Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Best of Intentions

First, the rest of Chapter 10 is up on Double Billing.

Really, in some ways, everyone is a little bit of a psychologist. People naturally look at their worlds and tell stories to explain what they see. Some people are more inclined to do so; they search for patterns, they find bits of evidence, they write the tale to make the pieces fit.

"Harvey is an introvert because he was bullied as a child."

Change the name, change the trait, change the cause, but we all do it. I can't tell you how many times a day I hear "I'm depressed because something bad (you fill in the event) is happening in my life." Or even, "I'm depressed because I've gained so much weight." Never mind that the depression came first, then the medicine to address the depression, and then the weight gain! Funny, but I don't generally hear, "I'm depressed because I have this illness." Okay, sometimes, but even in people with strong family histories, few precipitants, there is still a tendency to say "My brother is depressed because he sits in the house all day," rather than "My brother sits in the house all day because he's depressed."

Okay, so we're all out own psychologist, we all see cause and effect in others and ourselves. What strikes me most is that some people have a tendency to write their stories in terms of the untestable assumptions about the intentions of other people.

"He ignores me because he wants to make me angry." Or because he's jealous, or manipulative, or because people ignore me because they don't like me because I'm the wrong size, shape, color, religion.

How do you know? I often ask for evidence, and it pours in. Once someone has formed an idea about the intentions of others, the evidence supports the theory. A story is told that builds the hypothesis of meaness in the other person. I listen. Sometimes I say nothing (what's there to say?), other times I point out alternative reasons why someone could have done something so mean aside from their innate evilness. Bad hair day? Person was so wrapped up in their own stuff they didn't consider how it might impact someone else? Pure misinterpretation? Or simple inconsideration? When evil intentions are ascribed to total strangers who have no clear motive, I am particularly suspect of the stated intention. Maybe the guy in the car in front slammed on his brakes because his cell phone rang, or he realized he missed his exit, or there was something in the road, or he dropped the directions, and not because he wanted to make you swerve.

Am I right? Who knows. There are people out there who are purposely vengeful, and sometimes I can be a bit naive, unsuspecting, overly trusting. I want to believe that even if people are flawed, they are basically good, that their intentions were generally something other than to willfully cause pain. Funny thinking for someone who watches The Sopranos, Lost, and 24-- where evil is so central.

I think it helps people if they can clarify the intentions of others -- maybe even ask: Why did you do that hurtful thing?-- rather than create explanatory stories that may propagate painful myths. I'm fond of saying, "If he were sitting next to you, how would he tell the story?"

It's been a long day.
Oh, and I did the Double Billing link in green because Roy doesn't like the links in Red. It's because he has too many dopamine receptors in several areas of his brain.