I’ve learned a lot about people, behavior, and the ways we make decisions over the years.
I’m definitely still learning, but once in a while, I find it helpful to stop and share some of these things with others.
Actions > Words
We’ve all heard that “actions speak louder than words,” and this is oh-so-definitely-true.
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through involved trying to reconcile the differences between what someone said and what they did.
Seems simple enough, right?
But it’s not always, and the closer you are to someone or a situation, the harder it can be. You want to believe this person you’ve decided to trust, so you do… and their actions aren’t overtly contradictory, they just don’t entirely gel and leave a little cognitive dissonance behind for you to wrestle with. Many times, you’re not even sure what it is that doesn’t feel right.
There’s just this edgy-uncomfortable-ness that hangs out.
Kind of a low-level-hummm of stress building in the back of your mind.
I’ve found it helpful from time to time to pretend that I’m watching a silent movie.
Remembering events, people, interactions, but focusing on the behavior, the glances between people, the body language, as if there were no sound at all (maybe some vaudevillian music, but that’s entirely up to the person doing the imagining).
When we take away the noise, the distractions, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell others,… people become a lot less confusing.
And clarity is a beautiful thing.
Actions = Words
And then there are the movies with sound.
Have you ever found the way someone treats you… a little confusing? For instance, when they interact with you directly, they’re one way, but when other people are around, they’re rather different — not just “less intimate,” but like your relationship with them is something else entirely? Or even having mutual friends who become more stand-off-ish for no apparent reason?
Take a moment and notice something: notice how the people around you talk about other people. Because the odds are incredibly good that they talk about you the same way.
Now think about people you don’t know super-well, but have an opinion about. Did that opinion get some help from someone else? How does this someone else tend to talk about people?
- Do they tend to tell you how crazy or unstable their friends/exes/other people are?
- Flighty or illogical?
- Excessively emotional?
- Are they always being taken for granted in some way?
- Or super-judgmental of others?
- Do they get ‘misunderstood’ frequently?
- Do they tell you about people who ‘confuse nice gestures’ as meaningful and almost always have a ‘stalker’ or something?
Here’s the kicker: they probably talk about you the same way. To other friends, even. And if these friends don’t already know you pretty well, they’ll probably believe it.
So, think about your friends, significant others, coworkers, vendors, clients, cousins, kid’s-friend’s-parent, the person you always run into at the dog park, or the individual you have a crush on. Notice how they talk about other people to you.
You’re not just a confidant, you are also part of this “other people” group in their lives.
So, what do you do with all of this?
Don’t trust anything anyone says?
Accept that everyone’s talking about you and it’s probably awful?
Instead, understand that many of the people you encounter in your life (including yourself) are likely ‘acting’ to one degree or another. They might believe in a thing called ‘fitting in’ or that there is a ‘normal’, maybe they’re not very confident in the person they believe they are, perhaps the stories they tell you/themselves are what helps them cope with where they are in life, they may even have a picture in their head of what certain things are supposed to look like, and it’s possible that they’re so afraid of something that this is how they’re navigating around it (e.g., if every crush turns out to be crazy or unstable, it couldn’t possibly be that they’re terrified of being vulnerable, right?).
The thing is, I don’t think people are generally awful. At least, not intentionally. But they do typically operate with their own self-interest in mind (even if they’re bad at this), and don’t always consider how that’s going to affect those around them. Not long-term, anyway.
Choose Your People Intentionally
I want to say “wisely,” but how does one measure that?
My best advice is to choose your people intentionally.
Pay attention to who they show you they are. And, if need be, un-choose those who are detrimental to your wellbeing — mentally, emotionally, relationally, any of it.
Curate your tribe.
The people in your life are important. It’s perfectly ok — necessary, even — to give the selection of your tribe-members some genuine consideration. Maybe even go so far as to practice forgiving those who are simply being human, but aren’t terribly thoughtful about it. Not everyone belongs in your tribe.
You can choose to love them anyway.
From afar. 😉