By now, you have probably noticed that I love reading. You may have also noticed that the thoughts and testimonies that can be found on Meridian Magazine are some of my favorites.
G. G. Vandagriff is one of my personal heroes on the site. She has overcome many of the same problems that I face, but her trials and experiences have been much tougher than the ones that I have passed through. I lean on her thoughts to help get me back on track when I’m feeling down, hurt, or angry.
One of her more recent posts is “Overcoming Mistaken Cognitions,” Sister Vandergriff tackles the personal struggle that occurs when we jump to conclusions about the motives behind the actions of others. I think she does a wonderful job of illustrating the human tendency to cut ourselves a lot of slack but see others in the worst light possible. It’s human nature — but something we can overcome.
In her article, Sister Vandergriff says:
We develop our perceptions based on our experience. If we are, for example, a person of low self- esteem, we may perceive another’s remarks so wide of the mark that what was meant as a caring statement may seem to us to be a “put-down.” I have wide experience with this particular cognitive error. Because I have been ill for long periods, my husband has, with good reason, developed a very watchful attitude where I am concerned. I have wrongly interpreted this for years as being evidence that he thinks I can’t take care of the smallest thing by myself. It has made me very belligerent at times! In a recent epiphany, I finally realized that his caretaking of me was NOT rooted in the idea that I am incapable or stupid. As a matter of fact, he has profound respect for my abilities and intelligence. When he tries to smooth my way, it is out of a sense of devotion and love. He cares deeply for my welfare. When he seems to be “micro-managing” my life, I now see this as evidence of his joint commitment to my goals and well-being. I still lose my temper on occasion, but when I step back, I can see that his love for me is vast and deep. How do we overcome “mind-reading” or other false cognitions? For me, it took a complete change in attitude. I spent a great deal of time in prayer. I realized that this tendency was born in me at a very young age when I had to mind-read in order to know how to react to certain situations so as to avoid abuse.
Her thoughts (and my reactions to them), seem especially appropriate today. I have been struggling with a perceived slight that became a huge deal to me — largely because I am currently experiencing a small shift in my hormone levels.
Anyway, Sister Vandergriff caused me to stop and think about the power of perception. Can we change our lives by the way we choose to see the actions of the people around us? Can we change them? Is is worth the effort?
I believe that we absolutely can change our own lives by the way we choose to see others. If I see the world as a scary place, with most people being out to get me, or if I see the world as a place where no one really cares about me, I will act accordingly. I will keep to myself and try to insulate and protect my heart from the attacks of the people around me. I will lose a lot of energy being upset over thoughts and feelings that have no real basis.
On the other hand, if I see the world as a place full of potential friends, I will be open and engaging. I will seek out the company of others and be available when others have needs. If someone does something hurtful, I will tend to see it as “a bad day.” I will have more energy to enjoy the world around me.
NOTE: People who have no concern for the welfare of others do exist. They take many forms, including abusers. If you find yourself enduring physical attacks, put downs, or other behavior that you would not ever suggest someone else endure — seek help to end the relationship FAST. All the positivity and wishful thinking in the world is not going to make this situation better!
The second question to answer is whether or not the way I perceive others can change them. So much of that answer depends upon the other person and the relationship you have with them. A close relationship with another person does give you some influence over them. You have a bond, and you can influence that other person by the way you choose to see them. Without trying, your positive mindset can encourage your friends to live up to your perceptions.
On the other hand, there are people who are highly resistant to change, and there are some who tend to be so egocentric that they really don’t perceive anything beyond how a situation or conversation makes them look and feel. Don’t be too surprised if these friends aren’t highly affected by your fabulous mindset!
So, the final question is whether or not teaching ourselves to see the best in others is worth it. I’d like to look at that idea from three different viewpoints.
- My goal is to change others. I’m thinking you’re going to find yourself frustrated with mixed results and failures. It’s rather presumptuous to assume that you know how a person should think and feel better than they do! You are also assuming that the other person is unhappy with life as they see it and will want to change. You are trying to step in where you’re probably not needed and almost certainly not wanted!
- My goal is to improve my own life. If you are not expecting overnight miracles, you will find that you can achieve this. Keep in mind, however, that repeated thoughts create pathways in the brain, and the brain becomes used to following those pathways. It takes time to retrain, and there will be moments (like yesterday and today for me) when you slip back into old patterns. Be patient, and you will get yourself back on track.
- My goal is to follow the Savior and live the gospel. Now you’re talking!
- Proverbs 23:7 tells us that we become what we think in our heart.
- Philippians 4:8 instructs us to focus on things that are true, honest, just, pure, and lovely.
- Doctrine and Covenants 18:38 shares the principle that we can know the hearts of others by their desires and their actions.
- Doctrine and Covenants 121:45 encourages us to be full of charity and to let virtue ALWAYS adorn our thoughts.
So, yes, I have to agree that training ourselves to assume the best of others is a part of the gospel and will be for our good.