Earlier this week, we explored on this blog about how other peoples’ behavior, specifically their behavior toward us, is frequently more about them than it is about us. We also looked at the factors in our own psychology that make it difficult for us to cope when other people don’t treat us as well as we feel they “should.”
It’s true that other peoples’ behavior is frequently far more about them than it is about us, and that we foist a great deal of unnecessary pain on ourselves when we convince ourselves otherwise.
However…we also have to be realistic and ethical about the impact and influence we have on other people. Because we do, in fact, have an impact.
We can’t make decisions for most other adults in our environment. We can’t force anybody to feel anything; we can’t force anybody to think a particular way about anything.
Even people who have spent a great deal of their lives and careers studying the science and art of influence concede that we’re extremely limited in our ability to “make” people do anything.
That said, people think, feel, and behave in certain ways as a result of factors in their environment— specifically, what they believe will lead to reinforcement or punishment. And while we cannot “make” anybody think, feel, or do anything, it is the case that we are important factors in the environments of the people we’re around day to day.
We can’t “make” anyone feel or do anything. But we can, through our words, actions, and responses, increase the odds someone may feel a certain way or do a certain thing. And we cannot afford to be naive about that fact.
The truth is, in order to create and maintain healthy self-esteem, we need to accept the sometimes onerous fact that we have a hand in creating other peoples’ worlds…which means we are both powerful and limited when it comes to other people.
We’re limited, insofar as our influence over other people is not absolute, and it’s frequently not what we think it is.
For example, many of us have the experience of going out of our way to “make” someone feel loved, and yet the person does not feel loved. We may have the experience of going out of our way to “make” someone feel supported, and yet the person does not feel supported. We may have the experience of going out of our way to “make” someone understand what we’re saying…and yet we still get misunderstood.
Our power to influence, in other words, is imprecise.
Our power to influence interacts with a huge array of factors within and around the person we’re attempting to influence…and the result is almost never predictable or linear.
Unless we accept that we’re limited in how we can influence other people, we have no hope of wielding our ability influence in a responsible, ethical, or effective way.
Still…we are powerful when it comes to influencing others. Whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not.
While we cannot know precisely how our behavior will impact others, how what we put out in the world will interact with whatever’s going on with another person in order to yield exactly what kind of result…we can observe.
We can pay attention to how our words and actions affect other people.
We can use those observations to form hypotheses and draw conclusions. We can be scientists in this way.
The single most important factor in whether we create and maintain healthy self-esteem is our willingness to live life consciously. All the other factors that impact our self-esteem aside, it is virtually impossible to maintain high, healthy self-esteem if we’re going on autopilot. Intentionally choosing to life life “on purpose,” with eyes wide open, is central to self-esteem.
Being observant of and responsive to the reactions our words and actions evoke in others is a prime example of living life at a high level of conscious awareness.
A harsh word from you may not “make” someone feel lousy— but it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion that it may heighten the odds that person will feel lousy.
A patient, compassionate response from you may not “make” someone feel better— but it’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that it might contribute to them feeling better.
Does the fact that we can and do influence other people in this way make us responsible for their experience of life? Of course not. Other people are as responsible for creating their worlds as we are for creating ours.
However, we ARE responsible for the situations we make predictably more or less likely with our words and actions.
We ARE responsible for the role WE play in the world we create— including the social world we create with the other human beings in our proximity.
And if we’re interested in cultivating healthy self-esteem, we accept— without flinching— our responsibility. We take on the burden of observing and responding to the ripples we create in the pond.
Yes, other peoples’ emotional, cognitive, and behavioral lives are not ABOUT us.
But we do play a role.
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