Jack Uldrich
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Hey Asshole, Unlearn!

Posted in Behavior, Culture, General, Psychology

Ha_banner Have you ever been at a stoplight when the person in the car in front of you didn't move when the light turned green? It's happened to me on numerous occasions and my natural inclination is to not only lay on the horn but to think unkindly of the person in front of me. In my mind they are usually either an "idiot" or an "asshole." This is especially the case if I can see that the person is talking on their cellphone or applying mascara. But, truth be told, I don't need to see either of those things to think badly of them.

Compare this situation to those occasions when I'm the person at which someone else is honking or blaring their car horn. Do I naturally think of myself as an idiot or an asshole–even if I was talking on my cellphone? Of course not.

I highlight this discrepancy because it speaks to an important unlearning skill--the ability to see things from a new perspective. In the case of honking the horn and spewing obscenities at the person in front of you, notice how your (and my) initial reaction is to assume the person has a fundamental character flaw. For example, they are a self-centered asshole because they think their phone call is so damn important or they are applying mascara simply because they are a shallow, self-absorbed narcissist.

While it is possible that these things may be true about the person, it is also possible the phone call may be important or that the person is applying mascara because she has an important interview and she needs the job to provide for her three year-old child.

It is unnatural to give people the benefit of doubt in such situations, but what's interesting is that we regularly provide ourselves this luxury all the time. When someone honks at me my first reaction is to consider the context of my unique situation. For example, I might have been oblivious to the light in front of me because I was thinking about an important work or family matter or I was on the phone speaking to the director of a volunteer organization which I'm supporting.

Of course, the person behind me doesn't know any of this. They just think I'm a self-centered asshole … and I would too if I was behind myself (and didn't know it was me.)

My point is this: When looking at the actions of others we are quick to see fundamental character flaws. But when assessing our own actions we appreciate the importance of situation and context. I know this because I'm the asshole who needs to unlearn this behavior.

To see the world more clearly, I'd invite all of us to consider the situation and context in which people's actions take place before rushing to snap judgements about people's characteristics.

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