When People Show You Who They Are - Believe Them

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
First posted January 8, 2008.

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"When people show you who they are, believe them." - Maya Angelou

It seems simple, yes? Judge people by their behavior. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Simple.

Right.

In my experience, people will continuously ignore evidence that they personally witness in order to preserve their illusions. Hell, I'm guilty of this myself - learning this lesson on a permanent basis has been one of the great challenges of my life.

Consider these examples:
  • A woman is dating a man who is nice to her, but consistently treats service people like shit. The most likely cause? He's a dick. But the woman won't believe that - she'll make excuses.
  • A man's mother consistently cuts him down and makes him feel small and worthless. The most likely cause? She's a critical harpy. But the man won't believe that - he'll make excuses.
  • A man occasionally gets drunk and smacks his wife around, but is otherwise a "decent guy." The most likely cause? He's a wife-beater. But his wife won't believe that - she'll make excuses.
  • A work-mate never seems able to perform their own work, and is constantly asking their co-workers to do their work, or help them because it's an emergency, or bail them out. The most likely cause? She's incompetent, or lazy, or both. But the co-worker doesn't believe that - he'll make excuses.
Why do we refuse to see the evidence of our eyes? Are we so easily swayed by good intentions that we'll ignore months or years of bad behavior on the simple word of the perpetrator that they're really not like that or that they're really trying to do better?

NEWSFLASH!

These people really are dicks, or critical harpies, or wife-beaters, or lazy incompetents.

If someone treats you unkindly, the most likely reason is because they're unkind.

If someone tells a lie, the most likely reason is because they're a liar.

If someone refuses to do their fair share of the work, the most likely reason is because they're a lazy git.

They're not going to change because they say they are. They'll change when they're damn good and ready, and not before. And they may not change at all.

I have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. I give the benefit of the doubt long past the time when there is no more doubt. Maybe because I want to trust, I want to believe people are trying to do the right thing, I want to believe people are basically good. Seems a bit strange for a cynic like me. But it's true.

I'm reminded of a quote from Batman Begins: "...it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you."

3 comments:

Jeri said...

Gee, how apropos. And you know what? I often think of this post - and your pithy statement, "When people show you who they are, believe them." It's become almost a life rule for me. :D

Jim Wright said...

"If people treat you unkindly, the most likely reason is because they're unkind."

Truer words have never been spoken.

It seems this is my point in most of the posts I've written lately: if you act like a jerk, you're a jerk - especially if you're being a jerk for Jesus or America or whatever.

filelalaine said...

I generally agree with you in that people are almost always what they seem. Specially if they seem that way over and over again. But sometimes people act like jerks because they don't know any better. I suspect that's why you tend to give so many the benefit of the doubt.

Often, but unfortunately though not always and certainly not nearly often enough, when shown the error of their ways, some people do change. The trick is... how does that prayer go again?.. ah, yes, the wisdom to know the difference.