Any time we perceive that someone has ‘over-reacted,’ we are simply blind to the forces acting upon a person’s psyche at any given moment. Their reaction is their reaction in that moment because it matches how they feel in that moment.
We aren’t in their moment, we’re in ours. So, even if they later agreed with us that they had over-reacted, we’ll both still be two external beings, judging another human being, from a previous moment, because even our future selves will be different people from who we are now.
This happens simply because, if we are making a mistake that we cannot currently detect, our future self’s context will often include the consequences of our error. Having seen the consequences, our future self often learns our lesson, and in that way we will become a different person.
This means, we cannot truly ‘know’ even our own past experiences as new people. Every time we look back, they are rewritten by our new way of seeing. That’s why we can appear foolish even to ourselves, when in reality we weren’t.
If we can’t even judge our past selves because we have trouble seeing our own past context, then how can we even hope to judge someone else? Especially from another time. This all means that any reaction we see is the one that truly suits how the person feels inside.
Surprisingly, this even holds true when the expression is seemingly false—like when a person fakes injury to elicit a compassionate or guilty response from others. It emerges differently, but the reaction is still commensurate with the thoughts.
Of course our problem in judging all of this is that most people barely notice their own thoughts in any helpful way. And we certainly can’t see the thoughts of others. So the truth is, we never really know what the truth is.
We can’t necessarily see someone’s traumatic childhood, or the irrational fears that may have arisen honestly through the living of their life. We can’t see their cancer diagnosis, their financial struggles, or their fears for their marriage.
Because we can’t see those things, unwittingly, we all tend to hold each other to a fairly unreasonable standard, which is consistently good behaviour, as though everyone’s circumstances and health are always ideal.
Of course, thinking that way is simply not realistic in a world filled with as many challenges as every lifetime faces. Issues can often pile up on people in distressing ways. That being the case, if near-perfection is the standard we’re applying to others and ourselves, then it makes perfect sense that anxiety and depression rates are up.
Since almost no humans know how to manage their consciousness, we can virtually assured that most humans experiencing negative things are quite laden down with thoughts. However, unlike the proverbial camel, their psychological ‘load’ is not visible—which is why we presume someone has over-reacted when see them lose it over ‘a final straw.’
If we only take into account our perspective, and the straw, then it does appear to be an over-reaction. But in reality, if we could see all the weight the person was ‘carrying,’ we would suddenly realize that every reaction is always commensurate with what is going on inside the other person.
When people feel small, or in pain, they will lash out. Others around them can mistake the lashing out as being directed at them, when it rarely is. Even in cases where people actually do temporarily blame others, they only do that because they feel something is too big for just themselves. We’ll often see this when people are grieving.
Those angry, anguished, unreasonable rants are all calls for help. But most modern people only respond with demands for better behaviour. We don’t question ourselves about what we can’t see, and we don’t ask how that might change our view. This scenario tends to mean that, right when people already feel broken by weight, we have been taught by our society to add our disappointments and insults to their load.
Since none of us likes it when it happens to us, why not replace our judgments with honest questions? We could easily ask ourselves about how much we really know about that other person’s actual experience and life?
If we do that we’ll start to see how shaky our grounds for judgment are. In most cases, even with those quite close to us, we’ll only know a small portion of what’s going on. We can live with people and not know their interior lives. That’s why there’s usually one surprised party in most divorce announcements.
Considering the fact that all of us would feel more secure if we were judged less, why don’t we all go forward with a mindset to try to avoid judgment? Let’s replace it instead with some form of meditation, where we remind ourselves about easy it can be to be overwhelmed by modern life.
If we do that, that will help others. But maybe even more importantly, if we have a habit of doing that, then the next time it’s us that’s failing, we can remind ourselves of our own very legitimate reasons for feeling like we do.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.