deeply reflect on the root of this evil.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister Ph.D., in his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, summarizes the characteristics of evil people. 1) They want what they want in the way they want it. They have a worldview that cheapens other people’s priorities. Imagine if you told someone that it’s extremely important that they don’t go into your room under any circumstance; and that someone says “it won’t hurt anyone if I go in and borrow something, especially since no one will know about it.” They have basically thought that your beliefs don’t matter. 2) Threatened egotism. Their form of ego is easily threatened. When you call them out on selfish or anti-social behavior, they have no strength of heart to reflect, but to defend themselves no matter what, and are willing to escalate verbal attacks to physical to legal attacks, instead of pausing to think if they could really be wrong. 3) Idealism or unjustified self-esteem. That’s right, evil people often think THEY are “good”, that they are entitled or that they have a “good” cause. Even when different people groups have complaints, they still think they are “right” and that others are ignorant.

I know a girl who routinely went to church and often prayed to God… yet she was two-timing 2 guys for months. I regularly kept telling her this is not fair for the two boys and pleaded with her to choose one as quickly as possible, apologize to the other, and do your best for the one you choose. She kept this on for months instead and often asked me to pray for her. Her prayers were never for the good of the two boys, but always for the best for herself. She justified herself that since 1 boy didn’t give her the right amount of attention, it was fair enough for her to hedge herself by getting another one without even resolving the first. Suffice to say, both guys were extremely hurt, and likely have trust issues they will take into their next relationship.

I was amazed at how she can come before God regularly and still continue behavior that Jesus would have condemned. I’m amazed at how she can even ask me to pray for her to strategically lie to minimize the damage to her reputation instead of feeling great shame. It’s the delusion that amazed me.

So these types of people like the girl delude themselves thinking in order to live with selfish intention even when statistics show that others are going to be hurt much more than themselves.

4) They enjoy inflicting harm. Enjoyment doesn’t just mean being sadistic. The root form is simply that they want to appease their own ego first, and the good of society last. Today, physical harm and wars are rare. But when there is a conflict, are they upset there is a conflict in the first place? That the other party is hurting? Or do they make the other person kowtow and apologize to appease their ego at all cost? Do they acknowledge the stuff the hurtful or dubious things they have done first, or start to use every excuse and angle to show how they aren’t so bad and that “anyone would have done the same thing” first? The more illogical or lame the excuses, the more they “enjoy” inflicting harm (even if unintentional). Because each lame excuse is an insult to the offended party’s intelligence and well-being, and they will rather insult others than show any vulnerability.

If you see these 4 tendencies in yourself or others, perhaps we are lacking in real virtue. I have observed that people that routinely say, “it works for me”, “they can do what they want, I do what I want”, “no one is going to get hurt so I can do it … ” and fluctuate between relative to objective reasoning arbitrarily as an excuse; all these people tend to have very few deep friends. Deep friends are bound by respect. You can’t have a strong sense of respect unless you have shared values. Deep values usually come with a clear understanding of where your values come from in the first place. If you can’t justify where it came from, chances are, your values aren’t deep. As they say, these people have belief systems firmly planted in mid-air.

I have observed that people with the strength to apologize and build others up at the expense of their own personal time, money and even reputation command lots of respect and are the people you want to be friends with, even from a distance. But we can only have the strength to be vulnerable if our ego is not our final authority.

When I was a fresh Cornell graduate, musician, healthy, and charismatic, I literally had hundreds of friends. But after losing much of my life due to illness, that hundred dropped very quickly to a small handful. But that small handful had some characteristics in common…

All these friends were if not intelligent then reflective thinkers, very reflective about the world, as well as Christ. If they weren’t fund managers or event managers, they would have been great philosophers or artists. They were successful in their domains and yet embraced a humility. They could recognize and separate what was turmoil in my life, to the work Christ was doing inside as I drowned in the Abyss. I could separate what was the superficial success in their lives to see the work Christ did in theirs. Hence there was always a mutual respect, and a reason to call me and pray with me even when I was “nothing”, and could not help them in their careers.

These few friends have greatly boosted my life in very tangible ways, and have stuck with me when others did not. But they stuck because of mutual respect. They respect the part of me that many couldn’t recognize, and I respected them for the parts that are not obvious either.

The Bible puts it eloquently, “deep calls upon deep”.

Cicero basically says that only good people with real virtue can be true friends. True friends are people you respect even if you never crossed their paths and could only observe them from a distance. In other words, those people you respect from afar are likely to be your true friends if providence brings them your way. Proximity and shared goals have a tendency to mask people who look like true friends but are not. True friends are NOT borne out of proximity or being activity partners, because this type of friendship is based out of convenience and not through respect.

When a person has no long-term brothers or sisters, it hints to the presence of unhealthy traits like cutting off ties easily instead to deal with conflict instead of self-reflection and repentance. It implies that frictions occur frequently and that the person does not react well with friction. Instead of responding in grace or wisdom, the response is of convenience. Instead of being reflective, and taming one’s ego, the person uses the excuse too often that different strokes are for different folks, hence just cuts people off if they don’t agree. This person cuts off ties because of what he/she sees. He has judged the acquaintance and the acquaintance has judged him, and both are found each other wanting. But from my observation, the real problem is the inability to see his own wrong, and/or the inability to apologize on offense.

As I was writing, I realized that for this reason many refer to Jesus as their best friend. Jesus 1) wants the best for you at the expense of Himself. Bible says that He gave up the best of heaven so that became poor so that we can become rich. 2) Jesus has the healthiest ego. He would forgive and save the very same people those who insulted and betrayed him, even when those people truly deserved punishment. 3) He acted for the best in humanity, not for an entitled sense of self. 4) When the world spat on him, stripped him of majesty and crucified him as a criminal; he had multitudes of real followers that extended for generations. That’s true respect when the world paints you as a loser, and people are still hanging around and will sacrifice for you. 5) Jesus was all that but was a man’s man. He is not a pushover. Pontius Pilate was the judge and executioner, yet was afraid of this “lowly” criminal. Personally, that’s why I am drawn to people who have made it their life’s mission to follow Christ.

In conclusion, if you have no time to do a detailed analysis of a person’s character, or to see if a person’s worldview is cancerous; then observing if the person has any deep friends that will vouch for him, or have gone through thick and thin is a very good FIRST PASS indicator. Note that not everyone who has no deep or long-term friends is a bad person. Some people don’t have it because they legitimately have gone through some crisis in which they had to totally start anew. I myself, for a couple of years, had problems few could understand and had to physically remove myself with society. But for those people who are active and healthy to work, go to church, post lots of pics on Instagram and are free to express themselves… if those people still can’t have good people who have known them for a long time be willing to sacrifice for them, it’s a problem. It begs you to investigate deeper.

Did you make it this far? haha. You are so long-suffering!

I write this for two reasons.

This is not just to give you tips to filter out these people from your inner circle for self-protection.

But it’s also for us to reflect on ourselves if we have the potential for toxicity so we can be motivated to improve. And, in seeing and recognize our own evil and hopelessness, we might find the “ways that are higher and I”.

God bless from San Francisco!

Do you have experience with toxic people? Share them in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “One quick way to detect toxic people before they strike

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