Let me paint you a picture of a typical encounter that I deal with. I’m walking down an empty hallway when someone else appears from the other end. Naturally, my first instinct is to look away and keep my gaze focused on my path, but as we approach I inevitably make eye contact with them which is quickly followed by me averting my view. However, right before I look away I notice that the other person had smiled at me. This upsets me.
Another example is that I’m in a checkout line and the cashier is being friendly and asking me how my day is going which gets the boilerplate small talk conversation going and then he or she is finished checking me out and I am on my way. Later on, I can’t remember if I was being terse or short with him or her, or if I had even asked how they were in reply. This upsets me.
I know stuff like this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it makes me question if I’m a good person or whether I even have empathy. If I can’t even muster the level of social niceties to handle the small stuff, can I even be a good person? I’d get in deep in my own head going back and forth trying to convince myself. The manner in which this spreads to other facets of my confidence and self-worth is almost viral in intensity, but after attending some therapy sessions, it became clear to me how unproductive and harmful these thoughts were. Now, I can’t say that it has cured me of these feelings, in fact I still have these thoughts after similar encounters, but I can say that I learned the tools to cope and reflect upon my habits that lead up to these moments. The most effective method I’ve adopted is to get ahead of it. In the first scenario, I feel that meeting the eyes of the person and initiating the smile stops any opportunity for me to believe I could have been nicer. Similarly, in the second case, I do my best to ask them first how they are and how their day has gone so far. These small victories go a long way in improving my mood and outlook the rest of the day, so I make it a point to incorporate it into as many situations as I can because for me when I do good, I feel good, and sometimes that is enough.