Not everybody is as tough as you think they are
We really should be careful about judging people on the basis of what we see
We spend a lot of time figuring out who other people are. Then we spend a lot of time confirming that they are who we think they are
“Daddy, for God’s sake!” The words were spoken by an adult daughter to a father who was in the full of his health but whom she was, in fact, rebuking as though he was a child.
Why was she rebuking him?
I don’t know but what caught my attention was that he was a man I knew as someone to treat with deference and with caution in business matters but to his daughter he was, at least in this place at this moment, a big child in need of correction. If I treated him the same way as his daughter did, it would not go well for me.
These glimpses into the varying personalities of other people can be amusing, as above, or disconcerting; for instance, when you find that someone you treated aggressively because you thought they were tough were vulnerable and not able to take it.
We spend a lot of time figuring out who other people are. Then we spend a lot of time confirming that they are who we think they are. “That’s just so typical of him,” I heard someone say on the bus about a colleague they were complaining to their companion about.
Apparently, he has a habit of expecting people to know things he hasn’t informed them about and to do things he hasn’t told them he wants them to do. Yet, if they met him in his own home they might find themselves talking to a most charming and friendly person. To reconcile these difference views they might have to decide that he “isn’t so bad after all” or else that he was putting on an act when they met him at home.
This is to fall into the trap of believing we have one true self and that anything else we reveal must be mistaken or false. I think it more likely that we have more than one self and that we should be careful about judging people on the basis of what we see.
You will see this in yourself as you look at how you change throughout a day. When your energy is high, you can feel like you could take on the world. When the energy slumps, to reply to the simplest email is just too much. It isn’t that you lack the physical energy with which to do the work; it is more that your emotions have changed to the degree that you are almost a different person this afternoon compared to this morning.
Sometimes tough guys cry but they do it alone
What all this means to me is that the person I think I’m dealing with may be very different to who that person feels himself or herself to be in their own heart. Not everybody is as strong or as tough as I think they are and if I’m annoyed with them maybe I could ease off on the intensity of the attack.
Sometimes tough guys cry but they do it alone. Sometimes people hide beneath the bedclothes for ages in the morning before they get themselves out, suited and booted, to fight corporate battles in which they appear to be without softness.
What we see and sometimes attack is the public mask. We treat people as though what you see is what you get but that is only true of screens on computers and not of real people.
I often think of Amy Winehouse and the sneering and jeering she endured from some commentators when she was drunk in public or onstage. Then she died, decades before she should have, and the sneering and jeering stopped. It’s as though her death revealed a more sympathetic person. Yet that more sympathetic person was always there.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to expect any of us to know what’s behind the mask of the people we deal with. It is not even easy to know what is behind our own masks. Perhaps in the end it comes down to a little more kindness and to an awareness that what you see is not necessarily what is there.
– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (email@example.com).