Assume the Best About People

I learned something important watching the Superbowl this past Sunday (and not that defense wins championships, though it appears they do). What I learned came in the aftermath, as we collectively went crazy assuming the very worst about two quarterbacks. We seem to do this, assume the worst about people, when we could just as easily assume the best. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and I pondered it again for much of the day yesterday. I think I understand why this happens, and what we can do to fix it.

You may have already seen the video below. For the sports-agnostic, Eli Manning is the young man in the back. His older brother is Peyton Manning, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Denver just scored a touchdown to go up late in the game against the Carolina Panthers. It appears his brother is about to win his second championship, tying Eli with two Superbowl rings. The rest of the family is going bonkers. Eli appears to be nervous and unhappy:

This is the story we immediately tell ourselves, and it is enlightening. It’s also sad. What we think of others, and what we say about them, is almost always about us and rarely about them. We project our fears and worries and dark secrets onto others. I believe we do this in order to normalize the worst parts of ourselves. It’s a bizarre type of self-forgiveness. We shout, “See! See! He’s just as capable as I am of being rude in this way. That means I’m okay too!”

Watch the video again with a different perspective. This time, don’t think of Eli as Peyton’s younger brother. Think of Eli as the quarterback of the New York Giants. The Broncos just went up by 12 points. Eli knows immediately that Denver should go for a 2 point conversion in this situation. He knows the game is not over and that Carolina can still win with two quick scores. Eli is known for his own late game heroics. He’s nervous that Denver’s coach might not know the proper call, as this is something coaches often get wrong, much to a quarterback’s dismay.

Two very different stories. But which is true? The cynic may stick to their belief that a younger brother was really rooting for his older brother’s team to fail, and this tells us everything about the cynic. But what’s great about this case is that we have more to go on. Down on the field, Peyton Manning wasn’t celebrating the touchdown for long. He was soon urging his teammates to huddle up and go for the 2-point conversion. He was looking anxiously at the sidelines to make sure the coach made the right call. The two Manning’s weren’t acting like brothers; they were both acting like quarterbacks. And the proof is in the same video above, if you look for it.

Watch Archie Manning, the father of the two young superstars. He is partially hidden in the back, but you can see the exact same look on his face. Do you want to know why Archie Manning isn’t jumping up and down like everyone else? He was an NFL quarterback, too. All three quarterback Mannings are acting the same way, the way a general does when the battle has turned but is not yet over. This is their own expression of love. Everyone in the family is loving Peyton in the only way they know how. For all of them, their love is full. When we miss seeing that, it’s a sign that our love is missing.

The love we’re missing when we do this is self-love. We only need to tear down others when we’re in the bad habit of tearing down ourselves. The key to turning this around is not just for us to go about defending the attacked, but also to love the attacker. I found out about the Eli video from a conversation with my brother yesterday. This was before I watched the video myself, saw Archie’s reaction, and remembered how stoic and nervous Peyton had been following that touchdown. After coming to a different conclusion than my brother, my first thought was to call him and stick up for Eli, to make sure my brother saw the love there.

What I did instead is write my brother to tell him that I love him. To say how proud I am of him. That I think he’s amazing. A truly great human being. My brother didn’t always hear this growing up. As the eldest, more was expected of him. And more mistakes were made as our parents sorted out — as all parents do — how best to raise their kids. I slipped under the radar, was more of a pain-in-the-ass, and got away with a lot. My brother had some really brutal life experiences, teachers telling him he was dumb (my brother is fucking brilliant), people saying he shouldn’t expect to do much physically because of his asthma (my brother is now strong as a bear. Stronger and taller than I am). I think my brother knows he’s awesome, but this is a mistake I make, to assume that he does. To assume he doesn’t need to hear it. I think we all assume everyone knows they are awesome, even as we are consumed with our own self-doubts. This is why we tear people down, because we think they aren’t already as fretful as we are. We’re lonely down here. We want the company. But a negative lens is not the way out.

Yes, we are all scared.

Yes, we feel unloved.

Yes, we feel like we don’t deserve to be loved.

That’s because we know and perseverate on every bad thing we’ve ever done, and every negative thing anyone has ever said about us or to us, and it wears us down. The antidote is clear, but we rarely dispense it. Maybe we fear building everyone around us up, thinking they’ll leave us even further behind. It’s like we’re all waiting to be loved, and no one wants to go first.

