Riding the train with some unruly kids is annoying, until their apparently oblivious father explains that their mother is in the hospital, and it doesn’t look good. Nigh unto impossible to stay angry at any of them when you know that both the antics and the blank stare are reactions to deep emotional pain.
This works whether you discover a true story or tell yourself a story with no reason in the world to believe it.
The car that just cut you off on the freeway: unconscionable jerk, or late for work because they were up half the night with a sick kid? Newspaper in the bushes again: stupid lazy delivery person, or something else which you can fill in yourself?
Try it. Today, when you think someone’s acting out, make up a story that makes them a sympathetic character in the stage play of your day. Practice. After while you’ll begin to realise two things:
- You’re less stressed, because the stress was coming, not from others’ actions, but your perception of their intent; and
- the stories you’re making up about good people doing things that make sense, if only you know the story—well, those stories are more likely to be true than the jerk/victim nonsense we default to.