Thursday, 5 June 2014

Differences in Perception

At work the other day, one of my colleagues was complaining about how rude people are in the city. They don't queue up right, they don't let others cut into traffic, they rip you off at every opportunity...

I was taken aback. I have found the opposite to be true. Canadians - including Torontonians! - always seem quite polite to me. I'm almost always waved into the traffic lane during rush hour. Several times a day I hear teenage boys (teenagers, mind you!) call out a thank you to the driver as they get off the bus. I always see people jump to their feet to offer others a seat on the subway, and I can't tell you how many people I've seen guide a visually-impaired man with a cane onto the train and help him find a seat. They strike up conversations at crowded bus stops. They help others up staircases with their luggage.

I just assume people are going to be friendly, and they usually are. And maybe that's where my experience differs from my colleague's. I find people almost always do what you expect of them, and you tend to find what you look for. Maybe the colleague anticipates rudeness and so she enters situations already defensive and stiff. And then that attitude causes people to react accordingly. I think I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and expect friendliness, so that is what I encounter.

I do remember once in the subway a woman pushing past up the stairs, and when she accidentally bumped into a woman with her elbow, the woman instantly snarled and cursed at her. I remember thinking "Is that how thin your veneer of civility is? Is that all it takes to set you off? And how can you already be that grouchy this early in the day?"

On the other hand, expecting the best of people can sometimes blind you to their true natures. I was friends with someone for years and thought well of him...and probably ignored the signs of narcissism that were there...and overlooked the small rudenesses and snappishness because I figured he was having a bad day or something. But when it came down to brass tacks, his mask slipped, the gloves came off, and he revealed himself for the self-centred, amoral, and downright nasty person that he really was. And I was completely surprised, and part of me felt betrayed, as if he had duped me for all these years. Maybe I shouldn't be so gullible. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I should be more skeptical and cynical...

But you find what you're looking for. And I don't want to live in a skeptical and grumpy world. I would rather expect the best from people and risk having the occasional disappointment. I think it's a much happier way to live.

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