We often assume that those around us think as we do. We wrongfully assume that the actions of others have something to do with us. In reality, everyone is different, and more often than not, people think of themselves more than they think of you.
The circumstances they face, the challenges they encounter, and the reactions that they give are not identical to ours. Not everyone is of the same mind. People do things for differnet reasons, and those reasons don’t always have to do with us.
The true battlefield is of the mind…
Much of this stems from the fact that the reality we construct for ourselves is not necessarily synonymous with the reality of the world in front of us. When we see people, jobs, relationships, and friendships, we see them through a “lens” that we have constructed of them. This lens is not necessarily an accurate view of them. There is bias, prejucide, first impressions, and many other factors that contribute to our view of this person. In reality, when we judge them, we believe that we are doing so fairly and impartially, but we are doing so on the basis of our lens and our view. This view does not necessarily portray them accurately, even if we feel strongly that it does.
The end result is that we end up assuming that we can read the minds of those around us. We assume that everything that they do has something to do with us. We assume that the coworker whose attitude suddenly changed is upset with us. We assume that the parent who doesn’t respond for several hours is retaliating against us. We assume that the boss who says “This was good” was insulting us because they didn’t say “great.”
It’s hard to see the folly of this manner of thinking until we see the other side of it. We live our lives this way entirely oblivious to the other side of the coin here. I recently realized this myself when I found myself doing anything and everything to please someone who could never be pleased. I quickly realized that it’s exhausting to meet someone else’s expectations of us, particularly when they are unrealistic expectations. Most importantly, it’s impossible to live up to someone else’s view of you when that view (or “lens”) has nothing to do with the real you.
The truth is that everyone has constructed a version of us that exists in their mind, and we are constantly being compared to those expectations. The version of us that we assume is often not the version that we are perceived as.
In the World Outside…
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in us. On one hand, people have stuck together in ways that we have never seen before. Never before have I seen so many people coming together to make sure that they are fed, employed, taken care of, and in company. Groups of people that would formerly walk past silently in the grocery store aisles and the school hallways now converse about almost anything, and the human connection is desired more than ever before.
That is, for most people at least.
We’ve also seen the opposite. People have assigned blame where it isn’t due, and have unfairly taken out internal frustrations on those around them in profound ways. Even the roads are dangerous; drivers are more aggressive than ever before. There are people cutting lines and getting into fights in grocery stores. People are paranoid of the unknown and instantly label a stranger as an enemy. We are deathly afraid of that which we do not know.
I have encountered this firsthand on the job. More than ever before, I have been the target of a lot of very rude customers who feel that their struggles are my personal fault. I have seen people distance themselves from me and acuse me of bad practice, only to get very near someone else with whom they are familiar. I’m stared at and instantly regarded as “bad” – all without due process or fair assessment! I have been cursed out and unfairly blamed more times in this past month than I ever had been in the past year entirely.
It’s only natural that we take this sort of behavior personally, but this is not the correct approach. Truthfully, they have constructed a version of me in their own minds. According to this view (which has not properly been assessed based on real circumstances), I’m bad, harmful, and am somehow the enemy. They are only acting in accordance with their real and genuine beliefs of themselves and of me.
Likewise, I construct a mental image of them as harmful people who are attacking me. I feel that I am right in judging them as so and retaliating against their rudeness. In reality, they are much like me, simply trying to protect themselves from the unknown. They are probably nice people (in general), who are simply afraid of the unknown and assume the worst in a stranger.
It isn’t you.
The truth is, many of these people are acting out of internal fear, and their harshness towards others has nothing to do with us. It is not a personal attack on us, no matter how much it may feel so. It is not an acusation or a rational fear. Rather, it is the overflow of their own frustration being taken out on anyone in their path. It truly has nothing to do with us.
Some people are impossible to please. They simply have irrational or incorrect “views” of who we are. These circumstances are entirely out of our control, and simply aren’t hills worth dying on. During these times, we should strive to stick together, be our own allies, and see the best in the world around us. Not everything is personal, so take a deep breath, cut yourself some slack, and relax!