We have the power over how we interpret the events and circumstances that occur in our life. It is the meaning we attach to certain words, behaviors, and actions of others that cause us to take things personally. We can certainly steer clear of people who hurt our feelings, but we also need to look at our assumptions and realize how they can color the way we receive information.
For example, I remember hearing a story about a motivational speaker who was lecturing in front of a large group of mostly enthusiastic audience members. However, there was one person in the front row with a scowl on her face. The speaker perceived this facial expression to mean that the woman wasn’t happy with the talk. Later, at the book signing, this seemingly unhappy woman approached the speaker and said how much the talk had meant to her. She went on to explain that her husband was very ill at a hospital up the street and that the lecture had been very beneficial.
As we can see from this example, the scowl was only a product of this woman’s concern for her ailing husband and had nothing to do with the speaker. This demonstrates that we never know what people are going through in their lives, so we should never jump to conclusions.
Similarly, there are those cases where we may be misunderstood by others as well. This happened to me once when I was trying to explain the dynamics of my first marriage to a group of people many years ago. I was telling them that my relationship was like the one demonstrated in the old television show Moonlighting, with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. The characters on the show used to bicker with each other a lot, and that’s how my partner and I communicated with each other much of the time.
Sometime later, when talking to one of the women in the group, I realized that she thought I’d been comparing my physical appearance to Cybill Shepherd rather than comparing my relationship to the one between the program’s characters. Her misunderstanding caused her to view me as conceited, and she treated me accordingly until the situation was cleared up. This is a good example of why the reactions we receive from others may seem confusing at times.
We can’t control how someone hears our words or their subsequent judgments and choices in attitude. However, we can acknowledge the human tendency to misunderstand each other at times and choose not to take it personally. When we fully appreciate and embrace this concept of not personalizing everything, it is an amazing gift that we can give ourselves.
For today, refuse to take anything personally by reminding yourself not to make assumptions, and by making an effort to give others the benefit of the doubt.