Self-inflicted pain and suffering caused by a different perception

Something strange happened to me today. I was having lunch in a shopping mall with my wife Sigrid and daughter Rosanne, who is a 2 ½ year old toddler. Sigrid stepped out of the restaurant for a while to exchange some clothes she bought a couple of days earlier. During this time I was enjoying lunch and was chatting with Rosanne, who was seeing all kinds of interesting stuff through the windowpane; ranging from cars stopping at the traffic lights to a stair she was seeing. Did you know that stairs are very interesting when you are 2 ½ years old?

Sitting at the table next to us was a black man eating his lunch. I mention his skin color here as I’m wondering if this has anything to do with it. Suddenly (after the stair conversation with Rosanne), this man got up, very quickly, taking his tray with a full bottle of apple juice, and left. During all of this he bumped his tray at the buggy, dropping some napkins on the floor. This was a little strange; I remember thinking if we upset him in any way, but as we were only talking about cars and stairs, how was that possible?

Then this guy came back, upset and in a hurry, dumping his empty bottle of apple juice on my table and left; leaving me and some other guests in wonder.

So what happened? Why was this guy so angry at me? Did he knock over his apple juice in his hurry to get out? Was he having some sort of mental problem? Did he misunderstood the conversation I was having with Rosanne as some sort of racism at his expense? Did I upset him in another way? Did Rosanne remind him of his own daughter? I guess I will never know.

One thing I know is that his perception of this little incident was somewhat different of that what was actually taking place, or at least my version of it. He was very angry and obviously suffering a great deal.

Isn’t it strange that our minds sometimes interpret and filter situations, causing us to suffer and feel pain? Why was his perception so different from what I was experiencing? Was this guy expecting people to hurt him, and in expecting this, interpret every life situation accordingly? In other words: His pain and suffering was self-inflicted.

My expectation is that this incident ruined his day. He ruined it for himself with self-inflicted pain and suffering caused by a different perception of the situation. My day remained as good as it already was. It even gave me inspiration to write this article.

2 comments… add one
  • sidd Jul 6, 2009 @ 20:29

    I think we are all victims of our own interpretations. We learn to be so critical of people and then when no one else is around, we crticise ourselves.

    This guy obviously was dealing with something internal and I hope he finds peace, but we will never know.

  • Hugh Jul 10, 2009 @ 2:31

    It is impossible for us to peceive anything without filtering the information through the lens that we have created from our previous experiences. The trick is decide how we allow our perceptions to affect us internally. Respond instead of react. I am not commenting on your actions but instead thinking through your post. Thanks for what you wrote.

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