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Emotionally Reactive People Don’t Make Much Sense to Proactive People

·370 words·2 mins

I’m flustered again, mystified by the inexplicably bad behavior of someone else.

It’s not just disappointing behavior, mind you; it verges on the absurd.

I share this with a friend of mine. He thinks for a moment, before saying, “What you have to remember, Page, is that most people have the emotional regulation of a flea.”

I laugh. That seems a bit uncharitable. But he’s earnest. We discuss it for a while. “I guess I do sometimes take it for granted, that I interrogate my own feelings, try to look for personal bias.”

I have a lot of out of character moments, I say. Where I step away from how I’m feeling and thinking about something as though I’m someone else and ask myself what it is that I could be missing. Or other strange hypothetical questions that I take for granted like, “How would I have felt about this a year ago? Two years ago? How might I feel about this a year from now?”

That was always one of my favorite reframes. My human biology teacher way back in the day at community college liked to ask that: “Will this matter a year from now? Two years from now? If not, does it really matter all that much now?”  A lot of people would get irritated with him for saying things like that, but I clung to it. Tried it out. Found that it really did help me a lot more than any current emotional disruption would lead me to believe.

My friend says something else now that feels strange to hear, but I suspect will help me if I can incorporate it: “Most people are simply just reacting to whatever’s in front of them. They’re not bothering to figure out where it goes in the bigger picture.”

They’re reactive, he says, not proactive. And if you’re in the habit of being proactive, reactive people’s behaviors aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense.

Again, it’s not exactly charitable. But I try to keep an open mind.

And as I glide through a series of weeks that strain credulity, I find myself thinking of what he said and noting — with surprise — how well it fits.


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