322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405
The world is our emotional mirror. On a daily basis we interact with others and their collective reaction is reflected back to us. This collective reaction tells us, in a very general sense, how we're being perceived. Of course the reaction of others is often not the most accurate mirror. It's often influenced by our very personal perception of it as well as by the general views others take about the world itself and about us. But nonetheless, the reactions of others are the most influential mirror we see. For those of you who would say that you really don't care what others think, I would say you are either benefiting from having a pretty attractive reflection, or you have given up caring. If you've given up caring, then the ugly view you've seen in the emotional mirror has already had a drastic impact on you. On the other hand, if you know you care, but your reflection in this mirror is not capable of reducing you into a heap of goo, congratulations! You have developed a healthy level of confidence. No matter how you see it, however, the reflection we perceive in the mirror of our interactions is really quite important. Many people only feel good to the extent that the world smiles upon them. Unfortunately, the world often doesn't smile. The reasons for that are very complicated. But at its most elementary level, the problem is a failure of empathy in everyday life.
When we empathize accurately, others really appreciate the effort. Empathy with others involves perceiving the world as though you are the others with whom you want to empathize. Oh, if only everyone could continually put themselves in the shoes of others. But they can’t, and they won’t. People, without even realizing it, generally develop a perspective about life, and about any situation, that makes their own feelings okay. It may be unfortunate, but for most of us it's far more important to maintain our own self-esteem or our own sense of invulnerability than it is to understand others. When our own self worth or need for invulnerability even mildly conflicts with understanding others, a failure of empathy will undoubtedly ensue.
Thus, if someone is downtrodden, they are thought of as, at best, unlucky, and at worst, failures or undeserving. It's not difficult to understand why we might feel that way. Who wants to think it's possible that terrible things can happen to us as easily as we see them happen to others? Of course we want to be invulnerable. It's also true that putting effort into prevention, being careful, having forethought, and working hard, all help to keep trouble at bay. Nevertheless, we tend to immoderately underestimate the frequency with which bad things can happen to good people.
How many times do you see a family devastated by an accident or an illness, or some other mishap that clearly was not in the province of preventable? The fact is, many of us see such things and then immediately grasp for the reasons it could never happen to us. We want to believe that bad things won't happen to us because we're so careful or because it's clear we're "good." Sometimes we even attempt to comfort ourselves by judging those to whom fate has not been kind. It is not unusual to wonder what others have done to deserve their bad luck. It's as if the most natural knee jerk reaction to the bad luck of others is to say to oneself, "not me!" This "not me" thought is then quickly followed by the best possible explanation to oneself as to why the disaster did occur to "them."
Nowhere is this more true than in cases where people are truly down on their luck. The worst scenario is when those who "have," harshly judge those who don't. While on the surface there appears to be many differences between these two groups, by far the most essential difference is opportunity. Most people who have worked out a pretty good life for themselves also come from relatively decent backgrounds. That is not to say the "haves" have not experienced any trauma. But most of the time, they have seen economic success and have felt like attaining such success was an attainable possibility for them. In contrast, when people are born into poverty, opportunity seems completely off limits. Often being born into poverty means you'll have an inferior education, your neighborhood will be filled with blight, your friends and neighbors will likely discourage hard work due to their own inability to see opportunity, and your parents will likely be somewhat depressed and thus invest little faith in the possibilities in your future. Nevertheless, if you are not making it, or if you seem upset, the "haves" will see only a lack of work ethic or a bad attitude.
How often do you think to yourself, or hear someone say, "I know I wouldn't make it if I were in that situation?" That kind of thinking is rarely thought, and much less frequently spoken. It is far easier to point out "laziness," "immorality," and "attitude," than it is to see that the development of such traits is virtually unavoidable in some circumstances....
Copyright 2010 Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Material provided on this web site is for educational and/or informational purposes only. This web site does not offer either online services or medical advice. No therapeutic relationship is established by use of this site.
322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405