In the last couple of weeks several very prominent stories involving trials have been highlighted. Many people have become almost obsessed with ‘Making a Murderer’. At the same time the TV miniseries , ‘The People v O. J. Simpson’ has been aired and has stirred up some old theories. And the Jian Ghomeshi trial is the number one story on the Canadian national news night after night. Each of these stories is different in content, but they share the commonality of what, in the world of trials, is referred to as ‘he said, she said’. In each case there are two sides. In each case, each side is trying to find or bring forth evidence that proves their position. And no doubt there is some truth on both sides of each case.
In our own lives, there are mini versions of this happening regularly. Oh, perhaps not the murders, drugs and sinister activities, but no less time consuming are the trials we act out in our minds, searching for evidence at every turn to prove our carefully considered theory. Often, the only person we are trying to satisfy with this evidence is ourselves. And doggedly, we continue, sometimes even enlisting the help of others to find evidence to strengthen our theory.
Think for example of someone you work or live with. It will work best if this person you are thinking about gets on your nerves a bit. Perhaps they do not support you the way you think they should. Perhaps they get more opportunities than you. Perhaps they seem to play the part of victim in the movie of their own life. Perhaps they think they are better than everyone else. Perhaps they are just plain irritating.
When we have someone like this in our life, and we all do, whatever story we have made up about their actions prompts us to look for evidence to prove that the label we have carefully attached to them is true. I can think of two small examples that hopefully will illustrate the point. When I taught school, junior high, I had many, many people wonder how I could stand being with this demographic day after day. Their contention was that these young people ran in packs, were self absorbed, moody, rude and did not much care about the feelings of others most of the time. Truth be told, I am betting that the people who held this belief had found plenty of evidence to support their theory. Let’s face it; it’s a fairly popular theory. On the other hand, during my teaching career, I looked for and found evidence of these teenagers being polite, (Thanks for teaching us today, Mrs. Critchley) helping others (giving up Saturdays to donate their time to others), working hard so they could be very proud of their academic results, supporting others when life got tough (would you like to join my group for lunch?). Really. This is what I saw. And the more I saw it and acknowledged it, the more I saw more of it.
Another quick example might be a social experiment that all of us can do. Sometime when you are driving, challenge someone else in the vehicle to find examples of thoughtful drivers. Meanwhile, you can quietly focus on noticing all of the rude drivers on the road. At the end of the trip, compare notes. I suspect that you will each have found many examples to support your ‘theory’ of drivers either being thoughtful or rude. Imagine. You have both taken the same trip, in the same vehicle on the same road. You have both found evidence for your side. You are both right. In life, the reality is that we will always find evidence to support the theories that we have come up with. “She is so self-absorbed”. “He is just power-hungry”. “No one listens to me”. And on and on.
My wonder is about why we would ever want to look for evidence to support our negative theories. What possesses us to spend time ‘proving’ that a colleague, a partner, a spouse or a child is less than what we want? I know that when I have tried to find evidence that definitely ‘proves’ that someone is (insert negative trait here ), I can easily do it. It makes me feel good, even superior, for a very short time. And I also know that when I spent the exact same time finding evidence that they (insert positive trait here) I am also be successful in winning the trial in my head. And I end up feeling much better about them, and about myself.
In no way am I suggesting that we each become Pollyannas in our lives. It would be foolish to turn our backs on hard evidence that might serve to protect us or that might help us make good decisions. What I do suggest is to be aware of what we are looking for evidence to support.
Your inquiry for the week is “What am I looking for evidence of here?”
As always for coaching to help bring your life or business into sharp focus, please feel free to contact me.