I think that person over there hates me.
How can you tell?
I can just tell.
Our fear filter is the lens we look through when we sense danger. It activates our need to interpret a situation. But remember that emotions are not dangerous.
Do you ever say to yourself, “What could that person be thinking? How could they perceive me that way? Why are they treating me like I am the enemy when all I am doing is trying to help?”
Often times our well-intended actions have the opposite effect on people. This is because of their fear filter. When we are emotionally afraid we interpret the intention of others in the same way we would if the danger were a physical threat. We do this instead of trusting their intentions and giving them the benefit of the doubt.
If I try to give a friend advice with the purist of intentions and instead they see me as arrogant or bossy, then they are looking at the situation through their fear filter. Or if I decided to give a friend no feedback or advice, again from the purist intent, they might see me as uncaring or detached. It would be extremely difficult to correctly guess where another person is coming from, because the odds of getting it right through the act of interpretation rather then communication are slim.
The reason we default to interpretation is because of our fear. It is a fear response. Once we believe a situation is dangerous, fear kicks in to interpret the best solution and the safest route. You have no way to predict how another person will view your actions unless you know the exact fear filter they are looking through.
A good example of this is when a lifeguard swims out to save a drowning person. In the drowning person’s panic they shove the lifeguard’s head under the water. Rather than seeing the lifeguard as a rescuer and a means to safety, they see the lifeguard as an object to be used to climb out of the water. Lifeguards are trained to interpret the actions of a panicked drowning person to prevent from being drowned themselves. In this case, the danger to the lifeguard is real. Physical danger; not emotional. A proper interpretation is critical as the drowning person’s interpretation is emotional and might prevent them from rescue.
When a store clerk is rude, how often do we personalize and interpret their action even when we have no idea why they are acting that way and there is no real danger? Would it not be better to stay calm and simply ask them if there is anything you can do to help or get another sales person? Rather than getting angry because your fear is telling you, “this person does not respect me,” you might find out later that this person just got a call from the doctor about a loved one that is very ill and this is how they deal with their fear.
Since we will never know what our communication or efforts are being filtered through by others, doesn’t it make more sense to turn off our filters and try to make decisions through the eyes of our heart? Here is a test to evaluate your filters:
When someone is rude to you, what is your first reaction and interpretation of their actions?
When someone fails to keep a commitment, what is your first reaction and interpretation of their actions?
When someone fails to support you, what is your first reaction and interpretation of their actions?
When you lose or fail at something, what is your first reaction and interpretation of yourself?
Interpretation is a fear response. Once you have interpreted the situation you have decided not to give the person the benefit of the doubt. By doing so you have dishonored the relationship. You can only control your actions and not the interpretation of them. I wake up every day and read this passage on my night stand:
“No person can know or control another person’s perception. The most noble deed may be seen as sinister and the most sinister deed may be seen as noble. All a person ever controls is what they want to give.”
If you feel good about the support you have given a friend, even if they feel you have failed to support them, you should feel good about what you have done. Then ask them to take responsibility for communicating their needs more clearly if they are unsatisfied.
A person is only justified in being critical of your support if they have communicated clearly what their needs are, you agreed to meet them, but then failed to do so. Being asked to be a mind reader is unfair. The consequences are the responsibility of the person who failed to communicate their needs because of the fear that they would not be met.
Our emotional fear filters put us in danger of experiencing the one thing the heart fears — regret. When our fear makes us act without honor to the ones we love, we run the risk of regret.
The following story is true and brings the point home:
A man came home from work and saw a strange car in the driveway. As he entered the house he heard noise from the master bedroom. As he entered, he saw his wife in bed with another man. His fear interpreted this as his wife having an affair and he stormed out of the house. He spent the next several hours driving around in a rage and finally returned to the house to tell his wife off. At no time did his anger subside or did he question his interpretation.
As he arrived, he noticed the car was gone and he told himself that the guy was lucky to be gone. He noticed the front door was ajar so he kicked it open and stormed into the house to find his wife. She was still in the master bedroom. Only this time she was lying face down in the bed, dead.
The man she had been in bed with had broken into the house and was in the process of raping and murdering her when the husband first arrived home.
Because the husband had been so quick to interpret the situation, he never noticed the look of terror in his wife’s eyes. Now he has to relive that moment over and over for the rest of his life because his fear filter took over rather than his heart.
I had a similar situation happen to me but with a different result.
