Did you hear what Karen said to me?! Can you believe Brian interrupted my presentation?!
Do you find yourself fuming with frustration when someone cuts you off, oblivious to those around them? What about that bitchy mom at the park or the rude guy in Human Resources? What is wrong with these people?!
Well, did you know bitchy-mom recently found out she has cervical cancer? Yep. She lost her own mother eight years ago to cancer. She’s petrified she’ll leave her two young children without a mother.
Brian at work? As a child, his father continually reminded him of his worthlessness. Brian always struggled to make friends or meet romantic partners. He feels he’s not truly qualified for his job. Unfortunately, all of these fears and insecurities result in a very unattractive, almost hostile communication style.
Why is it so much easier to let go of resentment or hurt feelings when you learn of the trauma, the medical diagnosis, or the financial crisis. Once you know the background information, you realize their behavior is not about you at all. It’s about them.
Unfortunately, you don’t EVER know EVERYTHING about those who cross your path. You never truly know what anyone has endured physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, or psychologically. You have NO clue. (Heck, I’d argue you don’t even have conscious memory and understanding of everything YOU’ve endured in your life.)
Why then do you often react AS IF you have all the information?
What if you could feel understanding and empathy without needing to know all the sordid details of someone’s past experiences, chemical imbalances, physical conditions, or abuse histories? What if you could jump over the hurdle of that requirement?
What if you could be compassionate even when you don’t know the whole story.
I recently read a Derek Sivers article entitled “How to Like People”. In it, he recommends treating every friend and stranger you encounter as if this is their last day on the planet. Tomorrow, this person is toast. How might you treat them differently? Maybe you’d have more patience? Hug them a bit longer?
What about a political figure? Someone you hate so much, you can hardly stand it. The anger and frustration makes your blood boil. Who cares what they’ve been through, they are hurting and terrorizing millions of humans! Try imagining that person as an infant, or a toddler. Imagine yourself seeing them at that young and innocent age. What would you say to them? What loving words could you offer that might change the course of that young life? You are enough. You are loved. You belong.
At our core, you long for love (attention, affection, praise, hugs, eye contact, appreciation), to feel a sense of belonging (community, connection, acceptance) and for safety (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and financial).
People behaving in a callous, thoughtless way are often merely seeking that love, belonging, or safety in a very misguided way.
Warning: This is not to say you allow yourself to be mistreated. Creating clear boundaries with hostile people is super important. In fact, it’s a critical life skill that requires a whole other article. This article is about not internalizing and dragging all that anger and hurt around with you for the remainder of your day, week, or life. Then, my dear friend, you become your own worst enemy.
Lesson Learned: Remind yourself that you never know someone’s current or past trials. This will allow you some emotional perspective, improve your patience, and lighten your heart as you go through this wild life.