You may be the main character of your own story, but you don’t play that role in everyone else’s. For some people, you’re a love interest and a supporting character for others. In the vast majority of stories, though, you’re an NPC at best. Your story may revolve around you, but the world certainly doesn’t. Remember to think outside yourself.
What does it mean to “think outside yourself”?
Thinking outside yourself is just another way of saying put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try to see the world through their eyes. Ignore your perspective for a moment and think about someone else’s. It may sound simple, but I know that I can easily forget about it and get wrapped up in my thoughts and emotions without caring about how other people are feeling.
Reminding someone that the world doesn’t revolve around them isn’t necessarily the same as calling them selfish. It can also mean encouraging them to be more empathetic towards others. To give kindness and understanding when they get too wrapped up in themselves. It’s a reminder we all need from time to time.
Everyone has their own circumstances
It’s easy to justify when you act like a dick because you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Maybe you’re having a bad day, or it was just an accident. Maybe you were misinterpreted, and the words just kind of came out wrong. Whatever the case, you’re not a bad person, and we tend to forget the same is true for other people.
It’s impossible to know what kind of day a stranger is having or if maybe they meant one thing and accidentally said another. It’s also incredibly easy to just write them off and think of them as bad people (especially while driving). You’ll never see them again, so it’s not like it matters anyway, right? Maybe not, but it also doesn’t cost you anything to think outside yourself and try to be a little more understanding.
You’re not the center of their world, but that doesn’t mean you won’t affect it. If you’re going to have one at all, make it a positive one.
Most people probably aren’t trying to make your life harder
A year while I was in college, I lived off-campus with nine other students. We had one heck of a time keeping common areas clean, resulting in a lot of arguments. It was not the best situation. I remember this one time when we were all arguing about what to do about the kitchen. One of my housemates said something that struck me.
We had all been at our wit’s end about bills and cleaning, and things were getting pretty tense. This one girl had everyone take a deep breath and reminded us that no one was trying to make things more difficult. Maybe that sounds simple in hindsight, but at the time, it made me realize how easy it was to feel like everyone was out to get everyone else.
Often, we don’t think about the consequences of our actions, even on the people immediately around us, let alone strangers. Leaving your laundry in the washing machine for an extra 5 minutes, for example, may sound like nothing to you. To the person who has been waiting to use the washing machine after you, though, they just might be gritting their teeth and holding back some choice words as each second ticks by.
You’re not trying to make anyone’s life more difficult by taking that extra five minutes, and most people probably won’t care too much about such a short amount of time. Some will feel like it’s a personal attack on them, and they won’t be happy that you took their precious time when they could have been doing something else.
Thinking outside of yourself will give you more empathy and patience to deal with inconveniences. It will allow you to give people those five minutes more easily if they need them.
Small acts of hate
When we forget the importance our small decisions have on others, when we forget the importance of five minutes, we can begin committing small acts of hate. Hate is usually a strong emotion, and it usually feels like something that takes a lot of time and energy. Small acts of hate can slip into our everyday lives if we aren’t careful.
In reality, we all commit small acts of hatred without meaning to. At the time, we don’t think of them as acts of hatred either; they’re just little blips where we call someone a jerk for one reason or another then we move on with our days. We snap at a stranger because they were taking too long. We honk our horns angrily at someone who got distracted for a moment at an interaction. All the small, angry blips pile up and add onto each other to contribute to a larger, self-centered world.
Being able to think outside yourself is one small way to make the world a kinder place. If you want to know more about combating acts of hatred, you can watch this fascinating TedTalk by author Sally Kohn.
If you’re looking for more direct ways to be a positive influence in the world, we have an article all about spreading kindness to give you some ideas.
What have you done lately to make a stranger’s day?