I was working up at Lake Tahoe as a waiter in Harrah’s casino. The power went out in the kitchen so they sent everyone home. My arrival home was clearly unexpected by my girlfriend because as I entered our bedroom she was having sex with another man.
It was as if time slowed down and my brain was having a difficult time relating to the image in front of me. But I do remember very clearly holding off any reaction because I had such complete trust in her and I was going to wait until she said something before I made any decision. When she saw me they stopped, she looked me right in the eye and told me that we were broken up. I just dropped my head and stumbled out of the house. As painful as that experience was, I think of it often as a true test of walking the walk and seeing through my heart.
When we look at life through our hearts, we trust, give the benefit of the doubt and ask ourselves what we can give. I did all three and in the end all I could give her was a silent exit. Not all situations are as traumatic but the consequences can be just as great when we don’t see through our hearts.
I had a friend who had to find this out the hard way.
He was going on a second date with a woman that he was very excited about. All he could talk about was how great the first date went and how this could be the one. He agreed to meet her for dinner at a local restaurant at 7 p.m. He got there a little early, got a table and watched the clock with anticipation.
By 7:20 he was getting concerned and by 7:30 his fear filter kicked in. Because he liked this person so much, his fear saw him as being in danger of rejection. He decided he had misjudged this person’s interest in him and he was going to get out of there because he felt like a fool.
He told himself that if she really cared she would have been on time or called him on his cell phone. Again, fear had taken over because it perceived danger where no danger existed.
As he was getting to his car he saw her pull in, his fear told him he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of making up an excuse and he wanted to get in his car so he could leave her a message on her home phone and reject her before she could reject him.
His fear had completely taken control of him. He called me on the way home because he wanted someone to rant and rave to, so I just listened. When he was done he asked me what I thought.
“What are the odds that you are right?” I said.
He was silent.
“Maybe she had a reason to be late. Doesn’t she deserve the benefit of the doubt?”
He then went off ranting and raving again because his fear needed to justify itself. He then hung up and told me that I wasn’t much of a friend if I couldn’t support him.
Weeks later he found out what really happened from the friend that had set them up.
She had received a call that her father had had a heart attack and she raced out of the house, forgetting her cell phone. She was so concerned not to stand up my friend that she chose to leave the hospital long enough to find him at the restaurant.
But he was gone.
On her way back to the hospital her father died. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she finally arrived home to his message. When my friend heard the details he was crushed.
Instead of being a support system to this new person he had met, he was responsible for causing her more pain.
Now let’s start over, viewing the situation through the wide lens of the heart.
He should have been concerned for this woman being late and giving her the benefit of the doubt.
When she finally arrived he should have been concerned and open to her explanation. After hearing the amazing effort she had just made to find him, his opinion of this person would have only strengthened.
Being an understanding support system to her in her time of need probably would have created a bond between the two of them and might have led to a life of happiness together. But he will never know because his fear filter created the fear of rejection and the perspective it created destroyed any chance of finding out.
I was in line to buy some fast food several years ago and the man in front of me, who was about 10 years my senior, was paying for his food. I could see over his shoulder that he didn’t have enough money, so I decided to help. In that moment when he was going to ask the worker to take some food back, I tapped on his shoulder and quietly asked him if I could give him a few dollars to make up the difference. My intentions were pure — I have been in the same situation before and it would have really meant something to me if someone had noticed and cared enough to help, so I thought this was my chance to give someone else that moment. Wrong. The man looked at me with anger and said “Who do you think you are? I don’t need your help. Keep your f***ing money to yourself!” and walked out with no food.
He viewed me through his fear filter as someone trying to embarrass him by insinuating that he couldn’t pay for food himself. Proving the point that you have no control over how anyone will act in any situation regardless of how black and white it might seem. You might have a general idea based on the typical reaction but it is impossible to know for sure.
I am willing to bet that if you offered to help a hundred different people in that situation, not one of the reactions would be exactly the same. Because it is the filter of fear that determines an individual’s perception in a time of stress. And fear could just as easily work as a positive in this situation. In that moment they are more afraid of being hungry than of possibly being embarrassed. This was not the case, obviously, with the man I tried to help.
We have a choice in every moment we live to see life through the eyes of our fear or through the eyes of our heart. Regret is the only thing the heart fears because regret comes from failing to honor ourselves or others and the damage often cannot be repaired. A life without regret is the gift of the heart.