My six-year-old grandson, Evan, was playing with Legos on the floor and was searching for a particular figure. He described it to me, so I could help him locate it, by saying that it was the one with the smiley face, not the mad face. To him, smiley face equaled, ‘happy’ and mad face equaled, ‘angry’. He wanted the happy one.
I can’t help myself. I asked him, “what do you think the mad faced Lego figure is angry about?
He stared up at me and said, “huh?”
I know it was silly of me to ask, but I wanted to see what he might say. Now I knew for sure. He ought to know better by now that I ask ‘dumb’ questions.
This little episode got me thinking. Do I gauge someone by their facial expression?
Of course, I do. If I see a person with a smiley face, I imagine they are happy. And, if I spot someone with a mad face, I’d assume they are angry. I wonder, how much of the time this is the truth?
There are no doubt a million reasons why someone is displaying one face or another. Then, there is the fact that everyone’s facial expressions change all the time. That makes it even more unlikely that I could make any accurate assumptions about what’s going on inside of them.
I recognize that what they’re experiencing is completely about them, but I also know that I let others emotional states impact me. I let their faces influence me and, if I’m not aware enough, I make some judgements about them or come to conclusions that may be totally incorrect. Once I do this, it becomes all about me.
I try to guard against this tendency by reminding myself that, even on my best days, I can’t possibly know what’s going on inside another person.
And, I ask myself whether I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. To hold in my mind that they are doing the best they can under whatever circumstances they’re facing. And, to offer them whatever support I can for their journey.
I’ve come to realize how powerful it is to give someone, ‘the benefit of the doubt’ and how wonderful it is to receive the same. I sometimes think to myself, what would my life would be like if I did this more often? Or better yet, if I set this as one of my defaults, so that when I initially reacted negatively (with a mad face) to something, I stopped and told myself that there is probably a very good reason for whatever was happening, (shifting to a smiley face).
I grant you this takes practice. From my recent attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the practice is well worth the time and effort.
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