I’ve had a rough time with all of this the last few years. I’ve doubted myself. I’ve lost confidence in myself. I had to deal with a lot of negativity, because I focused on the rare negative comment and dismissed the thousands of positive comments. We all do this. We believe the criticism and doubt the praise. But the love that’s missing from our lives can’t be found out there, however hard we go looking for it, because we’re looking in the wrong place. The love that’s missing, again, is self-love. It’s the most important and powerful kind of love. When you know that you are good, deep-down, despite your faults and your mistakes and your shortcomings, then you can start to see the good in others. It can’t happen any other way.

While the Mannings were celebrating the family win, the opposing quarterback, Cam Newton, was despondent over his team’s loss. Cam has been a polarizing figure this season. He is only 26-years-old, but he just had one of the best seasons of any quarterback in NFL history. His team went 15-1 in the regular season. They crushed two quality opponents in the playoffs. They made it to the Superbowl. Cam was the regular season MVP. All season, he has been dancing and celebrating every victory. But with the loss, Cam was a different man. He barely answered questions. He wore a hoodie over his head, rather than his usual stylish garb. He left abruptly in the middle of his post-game interview, drawing fervent criticism.

The world positively went crazy with their indictments of this young man’s character. No one focused on Cam being there to shake Peyton’s hand after the game, just on his absolute low. They used that low to symbolize the whole man. It’s the same mistake we make when we let our faults and failures define ourselves. The world went crazy with indictments because the world is always going crazy with self-indictments. And it needs to stop. We are all Cam Newton. We have our bad days. Our terrible days. We all make mistakes. And yet we are good people.

It takes practice, but if you want to start loving yourself truly, so you can love others fully, start by reminding yourself of all your good traits. And then foster those traits. This doesn’t mean ignoring your faults and not working on them; it simply means having some balance. For everything shameful you do, there are a thousand wonderful little services you perform for loved ones, co-workers, friends, and the community. It can be as small as your awesome habit of using your blinkers when changing lanes. Or that you floss regularly. Or that you hug loved ones as often as you can. There is far more great in you than ill. Start seeing yourself fairly, and I promise you’ll start seeing others in the same light.

This is not a small thing, I assure you. This change in perspective and daily habit of forgiving and loving yourself will change your life. It has mine. It continues to impact me every day.

It all began with a friend telling me, in a convincing way, that what others thought about me had everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. Their criticism was an expression of their self-doubt. This not only kept me from judging myself through their eyes, it made me love my critics. I could empathize with their self-doubt. I started seeing the blackness in their hearts, and I wished I could make it go away. The more someone hated me, the more I loved them. Because their hate is not who I am. It’s who they are. And I wish it were otherwise. I wish I could comfort them.

Whoever you are, reading this, you know you are a good person. Sure, you screw up. Sure, you are scared. Yes, you fear the future. You fear others knowing you fully. We all do. You are great despite all of this, you just aren’t sure you’re allowed to feel that way. Part of tearing each other down has been to stigmatize anyone who builds themselves up. The last thing we want, again, is for everyone to tear off into happiness and leave us behind, alone. But this is not a race. It’s a team obstacle course. There’s a wall between all of us and our love for each other and ourselves. There’s not a single one of us who can scale that wall. We have to boost someone up to reach down for the rest of us. We all go, or no one goes.

Love yourself. Every day, love yourself more fully. And continue to do more of the things that generate that love. When you see all the good in you, you’ll begin to see the good in others. I promise you, this is not trite stuff. It’s not naive, and it’s not anything mystical or spiritual. It’s how our brains work, how we are built, how we protect ourselves from getting hurt and from feeling alone. We don’t have to feel alone. We are all more alike than we are different. We are Cam. We are Eli. We are good people. Assume the best, everyone. Starting with yourself.


35 responses to “Assume the Best About People”

  1. Hugh- please write a book about current times. You are so talented to be able to convey & describe emotions that we can feel during the reading. Your chapter writing in Shift about the senators was brilliant.

  2. Getting to a place of self love is an easy thing to say.. but actually doing it and not agonizing over the “negative” comments is not something for the tender-hearted being an author and putting yourself out there for the world to judge takes a bit of armor.

    Thanks for the reminder and post on the Manning’s.

  3. Thanks Hugh. Great morning power-up read. Themes that should fnd their way into the next Wayfinding.

  4. Love this perspective Hugh. Thank you for the thoughtful analysis!

  5. Interesting. I know nothing about football, but every time I’ve seen Eli Manning, he seems to wear that blank expression, so I didn’t chalk it up to anything sinister.

