“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
This is just one of the many brilliant philosophies inserted by Harper Lee into her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. And even though it’s a slightly unconventional alteration of the ‘walking-in-your-shoes’-metaphor, it should be considered frequently by us, much more frequently than we probably do. What it implies, however, is even more important: All we see, all we hear, all we perceive, is filtered by our personality, and coloured by our own bias. Someone offending us with an allegedly ego-hurting statement (let’s be honest, it doesn’t really hurt anywhere else than in this inflated construct blown up around our actual self), could not have an impact without the sting added by our individual filter. It is highly likely that the very same sentence that brings us in rage would not affect any other person ever.
Sure, sometimes manipulative people know about the characteristics of our filter, and they abuse those by adjusting the message they want to give us. They might specifically customise the message according to our personal weaknesses. But hey, the problem is not that they know about our weaknesses, or that they are able and willing to exploit them. No – the problem is that we let them! If we re-ran any message consciously and purposely through another, neutralising filter, one that takes away all the colours our perception had added automatically, it could not do much harm, could it?
I only lately realised that very often, when someone seems to use depreciating comments towards me, the actual depreciation is formed in my own mind. If someone assigns me to a certain group of people, the evaluation about this group being “good” or “bad” actually happens through my own bias. Naturally, I don’t see it that way, as I consider myself as the most tolerant and open-minded person there is (right?), so my first thought is “Why does this person diminish me like this?”, and based on my straight-forward personality, this is then also the first response the person gets. Only in the subsequent argument it turns out that the person in no way finds this specific group any less worthy than any other group – this was exclusively made up in my head. Only in my head, based on cultural values, past experiences, family background, or whatever, this group is worth less than any other. Yes, I know, I am working on getting rid of these prejudices, believe me.
So, by being assigned to the group I feel less respected by the person who assigned me. However, in most cases, people who “do” this to us mean neither harm nor are they aware of our prejudices. Yes, actually people tend to try to avoid conflict, and had they known about our bias, they probably would have thought twice before throwing such a mind-bomb. Especially if a reaction to such a thing is remotely comparable to my reactions to being (seemingly) treated unfairly… No, probably no one in their right mind would ever do this on purpose, unless they really like doomsdays.
We cannot change people, and we cannot constantly tip-toe around their feelings and perceptions. I am not saying we should ignore other people’s perspective – but what is even more important, is to understand our own. Because that’s where it starts. How we perceive things, positive, negative, good, bad, this is all made up in our head. Even if someone means us harm and wants to desperately hurt us with a comment, it is still our own choice how to perceive it – we can even turn the meanest comment into a compliment in our head, and live on happily. How cool is that?
So next time you find something that is said inappropriate, disrespectful, diminishing – think about your own values (I swear I’ll do the same). Why does it show little respect? You don’t know anything about the values of the other person, maybe for them it means something great, and only for you it is disrespectful because you yourself are biased and prejudiced.
And as soon as you detect a detrimental filter like that, it is about time to get rid of it, don’t you think? Happy 2017!