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Do Not Assume Malice

December 4, 2014

A thousand times one might ask or think the following thoughts if they are shy – “why isn’t he talking to me? Did I do something wrong? Is it me?” When giving a speech, people clam up, frightened to death of being misperceived. What will their peers think? And when somebody fails to talk to you, its an affront. They chose not to speak to you. They were purposefully rude to you. They didn’t invite you because they wanted to send a message.

How wondrously arrogant they all are! To think that there every action is noticed, there being the focus of another’s thoughts!

Forget others forgetting about you, you’re being rather self-centred here!

You are not the darling of the world. The world, contrary to your inner monologue, simply doesn’t observe or notice you. It really doesn’t care.

If you’re shy its because you’re thinking too much about yourself. When giving a speech, realise that most people are probably bored. When somebody fails to invite you, its not because they wished to slight you. Its because in their busy lives they forget you among the throngs of people.

—.

Do not assume malice.

There are few who think that we are all angels, inherently beautiful beings. But there are a great many who, having witnessed corruption, decadence and stupidity across a range of media and experiences, inherently view humanity as depraved, cruel, wicked etc. Some would say that people are ‘out to get you’, as if a shoddy used car salesman lurked behind every alley. Others would view integrity as an illusion, that people are totally rational and make decisions based on self-interest. Well, they don’t.

This view again assumes a certain perceptiveness among others. That they realised and seize every opportunity to screw you over. Its just as flawed a view as that others notice your every action. And I think its vital to realise that others rarely mean actual malice. It is not something I wish to discuss, but I know and have experienced families and friends torn apart because of perceived slights. Gifts become bribes behind one’s back. A lack of invitation is a signal of distrust and dislike. Embers become infernos.

Perceptions are powerful. And, sadly, wrong perceptions can be horrible.

And that’s why I want to show you that people aren’t out to get to you. Now, people aren’t angels, absolutely not! People can be self-centred and shallow. But on the whole most people are reasonable people. They aren’t out to hurt others, yet they don’t go thinking about others during their day. The day to day grind of life gets at them, and its enough that they deal with twists and turns as they come. People will show kindness to friends and family – seeing them less than they would like to – but aren’t going to go out of their way to show kindness to strangers very often. You will read of a ‘loving father’ on a gravestone, and no doubt they were. Yet also no doubt they had flaws.

Ultimately, perhaps sadly, most people on the surface are rather average, in a somewhat boring way. They won’t lift a finger to help you if it means going out of their way… but, and here’s the key point, they also won’t bend to smite you.

To get a ‘proof’ for this belief, lets go through a morning commute wherein you walk to a bus-stop, catch the bus, then train, then walk for a few minutes through a busy city.

—.

The bus is a minute or two late. You nervously glance at your watch. You can’t be late. The bus arrives, and you settle in. Relieved, you glance at your phone. You’re going to get to work when… wait, has Jack called? No. How insolent. The trouble hes causing by not replying. ‘My weekend is going to be busy…’

100 people get on the train. You’re one of them. The train is packed. You look at your phone, grumbling at the cramped carriage. You just want to sit in peace, alone.

Get off the train, and walk. The city is a whirl. But, you’re focused on getting to work.

Here’s where we interrupt. You’ll see thousands of people in the city on your morning commute. You, like many others, probably won’t speak to any of them or think about them. How many outfits do you remember? None? If you do see an outfit in the street that catches your eye, you might think on it for a few seconds, but will you remember it in an hour? Making it to work on time, banking a cheque early in the morning, getting your coffee, texting on your phone… these things are what capture your attention.

In short, you’re focused on yourself. So too are others. Do not assume malice. Assume ignorance.

A Word on My Assumptions

The picture I painted above may seem overly bleak. Perhaps it is. I’ve had great acts of kindness done to me before, had conversations with strangers and such. People do and can care. But, its just not that common occurrence, especially in the large, faceless crowds of the city. But meet a stranger at a bus-stop and strike up a conversation… there you have it!

Most of what I said above was based on the most average of average activities. Of course, no person is truly ‘average’ – they have their quirks. Some are extraordinary.

Lets return to our speech example, and say there are 25 speakers in a class. As we said before, the audience is probably bored of all these speeches. Most of the time, they are drifting off or not really noticing the speaker. But then there’s those few speeches that captivate the audience. Or maybe you are excited for the speaker. People can break expectations. People can be extraordinary. [1] I think we can make ourselves extraordinary. I think if we are intentional about our actions that we can foster strong habits of altruism. I think we can do it. I hold out a cautious optimism.

But putting that optimism to the side, just remember that people default to being somewhat self-absorbed. Devilish or angels people may be – these views exist because these people exist – but these are rarities. And self centred people may be in our modern age especially. We live in a world where social expectations, ties of family, and old honour groups are weaker than ever. We are disconnected, and our identity as an ‘individual’, rather than a household or team, or citizen is stronger than ever. This is neither good nor bad. It simply is.

But what is means for you is simple. People aren’t there to hurt you. People may forget about you, but don’t take it as an affront. There is always a good explanation.

Do not assume malice from others.

 

 

——

 

1 – Just a month ago, I was out walking in 37 degree Celsisus heat, and it was extremely humid. I had ventured into a nature reserve and out. Frankly, it was a dull walk, and I was tired, hungry and exhausted. Wearily, I sat down on a seat.

Then, the most extraordinary thing happened. An attractive young lady, obviously busy, asked me if I needed a lift.

How incredible – forget stranger danger! Forget self-centredness. Here was a young lady offering total assistance to a stranger she had never seen before.

I refused her offer because I had one of 2 tracks to explore. I regret not taking up her offer. Not because the tracks were dull though they were, nor that I got home an hour later for refusing her offer. No, I simply wonder what a charming, attractive and most all kind young lady would have been like to talk to. To know the person who made the offer!

The message here is that kindness exists.

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