How often do we find ourselves in situations where we don’t understand why someone made the decision they made?
Maybe that person ignored you, insulted you, committed a crime, or made a short-sighted decision that had negative consequences.
Maybe that person was a stranger in a restaurant, or maybe it was a close friend or family member.
“I can’t believe that person did that!” you might think to yourself. “I’d never do that!”
It’s so easy to project our own life experiences onto everyone else’s decision-making process. From our current worldview, their actions seem completely crazy or counter-productive.
But the reality is that everyone is personally rational.
Even if they don’t think what they’re doing is necessarily “right,” everyone justifies, rationalizes, or excuses their own behaviors. And they might actually have good reasons to engage in that behavior based on experiences or pain they’ve suffered in the past.
For example, if you don’t know when the next time you might eat will be, you might stuff yourself full of food whenever you can, even if that food is unhealthy.
If you’re a foster child who has a history of adults abandoning you, then you might cause trouble every time you meet a new foster family so that you can go ahead and make them abandon you sooner rather than later.
If you have anxiety or depression, you might avoid interacting with people or going to social events because you know that trying to recover from those bouts is worse than just avoiding the triggering situations altogether.
There’s a danger in projecting our life circumstances onto everyone we meet. It often causes us to judge other people without attempting to understand them.
Ironically, there’s a flipside to this tendency to assume everyone should be like us. It’s the belief that we are all alone.
Often we feel like everyone else has their life together except us. Other people don’t have the same anxieties, concerns, problems, or failings that we do.
And so we suffer in isolation. We judge ourselves, criticize ourselves, and punish ourselves for our failures, our weaknesses, and our imperfections.
The truth is that we are not alone. Nobody has it all figured out, and everyone makes mistakes. The images that we see on social media and on TV are crafted and controlled presentations of fundamentally flawed humans.
The irony is that when we learn not to judge other people before trying to understand them, it creates a safe space for us to begin to understand and forgive ourselves.
Once we are able to release our constant stream of criticism of other people’s actions and decisions, we can listen more deeply to our own reasons and experiences that inform our decision-making process.
Because ultimately, we are neither as alike nor as different as we think we are.