Times Have Changed
My husband and I went out for a walk the other day, and it struck me how much things have changed in such a short period of time.
We were walking in our neighborhood, on the sidewalk, and saw another couple heading towards us. We immediately moved off the sidewalk and onto the road to give them space to pass us by. We did not want to crowd them or make them feel uncomfortable in any way. We wanted to ensure that we were meeting the 6ft social distance requirement. They nodded to us in appreciation of our gesture.
It occurred to me that if we had seen these same people walking toward us on the sidewalk and we moved away in the exact same manner one year ago, they might have been offended. In all likelihood, that very same gesture would have been viewed as ‘racist’, disrespectful, or small-minded.
Today, what might have been interpreted as rude one year ago is now seen as respectful. The very same action at two different times can elicit a completely different reaction.
Why is this important to take note of?
The way we interpret what is happening around us will impact how we feel.
When we interpret the behavior of others in a negative light and when we construe their actions as dubious, malicious, or ill-intended, we become cautious, skeptical, and tense. This interpretation creates division and strain and ultimately tears down relationships, families, and communities.
So Much Judgement
This is what we are seeing in the world right now. We are observing a massive divide, spurred by negative interpretations of other people’s opinions, preferences, and behaviors. If we strongly believe in wearing masks and see someone ‘not following the rules’, we become offended and incensed. In our minds, we engage in the process of judgement and sentencing and become infuriated that such blatant disregard for the welfare of others is permitted. We either seethe silently or boldly confront the perpetrator, attempting to seek justice in order to correct the misconduct.
This tendency to be judgmental does not only apply to wearing masks, it applies to virtually everything we encounter: political orientation, hygiene, driving habits, food choices, organization, time management, and the list goes on and on.
Every judgement we have triggers an emotion. For example, finding out that some of your closest friends have opposing political views might trigger feelings of confusion, disappointment, mistrust. How can a ‘good person’ support such an awful candidate? If they do indeed support that candidate, can I still think of them as a ‘good person”?
We have judgements about how others do everything, and those judgements impact our experiences. We spend so much time and energy specifically focusing on what we do not want that we wind up anxious, twisted sideways, and exhausted.
Understanding the relationship between our judgements and our emotions is extremely useful in helping us take some measure of control in designing a life that’s enriching.
Let’s agree that 2020 has brought one key fact to light: on an individual level we have virtually NO CONTROL over anything — not the weather, not the pandemic, not the economy, and not politics. Really the only things we have control over are the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we behave. The issue is that so many of us have chosen to give up control of these few things in exchange for the ‘right’ to be upset over recent world events.
How do we reclaim control over our judgements and emotions?
1. Collect evidence of what you WANT to believe.
We always seek evidence to support our beliefs. This is a principle of human nature — to look for examples in the world that let us know that our view of the world is right. If we believe that people are ignorant and self-absorbed, we will find many examples to prove this point and use our judgement of those people to cement our beliefs. By the same token, if we believe that people are essentially kind and caring, we will also find examples to support that view. The key question is… what do you want to believe about the world and what evidence are you choosing to collect?
2. Pay attention to your mood.
Our mood is a function of how we think. When we feel mad, agitated, frustrated, and intolerant, this is a signal that we are thinking about things in a way that is diametrically opposed to our desires and goals. Notice what subject you are using as your reason to feel badly and ask yourself if that subject is worth empowering. For example, if the elections are getting you down, ask yourself if the candidate you despise is worth handing over your mood to. If not, turn your attention to any other thing that will lift you up.
3. Leverage the contrast.
Contrast is what happens when we experience what we don’t want. Individuals with a high degree of personal control have learned to leverage the contrast in order to gain clarity about what they would rather have. When something happens that is less than ideal, rather than applying energy and effort to complaining and explaining why it’s bad, use that energy and effort to define what you want instead. This process points you in the right direction — the direction of your goals and desires.
At the end of the day, the goal is to completely control what is ours to control — our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions. When we take ownership of these three things, life gets better, lighter, and more joyful because we are using our judgement to our benefit.