The other day, my friends drove about twenty miles for us to meet for lunch. When I asked them how the drive was both simultaneously responded:
“The traffic was horrible.”
“It was good.”
One car, one trip, and two completely different experiences.
We can see these alternate reactions from a young age. A mother tells her children they can’t have a cookie now. One child howls, like something heavy landed on her foot, the other shrugs her shoulders and continues playing in the figurative (or literal) sandbox.
Then there’s the difficult, harrowing experiences, like those who lived through and experienced life in a concentration camp during World War II. The inhumane conditions of life at Auschwitz; the incomprehensible cruelty, abuse, violence, and firsthand witnessing of genocide caused many to lose the will to live. Then there were those survivors like Elie Wiesel who wrote:
“We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats [gas chambers] over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.” -NIGHT
Wiesel was only fifteen when the Nazi’s deported him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau—only fifteen when, on their first night in the camp, his mother and younger sister were killed in the gas chambers. And yet, his spirit spoke of helping others, of survival, of help as the oxygen for their survival.
Many Holocaust victims did not find helping others as a means to survival. Many victims were lost in incomprehensible fear and depression. Same situation but a very different experience again.
What causes us to react so differently to similar situations? What causes one person alone on a Saturday night to feel sorry for himself and another to relish his own company?
A major player is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.
Take a moment to think about something that happened today. If an unpleasant experience arose for you, consider the following:
- What were you thinking about the situation at the time?
- Is it possible you could consider perceiving the situation differently?
- If you answered yes to #2, how does the alternate perspective(s) make you feel?
When we grow mindful of our inner dialogue, we are less likely to fall prey to negative thinking and more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and others.