How Could Anyone Do Such a Thing?

>> Friday

WHEN SOMEONE walks into a theater and kills complete strangers, or when someone rapes and kills one woman after another, or when anything horrible like that happens, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, "Who would do that?" How could anyone do something like that? It is literally inconceivable.

But do you know why it's inconceivable? Because you have too much human empathy to be able to even imagine doing something like that. Normal people rarely, if ever, do such things. But sociopaths do.

As I've learned about sociopaths and talked to people about this strange phenomenon, one of the things that comes up again and again in our conversations is the impossibility of imagining it. Normal people can't wrap their head around what it would be like to not feel any empathy for other human beings. Empathy for others is such a fundamental part of us, when we try to imagine what it would be like not to have it, the mind draws a blank.

For the sake of all our sanity, I want you to remember this.

When someone does a horrible and vicious act, all of us try to explain it to ourselves. That's the way the human brain works — we must explain events. The brain will not allow an event to remain unexplained, especially a memorable event.

But the way you explain this event becomes part of your worldview. It becomes something you believe. It affects you, it affects your mood, it affects your behavior. So it's a good idea to make sure you're careful about what conclusions you draw about it.

Is "mankind" just cruel? Is that why those specific people did those horrible things? Is it a "crazy world?" Or is there too much violence on television and videogames? Is that why it happened?

You must remember this: Sociopaths are a small percentage of the population. They have always been a percentage of the human race. There is no evidence to suggest that they are becoming a larger percentage of the population. And they have always had a tendency to do cruel things. The recent tragedy is another example of a sociopath doing what sociopaths sometimes do.

That explanation is accurate and specific. It makes no thought-mistakes that will make your worldview unnecessarily pessimistic, so it will not lead to needless anxiety or disheartening conclusions. When you learn of bad events in the news, try to make sure you don't pick up any mind-viruses (thought-mistakes), and if you do, make sure you use the antivirus for your mind to get rid of them before they begin to affect your health, your attitude, and your relationships with others.

And do your best to help those around you avoid coming to counterproductive conclusions about bad events. Share with them the antivirus for your mind. And share with them information about sociopaths. Not enough people know everyday sociopaths exist, and very few people are familiar with their characteristics. If more people were aware of these things, some of the tragedies might be prevented.

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New Moodraising Resource: Viewfinder

I'VE PUBLISHED another book. I wrote it with Klassy Evans. It's called Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things. It's about how to change your perspective and how to create good reframes.

You probably know this from experience: When your perspective changes, your mood turns on a dime. You suddenly and quite completely feel a different emotion.

I remember hearing a story about a man and his three young children riding the subway that illustrates the emotion-changing power of perspective. The three kids were loud. They were annoying the other passengers, and the father was just sitting there doing nothing about it.

A woman sitting across from the father put up with it for a long time, but she finally felt that something had to be said. So she spoke as calmly as she could: "Don't you think you should control your kids a little better?" That was as civil as she could be, and it was with some effort she remained that civil. She was appalled a father could be so irresponsible about his kids and so inconsiderate to the other passengers in the subway.

The father replied with a bleak, weary look on his face that they had just come from their mothers' (his wife's) funeral and he didn't really know what to do.

The woman said her feelings changed instantly from anger to compassion. When your perspective changes, your emotions change.

A good reframe can create a similar emotional shift in many different kinds of circumstances, and you can create reframes deliberately. I'll give you a little taste from my new book. It is an example of what I call a "comparison reframe."

In an experiment, people were asked to do a simple task — to complete the sentence, "I'm glad I'm not a..." They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their "life satisfaction" was improved from doing the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: "I wish I were a..." After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their lives.

Here's an important principle that can change your life: Your happiness, to a large extent, depends on what you are comparing your life to right now. And you can voluntarily and easily change what you are comparing your life to at any moment you choose. When you do, the new comparison reframes your circumstances.

If you'd like to learn more about this important moodraising skill, including the different kinds of reframes and some practical methods for creating good ones, check out our new book: Viewfinder.

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Feel good more often and become more effective with your actions. Check it out on Amazon: Self-Help Stuff That Works.

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