February 15, 2011

Why People Don't Like Each Other - Letting Go of Us/Them

It's logical to think that when someone treats us badly, we like them less.

But that's not true. It's actually the other way around.

When we treat others badly, we like them less. 

It can take a long time for someone treating us badly for us to finally get the message that our love and affection is better spent elsewhere. Why would we put up with years of abuse, or let a "friend" bully us, or keep going back to partners who talk down to us if people treating us badly makes us like them less?

Whereas, when we treat others badly, we are less likely to want to be around them, to like them, or to give them future affection or love. When we treat others badly, we significantly increase the chance that we will spend our affection elsewhere.

Why is this? It stems from cognitive dissonance. Deep down, we all want to think of ourselves as good people. We wouldn't hurt anyone, or do anything bad. Well, unless, the other person deserved it. In order to maintain that we are good people, when we hurt someone or treat another person badly, we have to create a story in our mind that the other person deserved it. It was something bad about the other person that makes us treat them badly. It's their fault we behave the way we do, so we like them less.

With this understanding, we can see that treating people well isn't effective at getting them to like us better. Treating people well helps us like others more. Treating other people well cultivates a continuation of being compassionate to others and of continuing to treat them well - no matter how they treat us.

That's the key to this meditation - if we treat other people with respect, integrity, and compassion, we will like other people more, be happier, and even like ourselves more. When we like other people more, and we treat others well, we will feel more loved, and feel like we have more friends in the world. The concrete number of people who we can count as friends makes little difference. Our feeling of support and love comes from the feeling of how often we treat people well (not how often they treat us well). Think about this again. Our feeling of love and support doesn't come from how others treat us, but from how we treat others, and why we treat others that way.

If we understand this, when other people treat us badly, we will see not that this other person is a bad person or anything is wrong with them, but that they are simply treating us badly. It's when we treat others badly that we think they are bad people. If we want to get out of the "us/them" paradigm, the key is simply to treat others well. Treating others well isn't for them, but for us. How much they like us won't stem a whole lot from what we do. They will base their feelings for us much more on how they treat us.

So it's fruitless to treat others well to try and manipulate people into liking us. That not only doesn't work, but it sets up the scene to feel unappreciated and used. Instead, what works better is setting our boundaries and not allowing others to treat us badly. If they continue to treat us badly even after setting our boundaries, then it's not about us. If they treat us better after we set our boundaries, then we've made a potential friend based not on us trying to appease them or do what we think they want to make them happy, but based on two people who are treating each other well because they like themselves.

This teaching made an impact on me, because it allows me to continue to treat people well for my own reasons, rather than trying to be a peace maker or trying to "get" people to like or appreciate me. I treat people well for me, because I like other people, because I like me, because it's who I am, and because it's good for me and then, consequently, others. All of us are are responsible for our own feelings and behaviors. And if someone treats me badly, and they don't like me, I understand now that it's not me they don't like, but their own cognitive dissonance, and stories they create in their head. I do it, too. It's human. It's not personal. And that makes people's difficult behavior a lot easier to deal with emotionally.

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