Imagine this scenario. You are in the grocery store standing in the cereal aisle deciding between Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes when someone bumps their cart into the back of your heels. Ouch. In milliseconds, you feel your blood pressure start to rise, anger begins to boil, and you get ready to turn around and give this inconsiderate jerk a piece of your mind.
As you pivot, scowl on your face, you realize the person who hit you is blind and just as startled as you. What changes? In an instant, you feel apologetic and may even take the blame for being in the way.
So, before realizing that the collision was an accident, what was occurring in your mind that led to becoming so agitated? Why was the first assumption that this act was intentional and should be met with retaliation?
Has this happened to you? Perhaps you were driving and someone cut you off. Was your first thought, “What an a-hole!” as you laid into the horn? Or was it, “Perhaps this person is on the way to the hospital to see a loved one who has been tragically injured?” I’m betting it’s the former.
Why is the hospital explanation so hard to imagine? Isn’t it equally as probable that someone is rushing to the hospital as it is that someone intentionally meant to cut you off? More than likely, it was just an innocent oversight on the other driver’s part – neither an emergency nor intentional – but for some reason, the tendency is to take these situations personally and get angry.
How would life be different if we started to assume positive intent in situations like these? Well, for starters, we would be healthier. Every stress reaction raises cortisol in the body, which is well-researched for its negative effects including high blood pressure, stroke and increased body fat. So, jumping to an infuriating conclusion is, in essence, hurting us.
We would also be happier. When we live each day believing that people are inherently good and not out to get us, life is better. Taking things personally eats away at our joy. The only impact that honking our horn and flipping off other drivers really has is on us.