For the past few days, we’ve been exploring a case-study about character assassinating, get caught up before reading today’s post.
When Tim reacts angrily towards James, and calls him a liar, Tim is drawing on his own past harm. This means he is not considering the history of his relationship with James, neither is he considering what he knows to be historically true about James. James has neither a history of breaking promises nor a history of lying (though, granted, we can assume that he has broken promises before and lied before, but they are by no means defining attributes).
What Tim has done makes perfect sense, and it does not need to be judged. We all react out of our past harms from time to time on instinct alone, without stopping to consider the relationship. But, it must still be said, this is a big problem, and it’s one many of us have. Let me be clear. The problem is this: Too often we will call a person a liar, or say they always do ___, or never do ____, or call them selfish, or uncaring, or aggressive, or passive, or whatever, because we’re feeling hurt as a result of our pasts, and not a result of our past history with that specific person. (This is not exclusively the case, but it is the case for many people in many relationships).
In fact, this is the source of a lot of ongoing, unresolved conflict for many of us. Circumstances often tempt us, or conspire against us, to consider other people’s actions in light of our pasts, rather than the other person’s past, or our past history with that person. If Tim were considering James’ past alone, he would never have called James a liar, because James has not demonstrated that is character is congruent with the label “liar.” Now, it’s obviously not possible to only treat people on their own terms. We’re always going to bring our pasts into things. But, how can we do so in a way that is a little more fair to those around us?