My cat is the sweetest, cuddliest thing I have ever known. Everyone who meets her comments on it. However, recently she has started getting into these zero-provocation "moods" where she gets suddenly angry, swats at me when I walk by, and even bites. Bites! That is not okay.
Not wanting my cat to turn into a huge jerk, I tried different things to try to stop the biting (punishment, pre-emptive hunting games, etc). The result? Zero change in her behaviour and lots of frustration and impatience from me. It made me so MAD when she acted out for no reason!
Then, finally, I googled it. I found out that she wasn't acting out for no reason. Her hyperthyroidism (something she was recently diagnosed with) results in mood swings.
My perspective on the whole thing changed immediately. I was instantly filled with compassion for my girl, as well as remorse for all the anger I had expressed at her when her actions were the result of a medical condition.
I felt like a jerk of a cat owner. Why had I assumed there was nothing behind her actions except a newfound meanness? Why hadn't I given her the benefit of the doubt?
Then reflected for a few more moments and started to feel like a jerk of a human.
When people act out in ways I don't understand, I am not necessarily much more compassionate than I was towards my cat. I don't assume there's a reason, I just get angry and impatient and just want them to change.
The thing is, though, that there is always a reason. I just can't see it.
To help me remember this, I made a list of possible reasons for behaviour that might seem out-of-sorts to me:
-Maybe it's something they learned from childhood.
-Maybe it's a defence mechanism.
-Maybe they are trying to get to the hospital to see their parent.
-Maybe their biggest insecurity was just triggered.
-Maybe their pet just died.
-Maybe they are trying to juggle fifty responsibilities at once and I am standing in the way of one of them.
-Maybe, like my cat, they have a medical condition that alters their behaviour.
So what would happen if I always assumed that there is a reason why someone else is acting in a way I don't understand or don't like?
Probably I would be a lot nicer about it, which would make life better for everyone involved, myself included. Compassion is much more pleasant to experience than bubbling rage, after all.
Okay, so this is going to be my new trick: when someone else does something that makes me feel instantly angry, whether it's a stranger blocking the bike path or a friend showing up super late for plans, I am going to try to imagine a few possible reasons why they might be doing this.
Maybe it will help me be a better person!
Sign up for my email newsletter for a bi-weekly digest and bonus content!