Looking at the world, I sometimes tend to worry about humankind, nature and our future. To not tilt towards this worry too much I deliberately frequent several Good News outlets and have put „Factfulness“ on my pile of books to read.
Still I sometimes experience dialogues like:
„Did you catch the report on the horrible number of accidents in meat packing?“
„Yes, but in general the average safety stats in industrial jobs have been improving significantly during the last couple of decades. For example, in chemical plants the accidents numbers have plummeted.“
Or the other way around:
„It‘s actually quite uplifting, how during this shutdown families can spend so much more time together.“
„Yeah, except for those rising cases of domestic violence, those people are suffering so much more now.“
At some stage I asked myself what exactly was it about these situations that frustrated me so much. Both people involved felt the need to „even out“ the other one‘s perpective. To show them that their point of view did not include the whole of reality. As a result I did not feel heard or taken seriously and it seemed like my worries were just brushed aside. Apparently brushing something aside and evening it out are not at all the same thing on an emotional level.
Neither the positive nor the pessimistic outlook show the complete picture. Whenever people with different tendencies of looking at the world communicate, it is possible that both will be triggered into explaining how from where they stand the picture is skewed. Assuming that the other one even intended to make a statement on the entirety of the situation. Also forgetting to try and stand next to the other to have a look at things from their position. Or at least asking questions.
So these two people end up pulling back and forth a picture which after all may not even be in need of levelling. By the way, the polarity of optimistic/pessimistic is interchangeable with other perpective dualities: Zoomed in/big picture, progressive/conservative, parent/childless person, surely you will be able to come up with more examples.
At the next opportunity after my realisation I communicated my need for the other to just offer me a short confirmation that something really is sad or annoying without buts or whatifs. Just a „Yes, this really is sad.“ Which turned out to not be a problem, because accidents and violence genuinely are sad. The intuitive assumption that confirming emotions perceived as negative would only serve to intensify an angry or sad mood was not found to be true in recent studies: When people were given the impression that others understood their anger, their negative feelings did not change but their positive feelings were stabilised. If on the other hand the anger was dimissed as inappropriate, the negative feelings did not change either but the positive ones decreased.
In addition, me recognising that something is positive is a nice experience for the optimist. Of course more time to spend together and sinking accident figures actually are a good thing. Even optimists do enjoy some validation every now and then.
And so balance was achieved. Even if it turned out to be a different screw that had to be turned. As soon as two persons fulfill each other‘s needs to be seen and validated it does not matter anymore how much or even if the picture is skewed at all. Because it‘s the relationship that gets balanced in the process. Because like this we spend less time measuring a frame with two different protractors and more time standing next to each other, taking in the actual image content. Relaxed in the knowledge that the other person is just as open to try on my point of view and to validate it without any but and any straightening attempts.
Or to look at it via the proverbial glass with the drink level at half the way up: The question whether the glass is half full or half empty is less interesting than our readiness to see each other at eye level.
What about you?
How about you, have you ever felt the urge to make adjustments to somebody else‘s statement about the world? How do you feel when you voice your feelings only to receive a „but“ for a reply? How would it feel to just validate the other‘s point of view or to have yours validated? What would it be like next time to experience someone else‘s worldview without taking out a spirit level? I hope you are going to have a relaxing time next time you are looking for balance.