“Assume the best about people and watch how anger and stress fall away.”
I don’t know who coined that statement, but I imagine most of you have heard advice similar to it over the years. But, have you ever put it to the test?
It took a tragedy in my family, and the unchartered journey that followed, to convince me of the truth of that sentiment. Without consciously deciding to, I realized I was – perhaps for the first time – really seeing the strangers around me in public places. As I looked at them in what felt like slow motion, I found myself wondering “Are you about to get THAT call? Are you in the process of navigating the aftermath of it, like I am? Or, did you get it years ago and have now settled into your new normal?”
Suddenly the guy who cut me off in traffic, and the extraordinarily slow check-out clerk, didn’t cause a negative response in me anymore. If someone lost their temper and yelled at me, I had no adrenalin rush, or impulse to argue. Why? It had become crystal clear to me that their behavior had nothing to do with me. AND, I had no idea what was happening in their lives, so how could I possibly be critical of them? The old “don’t sweat the small stuff” became real, and as it did, my stress levels went way down.
The truth is, most people do not act maliciously: Unconsciously, most certainly yes, but not with malicious intent.
Please don’t misinterpret this to mean I just agree with everyone all the time in order to keep the peace. Not at all. In fact, that would only create more stress. However, because my default position is to believe people are generally doing the best they can given their current circumstances, I have gained the ability to remain calm during situations that would have caused my stress level to shoot way up in the past. As a result, my life is much more sustainably peaceful.
So, the next time your boss snaps at you, or the car ahead of you is driving too slowly, try doing what I do: Consider the fact that you can’t know everything that is going on with the other person; realize their behavior is not all about you; and hope that everything is alright in their world.
Never underestimate the power of your perspective. Assume the best about people and watch how anger and stress fall away…