    I’ve been learning not to automatically assume I know someone’s intentions. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was tying my sneaker in my building’s elevator and had my back to the door. I knew the elevator stopped, but was just finishing up (literally three seconds) and didn’t realize someone was waiting outside the door. I got off and could hear the woman now inside the elevator (who had always been pleasant to me) going OFF about how rude and selfish I was and how I purposely made people wait because I thought I was such a princess. Really hurt my feelings–esp. because I always try hard to be polite–but realized it was really about her, not me.

    As for you, a divorce can definitely take its toll. I haven’t been divorced, but my husband was (prior to me) and he said it really takes a hit on your belief in your ability to be loved. Good luck to you!

  6. The struggle is real. I am guilty of assuming that others know they are awesome mainly because I don’t think I am. I am guilty of not loving my self enough and I am guilty of hanging on to guilt about things that aren’t even that big of a deal. Thanks for the reminder that the goodness in all of us is worth dwelling on. I’m going to attempt to give out more compliments, appreciate my self more, and last but not least I am going to try and get rid of my resting bitch face. :)

  7. As always, Hugh, this is a beautiful post. I very much needed to read something like this today. It has brightened my day. Thank you.

  8. Nice Blog post, I usually come here for the indie author advice. But glad I read this post. I have to admit that I have never read one of your books, its not my genre, but this last post intrigues me, I wonder if your sensibility (and wisdom ;) can be seen in your novels, I will try one and see. BTW, thanks for all the help to authors, you are generous and it is appreciated (in case you didn’t already know).

  9. I just watched this where Cam Newton says he won’t conform to what others think he should act. You (Hugh) are a lot like that. Taking on the establishment and doing publishing and life your way!

  10. It’s silly (sad even) that we live in a society where we are “watched” to see if we do anything “wrong.” (Both quoted terms are used loosely).

    You could go to a beach, and while having fun doing some sort of dance be caught on video (uploaded to YouTube) for public spectacle (good or bad).

    In this instance, Eli is who he is, and I respect that. I’m not going to judge him in any way, shape or form based on minutes of video. The sports media might (I’m not sure if they did), but why can’t Eli just go to his brother’s football game and watch it in whatever way suits him best?

    Even if he is considered a “public figure” … that doesn’t mean every single morsel of his life needs to be turned upside down. (Not saying Hugh did that, he is of course sharing his awesome wisdom based on that).

    Assume the best in people, indeed. Don’t fall for the public spectacle “knee-jerk” reactions (especially prompted by media). We all have faults, every single one of us. That doesn’t mean that every single instance that gets caught on a viewing media needs to be explicated 10^99.

    We need to quit watching each other so much, assume better of people as Hugh has so eloquently pointed out, and focus more on the moments that actually mean something (in the big picture).

    As for the Cam Newton share by Nan, good on him.

  11. I continue to admire YOU as much as I do your writing. Thank you for this total gift of a reflection. I pray it goes far and wide, especially to all the people who need to hear it.

  12. I felt exactly the opposite about Cam. Seeing his sadness and disappointment transparent on his face led to my admiration, when all season I thought he was a bit annoying, possibly a bit a of a braggart. But a braggart would have had excuses. Now I see him as a man who wears his emotions openly, both positive and negative. Isn’t that something to be celebrated? I’ll be rooting for him next year to see how he takes what he has learned and continues to be himself.

  13. Well said, Hugh. You continue to inspire.

  14. Great post Hugh and I have to admit, I don’t even know who these people are and had to google to see who won the Superbowl.

    Great lesson though and one not many people can see when they haven’t worked on themselves. My hope for the future? To have every individual take self love to heart and take responsibility for themselves, because oh – what an enlightened world we would live in.

  15. ‘Perserverate’, huh?

    Learned a new word today, thanks Hugh,

    And thanks as always for the positives

    I’m writing my first novel and I’m 24 chapters in on a 30 chapter 1st draft. I circulate chapters to a small (20ish) group of family and friends for feedback. It took me two months to get rolling again after my best friend was critical of chapter 22. And the other feedback I got was unanimously positive.

    Perserverating that one negative. Cheers for the lesson

  16. I assume you already know you are awesome Swivel.

    I assume that you already knew that before you wrote this. I assume that everyone over-evaluates themselves in some way, otherwise nobody but supermodels would ever get laid. I think the over evaluation of our personal abilities gives us hope and motivates us to try different things, explore different waters. The negativity and self loathing is more of a balancing mechanism to bring our self image back to reality; to ground us and protect us from being suicidal braggarts.

