Perspective changes a lot of things. Imagine you are driving down the road on a warm fall day. You are in your car, the same car you always drive, taking in some of the beauty that autumn has to offer. You stop at a stop sign. You signal you are turning right. You look left, then right, then left again, seeing no one before you make your right turn onto the apparently uninhabited street.
Out of nowhere you hear the squeaky ‘meep’ of a little blue car honking behind you. You thought you were aware of your surroundings but assume you were not paying enough attention and that you pulled out in front of this person. Your heart beats a little faster than usual, scared by the little honk of the car, panicked that you could have been hit, and guilty that you effectively cut this person off.
Feeling bad, you stick your arm out your window and give a little wave to show your apology to the person, knowing that their heart is probably beating a little faster from avoiding hitting you. They return your gesture, but theirs only includes one finger and is paired with a very angry face.
How do you perceive this situation? The easiest thing to think is, “what a jerk. I tried to apologize for my mistake and this person retaliated with anger.” Slightly less easy is to think, “I feel terrible, I must have really scared that person.” The hardest yet it to push past these thoughts and feelings and think, “I wonder what is going on in that persons life right now.”
Think of all the times you have been cut off in traffic. Does your heart race? Certainly. Do you get angry? Most likely. What kind of a day have you been having? Did you fail a test? Get fired from your job? Did your kid flush your last clean pair of underwear down the toilet and flood the bathroom while you were trying to get ready for work? Wow, I really hope not.
Imagine you have a super power that allows you to jump from one perspective to another, and you are able to temporarily put yourself in another’s consciousness. For just a moment you get to know their thoughts and emotions without them knowing you are there. Now you empathize. Your nerves are a wreck. You are late to work, you are going commando, your bathroom is flooded, and you left your husband to clean up the mess. And now someone almost collided with you.
Just like Mom always told us, nothing makes it ok to use derogatory gestures or comments towards others, but we all know that sometimes our body acts without our brain telling it to. That angry ‘jerk’ behind you in traffic may be an extremely sweet human being who let a bird fly without permission from their brain, or let a terrible day get the best of them. You are only making a judgment on what you perceive of them in that one moment.
Almost nothing is as clear as it seems. The only thing that you can know for sure is what is in your own heart/mind/soul, and sometimes that is even hard to understand. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and the grace that you would want in return. Things may look different from the other side.