YOU ARE NOT THE REFERENCE POINT
How often do you look at someone else’s behavior and think: “Well if I were them, I’d do it that differently.”
You know what I mean:
You see a parent ignore her screaming child and think, “If that were my kid, I would acknowledge their pain and calm them down.”
Your boss sends you a cryptic email and you think, “If I were in charge, I’d provide clearer instructions.”
Your friend goes back to her cheating ex, again, and you think “If I were her, I wouldn’t give him the light of day.”
It’s natural to see things from our own point of view.
And yet this one thought pattern is our single biggest obstacle to clear communication, deeper understanding, and unconditional love.
As children, we were hopefully taught that we’re not the center of the universe.
We were taught that our perspective is not the reference point for everyone else in the world, that the world doesn’t revolve around us.
And yet every time we play the “if I were them, I’d do XYZ differently” game, we fall into this way of thinking.
We believe that our thoughts are unquestioningly true, that they’re an accurate representation of the world around us, and that our opinions about what is obvious, standard or sensible are actually objective observations about the world.
We think we’re stepping into someone else’s perspective by imagining how we would react in their situation.
But we’re just imagining how we would use our own assumptions, biases, and beliefs to analyze their situation.
So all we’re really doing is reinforcing our own beliefs and then projecting them onto other people.
The problem with this is that it limits our scope of the world and our ability to see (and love!) people with different experiences, backgrounds, and habits than us. Which is to say: everybody.
Human beings are complex, unique ecosystems made up of millions of unique factors and experiences.
No two of us are created by the same set of daily events, influences, and experiences.
Which means you are not the prototype. Your unique ecosystem isn’t any more objective or normal or standard than anybody else’s.
Shifting this mindset will require you to step outside of yourself in a way that very few people learn (in spite of all that “the world does not revolve around you” messaging we get as children).
It’s a practice that I’m still learning, and it has implications in every area of our lives.
For example, a few years ago I dated someone whose communication style was very different from mine.
I’m a big texter, whereas this person routinely took up to a week just to RESPOND to a text.
I certainly thought so.
In fact, the first few times this happened, I assumed they were ghosting me – because my brain decided it was simply impossible that someone could be romantically interested in me while also waiting a week to return a text.
So, the first level of coaching I did was to consider that it was conceptually possible for someone like this to exist.
Once I did that, I found myself framing my coaching around thoughts like “I can believe it’s possible for someone to not text back for a week EVEN IF they like someone.”
But here’s the deeper level of this work.
Notice how this belief relies on the assumption that frequent texting is the NORM, and that not texting back for a week is a deviation from the “standard” way of being?
Even with coaching, my intentional thoughts reinforced my original belief that usually, texting frequency is tied to level of romantic interest.
But that absolutely wasn’t true for my partner.
He was very interested in me, and ALSO his level of interest had nothing to do with his texting habits.
How can this be true?
My beliefs about texting frequency were not his reference point.
HIS reference point was his unique thought patterns, his socialization, his preferences, his lifestyle, his priorities, etc.
MY thoughts about how long he should take to text me back were irrelevant, because my point of view is not the standard or objective or normal point of view.
Even if it’s shared by other people (hello, your friends are your friends because they mostly already agree with you about sh*t), it’s still not the reference point for everyone in the world.
And in fact, it’s inherently limited by my own thoughts, experiences, socialization, perspective. It doesn’t account for the near infinite other ways of thinking and feeling and doing that exist.
We think it’s harmless or even compassionate to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and try to interpret the world through their eyes…but until we wrap our heads around the idea that we are not the reference point for anybody but ourselves, all we end up doing is digging into our own belief systems and rejecting anybody who may challenge our beliefs or push us to grow.
The more we can practice decentering ourselves as a reference point in our own minds, the more we can appreciate other people for who they are, rather than how much they validate our beliefs.
We can see them as complex, unique human ecosystems rather than as green screens for our projections about ourselves.
And this allows us to love them even if we choose not to interact with them because of our PREFERENCES rather than our assumptions or biases about what their behavior means and how they feel about us.
When we let go of viewing ourselves as the reference point for the universe, we are able to appreciate that humans are as varied and complex as the universe itself.
And that enables us to move through our lives freely, with curiosity and astonishment at the world and the possibility that exists for us, beyond what we may be able to see from our limited perspective at any given moment.