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As I get older, I’m gradually getting better at accepting the obvious but easy-to-forget truth that other people don’t necessarily see the world in the same way as me.
And also, my view of things isn’t necessarily how they “are,” but just my interpretation of what’s going on. Not the most profound, I know—but it’s taken me a long time to realise the extent to which I’ve unconsciously judged everything and everyone around me from a hidden assumption that I knew what was “right.”
A recent example of this was when my teenage stepson moved in with us, and I was convinced he was behaving aggressively. Everything about his presence in the house—even down to how he opened the doors—seemed like an expression of hostility. But as I got to know him better, I realised that his way of moving around and expressing himself was different from mine—and most of the time wasn’t intended the way I interpreted it.
I was getting wound up about nothing! So, these days, I try to always be aware of my assumptions and expectations, because I know they can blind me to how someone else is actually feeling and distort how I interpret their behaviour.
I think some of us men find it hard to accept that our version of reality isn’t accurate, or we might be wrong about something we believe to be true. And if someone comes up with some strong evidence to show our error, we’ll put down whoever has pointed it out to us.
It’s as if our self-esteem can be so fragile that the shame of making a mistake is too hard to bear. Tragically, the maximum-security prisons of the world contain many men who found the loss of pride so painful that they’ve killed someone as a way of avoiding it or extracting revenge. What a tragic waste; especially considering that the easy way to avoid that kind of shame is to remember that no one is “right” or “wrong.” We are all just interpreting what’s happening in a way that makes sense to us, and so we can choose to look for the version of life which matches what we need.
Of course, expecting the best from everybody can get in the way of seeing when they are taking advantage. But if we expect the worst, or to be treated badly, we can usually find evidence to support that assumption.
We have a Welsh saying inspired by the unpredictability of our climate which I think sums up the best emotional attitude when it comes to other people’s behaviour: “Hope for fine weather, but always carry an umbrella.”
I’ve found that if I look for the positive in any person or situation, there’ll always be something to appreciate.
I play a little game with myself whenever life doesn’t go to plan—which is quite often. I start looking for the gift of that situation until I find something—no matter how small—that will make me feel glad my plans changed. And amazingly enough, I always find it!