Increase empathy and forgiveness with one mindset switch

empathy forgiveness mindset victim

Here is an easy way to change your perspective on nearly everything that happens in your life: People don't do things to you, they do things near you.

How do I know this is the case? I don't. I'm just guessing that many of the things that occur around you on a given day are notable for their proximity, not their target.

But I do know this - starting from this assumption will make your life much easier because this reframe is crucial to stop taking things so personally.

It makes sense why people get these things confused - each of us is the main character in our own story.

Believe me - I suffered from this worse than most. I grew up as an only child who was pretty well spoiled.

It was a rough realization that the rest of the world didn't care about what I wanted or thought was fair.

That mindset made me feel like a victim all the time.

The truth is that most of the people around you, even the ones you spend the most time with and care for you the most, aren't thinking of you as much as you are thinking of yourself.

Most people are living their lives, and occasionally that existence passes nearby.

That car that cut you off in traffic? They were only trying to get over to their exit. But it still felt very targeted because in your mind, they were doing it to you.

That coworker who kept speaking over you in the meeting? They weren't thinking about how this would hurt you. They weren't thinking of you at all. They were thinking of themself and the points they wanted to make.

In both these scenarios, the other person may have done something that wronged you. That isn't the issue.

The question is whether they did it to you or near you.

The distinction is important.

If you assume everyone is doing things to you, then you will develop a victim complex. You will go around life looking for any small slight and immediately become enraged at others.

Now imagine that you instead replace that thinking with the idea that these things are only happening near you.

Yes, it is annoying the car cut you off. But they might have a bunch of things on their mind and forgot to check their blindspot. Maybe they never even knew you were there.

Sure, rudeness in meetings and being interrupted is frustrating. But it is quite likely that I have done that to others as well.

If your first instinct is to jump to "how can they do that to me?" then try adding this as the second step: "What is the evidence?"

If this car has been following you, honking their horn, and shouting out the window at you, and then it culminated with them cutting you off - then yes, they did this to you.

Short of that, you probably don't have any evidence one way or another. You get to choose how that experience is stored and handled. You can give the other car the benefit of the doubt, and move on with life. Or you can make yourself out to be the victim.

Reframing these situations to not take them personally helps in two ways:

1) It opens up the pathway for empathy very easily.

The person isn't an adversary. They are someone living their life. That gives you an opening to say, "Maybe that car wasn't paying attention or is having a bad day. Too bad."

Now you are able to give them a little grace and probably forgiveness. The incident can wash away instead of being something that you harp on for hours afterwards.

2) It makes the repair process much smoother.

Everybody makes mistakes. If you start from the mindset of being the victim, go to the person who was interrupting you at the meeting and say, "Why were you doing that to me in the meeting? You are so rude." My guess is that they won't be too inclined to self-reflect and apologize.

If you have already detached their actions from you, then you are much more likely to start, "Hey, in that meeting I felt like you were interrupting me a lot. What is going on?"

Since you haven't framed the issue as an adversarial one, it leaves the door open for them to offer their own explanation. There is an opening for them to admit it was a mistake. If they say, "Well you always do it to me so I gave you a taste of your own medicine." Then again, now you have the evidence it was in fact targeting you.

I rate the chance that that is the response as quite low, though.

The point of this mindset is to assume positive intent in others when you have no other data. It gives everyone a simple way to step back and reframe the actions of others while being curious about them. It allows you to get over slights faster, and others to apologize easily if necessary.

The next time you find yourself taking something very personally, ask yourself: "Did this happen to me, or did it happen near me?"

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