Faced with thousands of stimuli each day, maybe each hour, we use a process that helps us absorb a new stimulus and move on to the next. The process involves searching memory for similar stimuli, finding a match, and attaching a label.
An unknown someone appears at the doorstep: Oh, he’s selling something, don’t bother answering the doorbell.
Sullen clerk in a store, mid-20’s in age, lots of piercings: High school dropout, living at home sponging off parents.
Gray-haired person contemplating a cart full of groceries: Grandpa can’t remember where he parked or how he’s going to carry those heavy bags.
We’re usually wrong, but that doesn’t matter to us because we’ve already made our decision and moved on.
The labeling system we use so readily keeps us from using a powerful human characteristic: compassion. By “knowing” all we need to know about the person observed we fail to inquire, listen, and engage with people. Our natural instinct to connect is short-circuited.
One key reminder that helps me is this: Everyone is doing their best. It may not be the best they’re capable of being, but at the time it’s the best they can do. We’re all doing our best all the time.
Sometimes my best is really great; other times is quite disappointing. But at the time it was the best I could do.
Thinking this way helps me see other people and observe their behaviors with new-found compassion. Everyone is doing their best.
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