I’m at my desk, staring at a long list of documents to edit, and before you know it, I’m down the rabbit hole, feeling the gamut of worry, confusion and often fear about the gravity and depth of conflict surrounding us these days. For me, the darkest thoughts are about how on earth “people” can make choices that are so hard to understand. 

And in those moments, I’m feeling as if there are these stark “right” and “wrong” sides. This is two-dimensional thinking. This is “all or nothing” thinking, and it’s incredibly hard to recognize in the moment, but it’s important to try.

We aren’t static beings. There is no “getting to a point where” we are on the “right” side. The sides we really need to worry about, are the ones within us. 

We’ve all seen or heard examples of people redeeming themselves after big mistakes, and we love those stories precisely because deep down, we all know that we may need a second chance some day. This capacity to mess up, be arrogant or cold … we all have the capacity to be that way … and when we remember this, it can actually help us feel more optimistic about the common ground we have with others … even the people whose choices seem impossible to understand.

The world is not two-dimensional.  We are not two-dimensional. We have the capacity to live from our prefrontal cortex (the calm and kind side) which has plenty of room for rational compassion. But we also have the capacity to slip into our “fight/flight” side, which is, and always will be, incapable of compassion. The third most important dimension within us, is our conscious attention. It gives us the ability to oversee which side of ourselves we are perceiving the world from … rational compassion? or fear-based threat?

I can get on my high horse, and this week I caught myself on it a few times, feeling self-satisfied that I “knew” why certain people were making choices with which I did not agree. In my calmer self now, I see that I can’t really “know” any of what I thought I “knew” in those moments. But that recognition only came after seeing my own irrational judgment of the other “side.”

When we get on a high horse about anything (and we all have our moments) then we slip into a little delusion of believing that “people” can statically become “right” or “wrong.” And here’s a sobering thought that motivates me back to humility: If I am believing that “people” can permanently become “good” or “bad,” then guess whose actions I’m probably not seeing clearly? … my own! 

I consider it my life’s work to stay on top of the accuracy of my perception of myself and of others, because it is always in flux. Stress will constantly pull us into a pessimistic world where we seem “bad” or other’s seem “bad,” and I’m here to tell you that’s skewed stress-thinking. 

Yes there are right actions and there are wrong actions, and you deserve to feel what you feel about other people’s actions for sure. But “people” are not static. That’s a relieving truth in times that we need self-compassion, and it’s a warning for times we are harshly judging. The emotional investment of feeling about someone’s “wrongness,” has no benefit, and further skews our own perception.

I’ll repeat this because it’s an important, but slippery distinction. We deserve to feel our anger and sadness and fear about unjust actions. But we don’t have to go down the fruitless road of “deciding” or concluding about entire people, because we are all works in progress

Judging the “wrongness” of an entire person or group of people, is a brick wall. That’s the boundary I’m trying to remember. My mantra this week is “eyes on my own paper” What can I do to create solutions (not blame) for the situations and problems about which I feel passion.

Jessica Kiesler
Jessica Kiesler

Jessica is the creator of The VisibleU™ Method. Over the last 20 years she has helped hundreds of busy adults create more balance within, and with others. Jessica received her master’s degree in Applied Psychology from New York University, and completed mediation training at the Columbia University School of Law. She has held numerous clinical roles, managed clinical operations for a national EAP, and advised executives on employee-relations concerns at Fortune 1000 companies.