[This post is part of a series on overcoming guilt and blame for good. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Yesterday I introduced the topic of getting rid of guilt and blame by understanding the emotions and replacing them with more productive ones. Today, let’s look at them from a different perspective: understanding other people’s motivations.
The better you understand your own motivations, the better you can understand others’, so first let’s look at your motivations.
Have you ever hurt someone intentionally — that is, acted with your primary intent to make someone’s life worse?
I’ve never met someone who acted primarily to make someone’s life worse. People have told me they’ve hurt others, but all such cases fell into one of the following three categories, which don’t qualify to me as primarily intending to hurt others.
- A mother spanking a child. Mothers do cause their children pain, but their goals are to improve the child’s life by teaching them a lesson. When someone feels hurt and retaliates, I believe their intent is to teach the other person a lesson — to pay more attention to others! — so I consider retaliating like a mother spanking a child.
- Incidental. The subway jolts unexpectedly, you bump into someone, and they get hurt. Accidents happen. You may have contacted someone, leading them to feel pain or worsen their lives, but you didn’t act to cause it, so I don’t count it.
- Negligence. You put something on a table. The dog bumps the table and the thing falls and breaks. Or hits someone’s foot. The important consideration is that at the time you put it down, you had reason to believe it was safe. Again, you didn’t act to cause it, so I don’t count it.
In every case someone told me they hurt someone or were suspected of it, these categories or some equivalent explained the intention.
If, like everyone I’ve talked to, you haven’t intentionally hurt someone outside of those categories or some equivalent, has someone ever still thought you hurt them intentionally even when you didn’t?
Here people tell me others suspected or accused them of intentionally hurting another. But when I ask further, they always say they were misunderstood.
And how do you react when someone accuses you of hurting them?
People usually react by explaining themselves. Since we never feel we ourselves acted maliciously beyond those categories or their equivalent, we expect that when the other person understands our motivation, they will realize what looked like malice wasn’t.
In other words, we never feel what we did was wrong and expect others will agree when they understand the situation as we do. Sometimes we react by counterattacking instead of explaining, which only reinforces that we consider our behavior justified, no matter what others may feel.
Here is the question to think about today: “If you feel justified in your behavior and expect others would too if they understood you enough, why wouldn’t you expect others to be equally justified in their behavior?” You might say their justifications don’t hold water with you, but you know they would sometimes say the same of your justifications. But you still feel justified.
In other words, you never intend to hurt someone, no matter how much they may feel hurt. If they understood you, they would agree that at least your intent was to help or neutral at worst.
Why would you think anyone else was different?
We’ll continue tomorrow.
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