By Mike McMahan, LPC
We’ve talked before about how we create narratives in our life by adding or taking away elements as we construct the narrative of our own life . However, sometimes it’s not just about how you perceive events. Some of this narrative and the way it’s constructed may depend on how you attribute motives to others.
Take for example, your job. Virtually everyone has had a difficult boss or co-worker who seems to relish making your life a living hell. But does this person see themselves as evil? My guess would be, in most cases, no. They see themselves as “fighting the good fight” or “teaching a lesson” or “making sure you do your job.” A recent article from Uproxx about, of all things, a CIA agent, addressed this very point, noting that no one believes they are the bad guy and, of course, the inverse; everyone believes they are the good guy.
The part I found particularly fascinating was that American films had been mentioned during an interview with an ISIS member, who invoked Star Wars and Independence Day. “He said, ‘All these movies that America makes…they’re all about a small, scrappy band of rebels who will do anything in their power with the limited resources available to them to expel an outside, technically advanced invader.’” This observation is spot-on. In fact, histories of Star Wars have stated that creator George Lucas intended Star Wars to be a commentary on the Vietnam War with the Empire representing, you guessed it, the United States.
So, if everyone sees themselves as the good guy, what’s a person to do? In my clinical work with clients, I try to help them see other perspectives on people’s actions. Rarely, if ever, do we know why people do what they do. Sometimes things that are seen as hostile or cruel by the recipient may have simply been an ill-considered casual remark by the other party in the exchange. Even those of us who try to be considerate cannot know what others feel. Certainly there have been times in all of our lives when we likely hurt someone’s feelings without even realizing it. Does this make us a “bad guy?” I’d say no, it makes us human. All we can do is consider the feelings of others and do our best to keep them in mind.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture