Love for others can come when we strive to see the good in them. This can be particularly difficult when contention and dispute arise. Think for a moment about the stories our minds create, even without conscious effort. We create them for ourselves, and our adversaries in any conflict, small or large. In our story, typically, we view ourselves as the heroes. Those with views contrary to our own are the villains; we create a story about them that depicts them as liars, cheaters, and all around bad people. It’s a mental exercise; we don’t sit down and craft a detailed narrative of the story. Its purpose is simply to justify our emotional reactions to various interactions.
Think about it. The last time you passionately disagreed with someone, in your mind were you the “good guy” and they the “bad guy?” The stories we create about people can color our opinion of them for the rest of our lives. For this reason, it takes a conscious effort to actually change the story. The first step is simply asking yourself, “Is it possible that during times of contention, people may have motives just as noble as mine?”
I’m just as guilty of creating negative stories about people as anyone else. It seems to justify what I consider to be a righteous position, but it comes at a price. The simple, passive mental exercise of depicting them as villains causes me indignation and anger. It’s not just a mental exercise either; it comes with negative physical manifestations as well. My heart rate increases and my blood pressure goes up. For what? To prove that I’m right? For a long time, I didn’t know that there was a better way.
Concocting these stories is a way of protecting ourselves from a negative self-image. Unfortunately, it also stifles us; these stories aren’t created in the forefront of our critically thinking mind. They’re manufactured by the subconscious. That means that creating the stories is the easy way to justify our feelings as a result of a challenging interaction. The difficult, and infinitely more productive and mature alternative is to think deeply about it. In this way, our conscious mind can actually change the story.
The first step is to catch yourself when you create a negative story. Force yourself to think about people as individuals with valid opinions and families who love them. Stop making them the villains of your story and take personal ownership of your circumstances. In a nutshell, stop blaming them. In my personal journey, I have noticed that I don’t have to change my opinions; I just need to become accepting of the opinions of others.
It’s important to remember that as you become more open to the opinions of others, they might not be open to yours. That’s okay. Learn to accept this as you move on by recognizing that they are at a different point in their personal journey then you are. This is about our growth. For me, by simply looking at people differently, my capacity for love grows. I become less burdened with grudges. Forgiveness comes easier. I can move on.
This is a lesson that can be applied to your life in a simple way. I once read of an executive who, every time he entered a room came up with at least one positive thought about everyone there. Even if he didn’t know the person he created a positive story about them.[i] “She has a nice smile” or “he has a firm handshake” are two very simple yet positive stories you can tell yourself about people.
I’ve found this is something that works wonders when I’m driving. If someone cuts me off, I could yell and cuss, cursing them and everything they stand for (I’m ashamed to admit, that I still succumb to that type of reaction on occasion). Or, I could simply say, “That person must be in a hurry. I hope everything is okay.” Either way, I’m not going to change the fact that they cut me off. But, by changing the story I tell myself about them, I can effectively save myself a great deal of stress and unnecessarily elevated blood pressure.
[i] Sharma, Robin. Extraordinary Leadership. Narrated by Robin Sharma. Audible, 2008. Audiobook