In a different way than I ever have before, I’ve been paying attention to people these past few months.
Over the past several years, I studied relationships, psychology, sociology, peoples’ motivations, etc. I studied Myers Briggs, the Enneagram, The Big Five, and all that.
But when I read a section in Robert Greene’s Mastery about how to observe people, something clicked into place that wasn’t there before: I’d been trying to understand how people work in general more than I had been trying to understand individuals. I’d been trying to understand the models that people functioned under, rather observing their specific actions and motivations.
I started observing people individually and without judgment. I might observe something that someone did that I wouldn’t do myself, and I would look deeper at the motivation of why the person handled the situation the way they did. I would try and understand where that decision came from. I would try and understand what the person was trying to avoid and what they were trying to get.
In the end, I found one commonality: People Are Scared.
In almost every person and action I observed, I saw that the majority of individuals (including myself) were motivated most by avoiding pain. Arguments, pleasures, indulgences, disagreements, distractions, criticisms…they all seemed to be tied back to a desire to avoid pain and suffering.
Yes, some people are happy, but even in the happiest of people I saw, I could also see the pain they lived with and the delicate perch of their happiness upon their fears.
Some of you will say read this and feel that it doesn’t apply to you. That you’re perfectly happy and content. And I’m going to disagree with you. If you don’t see your fear, consider perhaps that you simply don’t connect with it. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Once I saw that nearly everyone has a deep reservoir of fear (there are extremely rare exceptions to the tune of one-in-a-million, which I won’t discuss here), I seemed to connect with that fear in a sad sort of way. Why must we all live like this?
But then I felt a sense of compassion in a way I hadn’t before.
We’re all here. We’re all suffering in some sense of the word. And when someone does something that affects me or someone else in a painful way, it’s not because they’re a bad person, it’s because they’re scared. And if I can make myself vulnerable to the truth that the pain I feel from something someone did is unintentional, and they can make themselves vulnerable to their own fear, maybe we can connect, not out of fear, but out of something deeper and more lovingly-human.