I travel frequently and it is not uncommon that I must use public restrooms. On occasion, I encounter a disgusting and unsanitary toilet (such as the picture to the right).
My initial reaction -- pardon the pun -- is to get pissed off at the person who did it. This is only natural.
What isn't natural is that I immediately put together a psychological profile of the culprit in my mind. Typically, he is an overweight, middle-aged, cellphone-talking, self absorbed salesman who thinks he (and his time) are more important than anyone else.
In the very rare case, my assessment might be correct (although I highly doubt it.)
In an attempt to unlearn this bad habit (and to remind myself that the only person I can really change is myself), I decided to engage in a little mental exercise the last time I encountered a nasty, stained toilet seat.
Instead of casting negative aspersions on the mental image of the culprit, I considered an opposite scenario. I asked myself if could there be any scenario whereby leaving such a mess would be justified -- or at least understandable.
To my amazement there were.
For example, I pictured an elderly man with Parkinson's disease who, through no fault of his own, could no control his accuracy. He wanted to clean up his mess but because of his ailing back, he was unable to do so. Ashamed, he quietly left the bathroom.
Or, perhaps, a young boy was traveling with his single mother. Unable to escort the boy into the bathroom, the child took care of business but made a mess because he was nervous. He then departed in haste because he knew his mother was anxiously waiting outside.
Did either scenario actually occur? Probably not, but they are no more or less likely than my initial "self-absorbed salesman" scenario. They do, however, have the advantage of putting a more positive spin on a negative situation. They also had the added benefit of changing my mental attitiude from one of anger to one of compassion.
My advice: Next time you encounter a similar situation, try to unlearn your first impression and view the world from a new and different perspective. It might just allow you to blow off steam and keep you from getting pissed off at the world.
If so, when was the last time you changed your mind about a long-held belief?
When was the last time you publicly admitted you were wrong?
When was the last time you acknowledged that another person could look at the exact same thing and come to an equally valid -- but opposite -- conclusion?
When was the last time you asked yourself this question: What if I'm wrong?
Keeping an open-mind isn't just about staying open to new ideas and learning new things; the other (and harder) half of keeping an open mind is a relentless willingness to discard and unlearn those things that you think you already know.
I'll freely admit I'm just a wanderer in the world of social media but I love the new connections -- to both people and ideas -- that I derive from the medium.
To this end, I recently asked @dougbecker what he meant by describing himself as a "flextarian" and he responded, "It's a loaded term, but I mean it to connote that I avoid eating meat whenever possible, and am not strident about it."
What I like about this definition is that it conveys a firm preference for a particular way of life but it isn't dogmatic. It is a mindset that all of us -- myself included -- should try to adopt with regard to our own particular beliefs, habits and preferences. The "flex"-part allows the space for unlearning -- if necessary -- to occur.
Next, in response, to this old post on ambiguity, @CoCreatr, responded, "Many situations are not so binary, they are spectrum ... Embrace nonduality, be a knowmad."
Just as I enjoy the term "flextarian," I also like the phrase, "be a knowmad."
Why? Perhaps it is because the "know" part of "knowmad" reveals a desire for knowledge (or perhaps truth) but it also suggests that a pathless journey maybe the best way to pursue that goal.
Below is a wonderful talk by Kathryn Schulz, self described "wrongologist" and the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. I especially liked this statement of hers:"One of the problems with being wrong ... is that it feels like being right."
I'm currently reading Gordon MacKenzie's delightful book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball. Chapter 19 is the shortest, most insightful chapter I have read in some time. I will repeat it in its entirety for your reading pleasure: