“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotions, and knowledge.” Plato
“People say I make strange choices, but they’re not strange for me. My sickness is that I’m fascinated by human behavior, by what’s underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people.” Johnny Depp
The behavior of others constantly impacts us. Whether talking about the behavior of strangers, friends, coworkers, or family members, these behaviors can affect us in a variety of ways. They might be helpful, annoying, surprising, frustrating, or relieving…the effects they have on us can run the gamut. However, in these moments, it’s important to remember that the behavior itself is only the outward result of deeper processes operating inside that individual.
For example, if you witness a person yelling at a server in a restaurant, that behavior isn’t just happening in isolation and out of the blue. It’s happening because of the emotions that individual is experiencing, which, in turn, are the result of how that individual interprets, perceives, and understands that situation. Further, those interpretations and perceptions are influenced by that individual’s mood at the time of the incident and that individual’s values and beliefs about the nature of the world and others. Even further, those values and beliefs came into being primarily because of the lessons taught to that person by other people and the environment in which that individual was raised. The point here is that MANY factors influence the behaviors we witness every day.
This information doesn’t excuse inappropriate, inconsiderate, or dangerous behavior. However, understanding that behaviors are, in many ways, simply the tip of the iceberg allows us to be more thoughtful and deliberative in our assessment of the situation and more compassionate toward others.
Since we know that there’s more going on under the surface driving behavior, we can question our initial impressions to ensure we have as complete and accurate a picture of what’s going on as possible. Also, because we realize that people (ourselves included) regularly deal with many challenges and emotions, we can be more compassionate when those moods, challenges, and emotions impact people in counterproductive ways.
So, as you move through your day and witness the cornucopia of behaviors people all around you engage in, keep in mind the part of the iceberg you can’t see, that part underneath that’s actually responsible for the behavior you’re witnessing. Recognize that what you’re seeing is more complicated than an initial glance and impression can elucidate. Remember times when you yourself have behaved in regretful ways because of strong emotions. And exhibit compassion by giving that person the benefit of the doubt. Again, people should be held accountable for their inappropriate behavior, but judging and condemning other people as a result of momentary choices, particularly given that each of us has been carried away by emotions in very similar ways, can lead to mistaken, unfair conclusions.