Of others and ourselves

Buddhists talk about the “wanting mind” and the power of expectations to create suffering, and that’s certainly true when it comes to our relationships. Our disappointment, irritation, anger, sadness most often arise because others didn’t respond to us in the way we imagined they would: That my boss would compliment me on my monthly sales figures, that my wife would appreciate how well I cleaned up the kitchen. Rather than looking down and focused on ourselves, we’re always looking ahead and at others. And that’s what gets us into emotional trouble

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.” - Stephen R. Covey

One of the biggest differences in how we perceive ourselves vs how others see us is context. When you are perceiving yourself, you have a lot of background into the situation. You are pretty clear on your intentions, and know why you made the decision you did. If something goes wrong, you are likely to blame the situation, and give yourself a break. You aren't a jerk, you just were placed in a bad situation.

However, when perceiving other people and their behavior, you can only judge based on your often very limited background and context into the situation. And because you often really don't know much about the other person's intentions, or their situation, you are likely to interpret their actions as indicating their personality.

This difference in how we perceive ourselves vs how others see us is referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error, It describes the tendency to overestimate the effect of personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining other people's actions.

For instance, if you are in a huge rush, and cut someone off on the freeway because you have to get to the hospital to care for a loved one, you will interpret cutting the person off as totally justifiable. You are not a jerk, in fact, you are trying to help someone! The person you cut off, however, will have no idea you are going to the hospital, and will likely think you are a jerk.

So to really perceive someone as they perceive themselves, you really need to step back and take a look into their intentions and their situation. Don't think about the consequences or your perceived meaning of their actions, but rather think about what circumstances led them to act in that way.


One of the ways in which we are socialized by our caretakers growing up is that they reward us or punish us for our behavior. The result of this is that we grow up looking to others for evaluation of our behavior. Were it only our behavior it would be all right, but often we look to others for an evaluation of ourselves. Am I a good person? Am I a bad person? Do I have a right to exist?

Many of us end up constantly looking into other people’s eyes to find out who we are.

It creates considerable anxiety because other people have their agendas, and their response to us is not coming from a place of clarity. Their response is coming in relation to their own needs. It is not surprising then, that we end up with a considerable amount of attention to interpersonal relations. For most people, it is a very emotionally charged web we live in, and in order to become secure, we attempt to place people and define them in ways that are comfortable for us. So we enter into conspiracies with one another to define each other in very simple and stable and consistent ways.-ramdass.org