How might you take the most benevolent perspective? When you have a benevolent perspective you concentrate on what works. When you are benevolent you utilize the reward centre of the brain which responds with pleasure.
Here is an example. Sue ran a dormitory for young students entering the beginner’s term programme at an ashram.
“They get worse each term”, she lamented. “They are thoughtless, loud, untidy, disrespectful and constantly waste my time. I despair for our future if it is in their hands.”
After years of this, Sue realised that she was miserable. Perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t just the students. So she took a retreat of her own by taking time off and entering therapy.
When she returned she was deeply impressed with the improved calibre of the students. “They are so thoughtful and respectful. At their age, I was too full of myself to take up something as serious as meditation. Imagine, taking this much responsibility so early in their lives!”
As you will have guessed, it was not the attitude of the students that had changed, it was Sue’s. She had learned to take a benevolent, rather than critical perspective. So, how can you translate this information to your relationship?
If your partner is being kind and thoughtful, reflect this back to her! Notice! Thank her! Be silently grateful as well. I am so lucky! Read the Insight, the “10 to 1 ratio of gratitude to complaints”. In the past, Sue had focussed on the complaints, and now she focussed on gratitude and seeing the good stuff. Now the students were thriving on being appreciated. You, too, thrive on being appreciated. When you appreciate your partner, he is more likely to repeat that behaviour. Build on what works!
Barbara Turner-Vesselago, the internationally-renowned teacher of writing, develops a student’s writing capacity by acknowledging only the things that work in the writing. She consistently points out to the student his best writing, the passages that zing and sizzle. She does this without criticism! Then, the less-effective writing just drops away.
Similarly, when you train your puppy, you reinforce good behaviour through rewards. When you give praise and appreciation, the reward receptors in the brain respond with pleasure. By contrast, when you criticize, complain or punish, your dog (or your partner, or your writing student) will respond with stress hormones and anxiety. No-one learns well under these conditions
Imagine your partner has done something utterly infuriating, such as forgetting to give you an important phone message or has woken you up too early. Or something more major such as spending money on themselves that you’d agreed would be saved.
Anger may be a ‘natural’ response.
Blame might be a ‘natural’ response.
But when you look for the most benevolent, or positive response, what might that be? Can you imagine a response without blame? You might get some hints in Different Perspectives: what does my partner think?
Let’s say your partner gets home very late one night and forgets to take out the wheelie bins. It’s his job. When the truck wakes you both in the morning, and he says, “I forgot to take out the bins,” what goes through your mind? Are you thoroughly annoyed that you will be left with stinky garbage for another whole week? On the other hand, could you accept that your partner, just this once, simply forgot? And, to his credit, he ‘fessed up’ straight away. He didn’t try to excuse or explain or justify his mistake.
So, in this situation, as in many others, you have a clear choice. You can take the benevolent perspective and say, “That’s OK Honey – this is the first time, ever!” Use some humour. This will set both of you up with good brain chemicals, and good feelings toward each other – and to yourself. You have gravitated to your best self.
OR, you can be resentful and unforgiving and therefore set you both up for some bad feelings, and a really bad start to the day. You can even ramp it up into a tirade of abuse, scorn and contempt.
Your choice. It really is a choice.
By assuming goodwill and a generous perspective, you can cut out a large number of conflicts with your partner. When you know in your gut that those who love you are acting with good intentions, misunderstandings diminish dramatically. When your loved one knows you are not going to come down hard on small human errors, they are encouraged to be relaxed, at ease and open. Remember: The person who has pledged eternal love to you can have a bad day and make mistakes. Just like you.
You might think that a statement you make is neutral or maybe even positive. Such as, “Honey could you be sure to take the trash out tonight, please? It’s important.” Your partner doesn’t actually know that the bin is filled to the brim and will make an awful stink if it’s not picked up this week. But your partner might be thinking, “Why is she on my case? I’ve never yet forgotten to take out the trash! Doesn’t she trust me anymore?”
You can help your partner interpret benevolently when you give them enough information. You might instead say, “I know you have never forgotten to take out the garbage, but I’m feeling a bit guilty because it’s full of stinky things, and I don’t want to impose that smell on our neighbours any longer than necessary. I’ll be glad when the truck comes in the morning! So please don’t forget to take out the bins.”
You can apply benevolence in any relationship. You can get a lot of practice with your family, your colleagues and your neighbours.
Recognize that if you don’t know what is in your mate’s mind, you don’t know the whole story, as I demonstrated earlier. Train yourself to see things through his or her eyes. Don’t try to argue them out of their point of view—the purpose is understanding. This is clarified in “Different Perspectives: what does my partner think?
When you’re upset by something your mate does, try asking yourself whether they meant their actions to have the effect they did. Part of taking a benevolent perspective is to imagine that they had your best interests in mind, but they haven’t expressed it well, or they are rushed and/or preoccupied.
Many of us are incredibly judgmental about ourselves. Do you give yourself a hard time? For a few hours, practice mindfulness by noticing your self-talk. Are you kind, loving, forgiving? Brene Brown says she doesn’t trust someone who says, “I love you” if they say they hate themselves. This is a deep psychological truth.
With what you have just read in mind, what is just one thing that you can take into your mind and heart? Just one thing you can give? One thing that will create kinder self-talk? Something you know will improve your relationship? One thing that you can contribute to your partner?