There’s lots of things I do ok at and lots that I’m pretty good at doing. There’s a few I think I’m spectacular at and a handful that are my strengths, hands down. But my superpower is deciding I am angry and building myself an entire narrative on how I have been wronged. I think that I am a decent writer and I can spin myself up into an amazing story on how someone had the worst intentions and screwed me over with this grand plan because they are a sucky person.
99.9% of the time I AM WRONG. Most of the time this narrative I spin is based on completely inaccurate assumptions or a ridiculous assumption about some plan to mess me up. And the person is generally someone I love and find incredible most of the time. And although they may also not be enjoying their finest moment, rarely is there ANY plan to mess with me. So often it’s an oversight, a misunderstanding, or just one misspoken idea that came out totally wrong.
It’s rarely personal. But I don’t think I am unique in interpreting these misunderstanding as intentional slights with some deeper meaning. I once talked to a military counselor who said she could repeat the line “It’s not personal” in all of her counseling interactions every day, all day. It’s like we are programmed to add meaning to things that are casual and never personal.
Once I realized I often perceive things completely wrong, I tried to just assume everyone had the best intentions every day. That guy that cut me off? He’s late to pick up his kid for an extremely important doctor’s appointment, or it’s the only day he can meet his wife for lunch and he’s eager to not lose even a second of that time with her. That lady that looked like she made a nasty face at me? She was looking at the weather behind me and didn’t want to see that it was raining because now she’ll have to sit at her kid’s soccer game in the rain. Or her elderly mother is driving in the rain at that moment. and she can’t see well.
So often I find myself looking at people because I want to know more about them. I want to know why they look sad or happy or stressed. I want to understand what is making them hurt so much that I can read it on their faces. I once got into an elevator with two people at work and we were all going to the 6th floor, which was the top floor. It was a man and a woman and she was so happy and excited about something. She was talking fast about how she couldn’t believe she made this thing work out and she couldn’t wait to get started and it was just a few months now that she had to wait to actually retire. I could feel her happiness and excitement and it was contagious. I was standing there watching her talk with this huge grin on my face and didn’t realize I was being creepy until she turned to me, stopped smiling herself, and said “I got the internship I was trying for and I get to retire early.” I felt so stupid for getting swept up in her excitement. I had talked to her once or twice prior to this elevator conversation, so I sort of knew a bit about her. But I was staring and smiling. I was involving myself in someone else’s life.
The more I think about how I look around a room, trying to read everyone, the more I think that I notice people staring back at me seemingly angry because I am staring first. It’s something I can’t help but do. I wish there was some practical application of this intense reading people that I can do, but so far I have not found it helpful to read strangers. I know I wouldn’t confess my life story to someone who asked me if I was ok or what was going right in my life. I don’t expect people to share anything with me, but I wish I could stop reading people and just live my own life.
I guess that is really my superpower. I know if someone is having a good day or a bad day. I know when someone is sad or happy. I know when someone is having an awful phone conversation, even if I can’t hear the words they are saying. I know so much from faces, body language, and the way people say words and the volume they say those words. I used to think that everyone could do this, until I realized that they can’t. Other people just don’t notice what I notice. It’s like I am constantly assessing the world around me, trying to figure out what’s going on and what I am supposed to do to help.
So I guess if you see someone with a (hopefully) somewhat neutral or happy face staring at you, it’s probably me trying to figure out if you are doing ok, if you have really awesome things making you smile so big, or if you just need a minute by yourself to recover from some unknown thing that makes you so sad. I just want you to be doing well.