Exercise: Believe the best about people

We were down at the local supermarket today, and the guy behind the cash register was slouched in his chair like a rag doll, made no eye contact with customers, and had a vibe about him that said “I’d rather be anywhere else”. Normally, I’d be thinking along the lines of “indifferent asshole, why doesn’t he cheer up”, but suddenly it hit me: Maybe there’s a good reason he’s like that.

My girlfriend and I started to invent stories to explain why he was like that. Maybe he used to be the best and most cheerful employee in the supermarket, but yesterday his dog died, and he’s really, really sad. Maybe he just got turned down for promotion to assistant store manager for the third time. Maybe he just got expelled from his university studies for falling too far behind.

We can’t know why he’s like that, but my instant, initial and unquestioned assumption was that the guy was just an indifferent asshole who didn’t care about the people around him – and I certainly can’t know if this is true either!

I found that making up reasons that would explain his behaviour made me see him in a more positive light, and removed my irritation at his behaviour. Which again showed me, that my irritation didn’t stem from his behaviour, but more from my interpretation of it! So by changing my viewpoint I could rid myself of the annoyance.

Try it yourself the next time some stranger does something that annoys you. A car is driving way too fast on the highway: She’s on the way to a critically ill family member in the hospital. A guy jumps the line at the supermarket: He’s in a hurry because a girl he’s desperately in love with is coming for their first date in five minutes. (If it’s a person you know who does something that irritates you, you don’t have to make up stories – you can ask!).

It takes a little creativity to come up with the stories (which can be fun in itself), and it has the potential to give you a more positive outlook on other people. I strongly believe, that you get further in life by always thinking the best of other people (untill they prove you wrong) instead of the other way around. You’ll certainly have more fun!

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