I was cutting the grass at my grandma’s house yesterday. She’s too old to do it these days so I cut and she pays me for it. It’s a win-win situation. Normally these grass cutting visits end up being relatively uneventful, but I had an interesting observation yesterday.
I was pushing the lawnmower towards the front yard and I heard a noise. I looked up and it was just my neighbor driving up his old driveway. I noticed he had his hand out as if he was waving to me, but I was in such deep thought that he had already pulled into his garage before I had the idea to wave back.
Sometimes when I cut the grass I get into a really meditative state and don’t notice the things that are going on around me. I don’t try to ignore them, but I become so present to the moment and being involved with what I’m doing that they just never register.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely my neighbor realizes that. He probably thinks that I’m just an arrogant teen who thinks he’s too cool to say hello. It’s far from the truth, but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. We all make split judgements of people without ever fully understanding them.
We get pissed when someone on the road speeds past us because we think they’re just being a jerk. Really, however, it’s entirely possible that the “jerk” that just passed us was only speeding because his wife was going into labor and he needed to get to the hospital.
We feel angry with a store clerk because she’s snotty and lacks personality, but really it’s just she’s going through the roughest time of her life. Her grandma died last week and the love of her life broke up with her earlier the same day.
The reason we make these split second judgements is because our brain wants to know a reason for why these people did what they did. These unusual events stray from our normal model of reality and our brain needs a reason to rationalize why they happened.
The rationalization that requires the least effort to think about is that the other person is simply a jerk. Our brains don’t want to invest extra energy in thinking about what’s going on in other people’s lives so it just spits out the first answer it thinks of.
Fortunately, now that you’re aware of this issue you can proactively use it to reduce the negative thinking in your life. It’s entirely possible that the guy who cut you off on the road really was a jerk, but thinking that way isn’t going to improve your situation so it’s better to just have a selective blind spot.
The girl who didn’t text you back doesn’t think she’s too cool for you. She’s just at the beach and didn’t bring her phone with her. The waiter that gave you the wrong order wasn’t a bad guy. It’s just that another waiter didn’t show up and now he’s got to pick up the slack and take care of twice as many tables.
The boy who didn’t wave back wasn’t trying to diss you. He was just too much in his own world to notice you.
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