Ever heard the phrase “always think the worst”? Of course you have. Either we exhibit this trait ourselves or we think it about someone else – that they always think the worst, but the truth is we all do this. We allow negative thoughts to build in our minds about each other. Put enough “smartphone” online barriers in place and soon enough you will not co-exist offline but in a non-physical existence where your thoughts of each other are distorted beyond recognition. What else are these online barriers, if not virtual editions of Trump’s Mexican wall?
Do we not, I ask you, put up walls within our own minds that confine us to narrow passages when we could traverse wide, expansive, limitless, border-less terrains?
Our thoughts of each other are frequently at odds with the reality of each other.
In C S Lewis’s A Grief Observed, he traverses the grief of the loss of his wife and in one passage, he starts to challenge the version of his memory of his wife. He suggests that the version of her that now exists in his mind is not really her but his version, based on the memories of her that his mind has given precedence. But the true “Her” is all of her, all of the memories, all the components of her with him and without him, before him and after him; not just the ones his cerebral cortex bank of “Her”, has preserved. In truth we are much more than what others think of us. When they don’t have the full picture, they have not spent a moment living your life’s experience, why then do you give others views of you such credence, such importance? It simply isn’t completely true what you think of others, just as it isn’t completely true what they think of you.
If you are an alethiologist (seeker of truth), you would not indulge in cognitive dissonance and allow the negative or alternate image of someone you know to pervade the reality of them. This is what I took away from this passage of C S Lewis – that even when we walk around a room, we think things about each other, we make assumptions about one another and they simply aren’t true. It’s so strange that we so easily allow our minds to re-image someone into something they just aren’t. Does it soothe our egos to reduce or completely re-frame the image of another person? This re-framing does not have to be negative. Indeed frequently we glorify people, place them upon pedestals that they also do not belong on. We seem to lack a cognitive balance of being capable of taking people as they appear, we cognitively impair our neutrality and objectivity. Why? Is it because we are ourselves not as we appear?
Food for thought.
Frequently the time and distance that separates our physical beings creates a disparity between the true version of the person you are thinking about and the version your mind has concocted of them. This person hasn’t RSVP’d to me – they must really think themselves more important than everyone else. This person didn’t wear the shirt I gave them last Christmas, they must not have liked what I gave them or not like me anymore. This person doesn’t message anymore, they mustn’t care about me anymore.
You know. Not everything you think is true. Particularly what you think of others.
Not everything is as simple as your mind sees it. Perhaps they didn’t RSVP because they broke their leg, perhaps they have a mountain of responsibilities and barriers to entry before they even reach the freedom of being able to give a resounding yes response that they would love to be able to give freely and quickly but that isn’t theirs to give. Perhaps they didn’t wear the shirt you gave because it didn’t fit, because they dropped spaghetti sauce down the front before leaving the house and the stain never came out. Perhaps they don’t message because they are busy, they are going through some deep personal trauma and talking to you right now will only bring it to the fore, perhaps they need some solitude, to surmount a hurdle themselves.
Our thoughts of each other are frustratingly and repeatedly at odds with the reality of the other.
The scary thing I have been thinking of late is how an extreme case of this, is exactly the poison that perpetuates xenophobia. On a basic human level, we misunderstand each other by allowing negative thoughts and opinions of each other to pervade our minds but on an extreme level we look upon cultures and people different to ourselves as though they are no longer human, because they do not fit our shortsighted vision of what it means to be human. Because what is different to us is almost, not human? Our negative thoughts on an exponential level can allow us to “otherize” fellow man to such epic proportions that some factions of our species are capable of dehumanizing them.
The scary thought is not simply that “they” exist but that YOU and I also exist somewhere on that spectrum.
Imagine this, though – a world where your default mode is to always think the best of others as you would wish them to think of you. Or at worst you could just think neutral.
What a novel idea.
“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” [Qur’an 13:11]
We all contribute to the state of the world we live in. Who we see today, housed in leadership positions, these are manifestations of our own misdeeds. If we find amongst them those we think do not represent us, think again, for amongst our own circles, even dare I say it, within our own hearts resides a little black dot that grows each time we feed our negative thoughts, each time we feed our ego instead of the vulnerable, each time we put our needs above those more needy than ourselves.
You want other people to not think the worst of you? Start doing it yourself, sweetpea.