When we cut someone else off in traffic because we have a lot on our mind that day -- we’re tearful, or pissed, or stressed out about a gut-wrenching problem with no end in sight -- we cut ourselves some slack.
We’re really not THAT kind of driver, we think to the other person, as they speed up and pass us, while glaring our way to make their point.
You’re entitled to be spacey, distracted. You’re dealing with a lot right now. It couldn’t be helped.
But to them, you ARE one of those kinds of drivers.
The kind that starts with the letter “A!”
And it is assumed that you drive like this wherever you go, spreading your bounty of misery far and wide.
But what REALLY just happened?
One way to look at it is...
The other driver took an event that was situational and made it all about your character.
You have no qualms about your character, because in your mind, your actions were due to the situation.
And therein lies the rub betweens divorced moms and stepmoms.
A stepmom thinks,
I have had it up to here with an ex-wife who won’t even cooperate over the simplest of communications between our households!
Why did *I* have to get stuck with the standard, ex-wife bitch on wheels for my partner’s ex -- someone willing to drag her own children through a lot of drama, just to flaunt her power in my face?
For her part, the mom thinks,
I have had it up to here with my ex once again pawning off his job on yet another woman!
Why did *I* have to get stuck with a stereotypical, interfering stepmom -- out to prove she’s better than me at my job, assuming she has the right to manage my children’s lives, when she’s barely known them a few years?
So who’s right?
Is it situation... or character?
Can you see the assumptions about character that each woman makes in the descriptions above?
And can you empathize with the initial frustrations of each woman in her situation? Frustrations that are probably prompting some unpleasant and negative behavior towards the other woman?
Does her behavior in a difficult situation now define what kind of person she is, for all time?
Can you also see how easily we cut one side or the other slack -- depending upon whose “side” we’re on?
And yet, we assume the other person is acting with calculating and malicious intent -- if that’s how the end result feels to us.
But what if she’s really not?
Now that I’m aware of this distinction,* I can’t help but see old assumptions with new eyes... everywhere!
And that includes when I’m on the road too....
Have you ever confused character for situation?
(Thanks to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” for inspiring this post.)
© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved
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