The Chaplain's Notebook

What is wrong with you? Why did I behave that way?

How many times have we asked the first question of someone? How many times have we asked the second question of ourselves? When we begin to look into the specifics of how we handle these questions in our personal relationships, something very interesting happens. Those two questions come from two very different perspectives, and once you realize where they are coming from, you are able to understand and correct unhealthy perceptions about yourself and others. Allow me to explain. It starts with the difference between human behavior and human nature.

When we see negative traits in ourselves, we tend to attribute those to external causes and explain the behavior away because of the influence of that cause. For example, “I blew my top because that guy would not listen to what I was trying to say!” In other words, I behaved badly because of some influence in the environment. He “caused” my reaction.

Funny thing is…

We rarely explain other people’s behavior in that same way. Call it an excuse or a reason. Call it what you will, but we fail to extend that same reasoning to others’ behavior when they act contrary to our expectations of them toward us. We sometimes fail to see the external causes and wrongly attribute the reaction to their very nature. We superimpose their action on what we perceive to be the way that person truly is. This is most unfair.

Put simply: “When I am mean to another, I am really a nice person whose behavior is mean because of something they did to me. But when someone is mean to me, it is because they are a mean person.” Get it? We do it all the time. We do it to our spouses, our co-workers, our superiors and bystanders. “It’s their nature.” They are not behaving in an evil way; they are evil. They are not behaving aggressively; they are animals. The shift is subtle, but destructive. What we explain away in our own lives through grace given to self, we should learn to extend to others in grace given to them.

We have all come to learn that when you give respect on the street, you get respect on the street. The same should apply to our view of people’s nature. Much of life is cause, effect and reaction. I would hate for others to view me at my worst and attribute what they witness to who I really, deeply am as a person.

How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500