I’ve been thinking lately about perspective.
There is a popular book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. It shook up the self-help industry, claiming that people attract what they think. The Law of Attraction, transforming your beliefs into reality. It had a lot to do with positive affirmations, getting back whatever you put into the world.
It’s not a new idea. I found the whole thing too passive to be interesting. It doesn’t consider how bad things happen to good people, and rich a-holes seem to be doing just fine, thank you very much. But my mind comes back to it often. I understand that reality, as a concept, is formed in how we react to something. Doesn’t matter if it is an idea, a person, or an act. This is proven by how widely varied two people will react to the same situation.
If a dog bit you as a child, and one appears in front of you, hackles up and snarls, you will most likely react in panic and fear. You may freeze in place, scream, or even cry. A different person, never attacked by a dog, may have the same reaction, but to a much lesser degree. A third person with experience with aggressive animals will be calmer and more proactive. Not all of them will get bitten.
The reality, the very basis has remained the same for each person. Their reactions are the variables.
My issue when I was introduced to behavior modification techniques was that a person couldn’t help reacting to a situation. A scary scenario would make them feel fear; a person cutting them off in traffic made them angry. The phrase, “He made me so mad,” was something I heard repeatedly dealing with at-risk kids. The only person who said that more often was me. My temper had been a problem since childhood. I used excuses; I inherited it from my mother, I couldn’t help it, and people were idiots.
All true statements. A reaction occurs, but the response makes all the difference.
I felt resentment when a mentor tried to help me look at the behavior from a different perspective. “I can’t help what I feel,” was my favorite frustrated response to his urging that I control my reactions.
Turns out I can. I’ve been slowly doing it more over the years and am calmer and happier. The fact that he was right annoyed me, to be candid. It is such a simple solution it seems impossible that it can work in literally any situation, to a point.
The point to which it works has nothing to do with the situational severity, the mood I am in at the time, or any other variable I can determine.
The only difference is my perspective.
So this is how it works for me:
A situation arises. Say I am in the grocery store. It is packed, people are in a hurry, many seem to be in a nasty mood, and there is a lack of basic manners or appropriate human behavior. Socially, these people are strangers to one another. The idea that you will never again see the lady in front of the oranges, picking the ones she wants to buy very slowly, is accurate. You likely never will. So as long as you don’t make eye contact with her and, without appearing even to realize it, lean in and edge into her personal space until she moves in annoyance, that’s not your fault. As long as you don’t acknowledge her presence, you aren’t being directly rude. This is a common tactic in a lot of situations. I call it passive-aggressive BS.
She may say something loudly, or under her breath, you may continue to ignore her, or there may be a verbal exchange. The important thing is you have conveyed your annoyance. The obstacle has moved.
This is a widespread behavior in heavy traffic. A person swerves in front of you, causing you to brake suddenly, scaring the hell out of you, and when you pass them, staring daggers at them through your passenger side window, they don’t so much as turn their head. You are invisible to them. They look directly ahead, chin up, seeming oblivious to what they have done to you. You both know they know you are there, and if their lack of response doesn’t satisfy your outrage, you speed up, swerve in front of them, and brake-check. It may end there, or it may not. Sometimes it ends up in an accident or, in the US, with gunfire. No matter what, your reaction has shown the other driver your anger.
It rarely ends there, whether it is a brief interaction involving other drivers or even police. The physical occurrence may end quickly, but how often have you spent the next several minutes, even hours, silently grinding your teeth, re-enacting the scenario, perfecting the ending you want? You imagine incredibly witty repartees, putting that idiot in their place, or even an innocent fantasy of watching in your rearview as their car sails over an underpass, landing in a satisfying explosion as you drive away unscathed.
What is the basis for all this anger? Fear, loss of control, and frustration at not being recognized as someone who matters is a start.
The woman in the store is being directly informed, nonverbally, that she doesn’t matter, not just less than the person stepping in front of her, but at all.
The driver also doesn’t matter, to the point of denying their very existence, although the “I can’t see you” has something to do with the fear of further interaction with a person you have now pissed off.
The person with the dog growling at them fears for their safety.
But none of these reasons matter. That is the primary revelation I had to experience to change my behavior. My resistance to change was based on fear as well, fear of having to be fully in control of myself and my actions. Consequences suck; I mean, listen to anyone frantically trying to explain their part in a violent car accident, and you will hear a child trying to dodge responsibility. No one wants to be wrong. No one wants to be entirely at fault, but it is the acceptance of responsibility that frees us.
When you choose your response to any situation, you are in control. If you are violently, unexpectedly physically attacked, you will experience pain and trauma, none of it your fault. But in your reaction to the event, you regain control of everything you participate in the aftermath.
When confronted with a situation, I try to pull up the reins, so to speak, and think, “What’s going on here? What are the objective facts?” I consider my choices, not in an attempt to reach sainthood because that ship has sailed but to care more about myself than an off-times bitter, angry world. A car cuts me off; I ask myself, what choice do I want to make here? Engage and extend my interaction with a dangerous driver, or disengage and refuse to be drawn into petty, childish reactions?
I encounter a rude employee in a store; I move on. I love myself too much to push myself toward a negative engagement that won’t solve anything.
I often imagine myself as a child, with my mind the adult caring for me. If someone “wronged” the child, I would defend them, but since that goes against the reality of the situation, I do the next loving thing. I turn that innocence away from the case and turn my mind to something more worthwhile and positive.
I’d love to say I am now a fully enlightened being, sailing through this chaos we call life in perfect love and peace; the guy I flipped off on SR 240 this morning proves that’s a lie. But I can say I am better. I am calmer and less angry.
One thought on “Perspective”
I meant to add, that I love this line. Beautiful.