Recycling people: Changing your perspective on a person who has wronged you

Look for the positive in your life and relationships by repurposing the people in your life – it could improve your outlook.

Your sister-in-law makes a comment to you at a family gathering that makes you angry. Your friend only calls when she needs your help. A customer in the doctor’s office seems disrespectful and short with the receptionist. Your relative airs family laundry on social media. These people and their negative traits follow us around and their stories play repeatedly in our heads.

Why does the negative seem to outweigh the positive in our relationships? It takes time to look for the good and many of us are time-deprived, so we throw away the bad by severing relationships and friendships and move on. A quote by John Spence reads, “When you choose to see the good in others, you end up finding the good in yourself.”

Author Rick Hanson, in “Buddha’s Brain, shares a mindfulness exercise that can assist in changing your perspective on a person who has left a negative impact on you. In “The Ten Thousand Things,” he invites you to consider someone who has wronged you and then complete a quick reflection on the person’s background, upbringing, history and events of their day. How does such a reflection change your perspective of that person? Can you begin to see some positive attributes in that person when you look through what brought them to this point? Are you better able to put a comment, action or reaction into perspective?

Why not choose to recycle people? As a society, we recycle water bottles, tires, paper, plastic bottles and tin cans; “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We have found ways to recycle nearly everything today to produce energy, reduce pollution, preserve our resources and improve our climate, yet we seemingly throw away perfectly good people whom we see as having a flaw or no longer useful to us.

Visualize a type of virtual people-shredder that removes the negative traits and sorts through and saves and “reworks” or emphasizes the positive. Is someone 100 percent bad or useless and ready for the scrap heap, or are there salvageable parts that we can reuse or repurpose? Is your sister-in-law 80 percent great and 20 percent irritating? Is your friend a 50/50 split between helping and expecting help? Was your relative frustrated with his own life when venting on the internet? How about that consumer? Could you salvage a piece of someone who had a two-minute meltdown out of a day with 1,440 minutes?

Michigan State University Extension recommends looking for the positive in your life and relationships. Our brain’s built-in negativity bias tends to emphasize the negative, so this will take some effort. Slow down (this may take time), smile and make eye contact. Look for positive actions and intentions. Remember, you are looking for the reusable pieces and parts.

While you’re practicing this new skill of recycling people, consider yourself; look for your own good traits and emphasize the positive. Compliment yourself on what you are doing well and give yourself some leniency in areas that still need work.

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