The littlest bit of information about a person or a situation can change our perspective, entirely. When we stop to think about it, this seems obvious and right. We may feel an immediate resonance with the statement and think of all the times that this has proven to be true. We might even feel that this sentiment is part of our wisdom and an example of how we walk in the world. And yet, we all make snap judgments. Sometimes, this is a necessary trait for our emotional and societal survival; and other times, it’s just our assumptions getting the better of us.
Regardless of our vigilance and good intentions, we all have moments when we react unfavorably and, perhaps, unfairly. We yell at other drivers. We complain about a rude grocery clerk. We jump to the worst conclusion about someone we dislike or mistrust. It happens to the best of us: we react without having all of the information. But here’s the thing: many times we’re right!
If we stopped to gather every bit of information about every person and every situation we encountered, we’d be too overloaded to act on anything. Past experience allows us to make quicker decisions based on the most likely outcomes. It keeps us from making the same mistakes. It also helps us to evaluate the emotions and behaviors of others. We certainly don’t want to abandon any of this!
However, past experiences don’t always apply to current conditions. A particular behavior from one person does not necessarily mean the same as a similar behavior from someone else. Heck, sometimes the behavior doesn’t even mean the same coming from the same person!
Silence is a great example. Just imagine all the different motivations, meanings, and emotions behind something as simple as an absence of noise. They’re endless! Of course, we know this. But preconceived notions are hard to shake, especially when they trigger negative memories and emotions.
So what can we do? I think the most we can hope for is to be vigilant in our mindfulness. In this way, we can train ourselves to a new kind of knee-jerk reaction: one that catches ourselves in the act and stops our runaway emotions.
Sometimes, giving people the benefit of the doubt helps us feel better, as well.