When someone complains that all men are sociopathic skin hungry gorillas, or when someone whines that all women are irrational unpredictable nut jobs, two emotions run through my body.
The first is frustration. Thinking to myself, wow, extremes in anything accomplish nothing. Rarely do we find the truth by saying that everybody is something.
Besides, what does that thought get us? Sympathy from coworkers? Justification of our anger?
Fact is, thinking in extremes mostly leads to blind spots in our narrow vision. It enables confirmation bias, leaving us only seeing the people who are problematic.
Because when we’re expecting a certain type of person to suck, that’s precisely the sort of behavior that we notice, attract and accept.
Better to stop focusing on the bad and start forgiving people to find the good instead.
My second emotion is affection. Thinking to myself, wow, everybody is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Must be tough.
Here’s a compassion meditation that always helps me make sense of the world:
How is it possible that this person could think in such an extreme way, and under what circumstances would it make perfect sense for them to do so?
Simple. It’s because they have a trauma history and they’re trying to protect themselves. Somewhere somebody did something that resulted in them getting hurt, heartbroken, jaded and let down. It’s no wonder they make the leap of abstraction about a certain group. It’s no wonder they substitute generalizations for specific behaviors.
But this doesn’t make them right, insightful or provocative.
They’re simply a victim of all or nothing thinking, or what psychologists call dichotomous reasoning or cognitive distorting. It’s the automatic way of repeatedly interpreting something that causes us to not consider any other way of thinking about it.
We’re all guilty of it. And yet, our challenge for now is to simply notice it. Both in ourselves and in the people around us. And to check in with how we feel when it happens.
In a world where too many people are flooding their minds with outrage porn, patting themselves on the back for being offended and congratulating each other on how upset they are, simply noticing feels like progress.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How long does it take you to understand your feelings and reactions?