One of the interesting things about understanding other people is having the chance to watch what others do – and, often times, observe how disconnected they are from their impact on other people. We all have moments of “It’s all about me” – it is secret number one, after all. But some people truly look at the world through the lens of “me” and have little ability to see how their actions impact others. It’s a common occurrence, when people are standing around saying, “Do they realize what they are doing?” that the person they are often talking about really doesn’t understand the impact of their actions!
This was driven home to me again recently with an incident between friends of mine. I had a friend at one of my client firms who was single at the time; I’ll call her “Dawn”. When we worked together I had my three small kids, and a very, very busy life, but Dawn would often call me and want to talk at the drop of a hat. This happened so often that even my mom used to joke with me that I was never able to have my “down time” without this woman calling and expecting my attention anytime she needed it. Fast forward a few years and Dawn is now married with a child. She no longer works, and stays home with her young daughter.
Dawn and I have a mutual friend, “Todd”, who is getting married later this month. It’s quite a big deal because he has dated his girlfriend for some time. They are planning a very lavish wedding. Dawn had sent her rsvp card back saying that she and her husband would attend the wedding. Then a few days later Dawn sent a note via email to Todd (and I was cc’d) saying something like “I’m sorry but we can’t attend now. We decided we are going to renew our vows that same day so we are no longer available.”
HUH? I read and re-read the email. I showed it to several people that I know. We were all flabbergasted. We wondered, how does someone who is already married decide they will pick the same date to renew vows that someone else is getting married on? After they have already accepted a wedding invitation? Especially when their anniversary date isn’t even close to Todd’s wedding date! All I could think when I read the email is “It’s all about ME!” It’s remarkable to think that a friend’s wedding would not matter enough to delay – or cancel – the renewal of existing wedding vows!!!
It’s not my wedding, so I found the whole thing very funny – and it gave me renewed insight into how difficult it can be to understand and accept others. But, in reality, we don’t have to accept rude behavior. We can refuse to get drawn in by it, and refuse to become emotional over it, but we don’t have to associate with people who are completely “me” focused. These folks are unable to see the impact of their actions on other people, and as such often can’t be negotiated with or appealed to. The world view is really a “ME!” world view and unless they can own their behavior, it’s very unlikely to change.
I’m often asked how to get other people to behave differently, or to “see the light” about their behavior. The truth is that we can only control our own behaviors and our own reactions. For me, Dawn is no longer someone I would choose to associate with – I believe a person who behaves this way has too much potential to be hurtful toward someone else with their disregard of another’s importance. But choosing not to associate – removing a “friend” from Facebook or exiting their social circle, for example – doesn’t mean we also have to have ill feelings, or negative thoughts about them. Instead, we might just choose to let them go from our lives. This is okay too. Relationships change and evolve, and instead of fighting with someone who doesn’t want to be different, it might be healthier all around to sever ties and allow that person to move on.
I don’t believe in harboring negative feelings towards others. It’s wasted energy and it hurts the person harboring the feelings! People often don’t do hurtful things on purpose – they truly don’t know any better, or realize how their behavior impacts those around them. Because of this, they may make choices that ultimately damage a relationship. If this happens in your life, do what you can to help them understand their impact on others, but if they are unwilling to listen – consider whether they are someone you want in your life. If you let them go, just let go. Don’t ruminate. Don’t gossip. Don’t allow the hurt to overtake you. Just move on.
In my case, I’ll go to the wedding and have a great time wishing Todd and his beautiful fiancée well. I might recommend, though, that if they choose to renew their vows a year or so from now, they don’t pick a date when other friends are getting married. :)
Author, Understanding Other People
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