    I assume we do project negative images of ourselves on others, but I don’t know if trying to build our egos up by telling ourselves we are great constantly is really necessary, or at all effective. We are not closed systems, we are social animals, we need input from other people. We need to hear that love, it can’t just come from within, and it won’t come from “flossing my teeth every day”. So I say love each other freely, but listen to and understand your negativity. It will motivate you to be a better you.

  17. Hugh,
    Thanks for a touching commentary. It hit a nerve that I didn’t know was throbbing in pain. Thanks for holding up the mirror!

  18. You said it, Hugh. It’s so refreshing to have your positive posts about love and kindness and acceptance. It’s sad to say that it’s so rare in this world full of criticism, but it is. This is exactly what the world needs more of. Perspective. Optimism. Forgiveness. Love. Thank you for sharing. Keep it coming.

  19. Thanks Hugh! Thanks for the excellent journey through Wool, Shift and Dust. Thanks for the stories of your current journey’s involving dogs, sharks and insights. Most of all thanks for sharing with us all your thoughts. They definitely provoke one to think and remain positive. Hope you are enjoying your journey and are being inspired to take us all on another incredible trip with your next book. I’m chomping at the bit to find where it may take us to next!

  20. Hugh, with your focus on fiction, I hope you don’t ever neglect your non-fiction. I say this because things we do well often come so easy that we tend to discount them. Keep your essays coming. They matter.

  21. Joe and Vernadene Cempa Avatar
    Joe and Vernadene Cempa

    Excellent words man, pretty much my feelings and philosophy regarding life.
    But on the Super Bowl wordage, please check my FaceBook page regarding that event, I put a couple things up there yesterday, and Hugh I’d really love your thought on these “issues.” You’ll see what I mean….
    J n V.

  22. Thanks for stressing you need to love yourself. What an insightful blog post. Every person is unique, and if they can get over themselves, can find joy in giving and loving, unconditionally. As a believer in Yeshua, (I realize not everyone is) God thought you were a more important creation than the sun, moon, or stars.
    I read once one-third of people won’t like you, one-third will, and the other third—haven’t made up their minds yet. :)
    I’m a big believer that ignoring the negative is okay, because the negativity says a lot more about the person it’s coming from than whomever it is aimed at. Pity them that they feel the need to be hurtful.
    Enjoy the journey.

    P.S. Don’t drink bilge water, no matter how good it looks.

  23. Such a great post. It’s horrible how one second of a snapshot and people are off to the races with judgement.

  24. For me, I think it comes with ignorance of the game coupled with recognition that their reaction is not the same as those around them. That signals something is “off” and with that we search for meaning. Since I don’t know understand much about sportsball and why their faces are worried, I *can’t* assign the correct meaning to it. Yet our brains still look for the “why”, and the information filled in could be from any direction.

  25. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.”

    It’s a lesson I learned long ago, and one that I have found myself passing on to co-workers many times over the years.

    Granted, it isn’t exactly assuming the *best* about people, but I have found it to be applicable in many situations.

  26. I believe you are really (or also) writing about empathy here, which can spring from the kind of self-love you’re talking about. And I wish we would see much more empathy – and dialogue and compromise and compassion – in public life. There is so much more in people’s hearts than what we see on the surface. Keep fighting the good fight.

  27. Hugh,

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful and moving post. It takes a special ability to stand back and love–not judge and criticize–yourself and others. Some people are naturally this way, either because they have a tolerant and/or nurturing personality or because they were brought up to feel loved and esteemed, or because they’ve worked hard to be that kind of person, or maybe some of all three.

    The world needs more people who look at others with loving eyes. The world needs reminders to stop and love, not judge. Thank you for being the man that you are–the man that you’re evolving into.

    Keep up the good work.

    All the best,

    Debra Holland

  28. Thanks for this, Hugh. I’m glad when men write about love — it is so needed in this world.

  29. Wonderful post, Hugh… I’ve been telling everyone since I saw that video that it was not what it seemed and as you have so eloquently put it here, it was about love and not disdain for his brother winning and tying his record. I am a Giants fan and in no way would I ever believe that Eli would act that way toward his brother. And Thank You for the lovely words about self-love! beautiful and brilliant!

  30. Hugh, we met at the 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival. There, hearing your words about the power of self publishing inspired me to write and self publish my own first book, a short story collection called “That Losing Feeling and Other Stories.”

    Today I wandered onto your site to check into what you are doing these days and you have inspired me all over again. The post above is insightful and generous and very well thought out — the perfect approach to how to change one’s perspective. I love it and will share it.

    Thanks for putting so much good stuff out there.

    PS — I’m now working on my next book, a science fiction novel. I’ll post more when it is closer to complete.

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