I was just talking with someone about how many people are hopeless, depressed, presuming the worst of others, and not giving people the chance to show the good in themselves. It just spirals, he said. You presume the worse, you act on it, and others respond in kind. They reinforce your negative opinions, so it becomes self-fulfilling. It’s one of those “keep your jack” situations, he told me. I asked him to explain.

“You are in your car, driving along in the forest, and you get a flat tire. You open your trunk, and you don’t have a tire jack. You are all alone in the dark. There are no cars coming by. You walk and walk along the road, but there are no houses. Finally, you see a light in the distance. It is a house! You are freezing, and you walk as fast as you can. It starts to rain. You wrap your jacket around you tighter. But as you get closer, you start to worry. You start to talk to yourself in a negative way:

“Can I really just go up to this house in the middle of nowhere and knock on the door? What if the owner doesn’t want to help me? What if he gets mad? What if he refuses to even open the door? Why should he care about me? He doesn’t care about me! He probably thinks I’m an intruder and I don’t deserve any help! He will view me as a trespasser on his property, and a threat to his home and family. If he comes to the door, he will come with a knife in his hand, ready to stab me! And here I am, an innocent person, needing legitimate help. What an asshole he must be! Damn him!”

“So by then you have made yourself so angry, and are so sure what you can expect from this person whose help you need, that you are filled with rage. So you stand outside in the dark, shaking your fist at the house, cursing the owner and all the occupants. Finally, you pick up a rock from the roadside, and you throw it at a window of the house, and as the window breaks, you yell out: “You can keep your damn jack! I don’t even want it anymore! Go to hell! People like you make the world a terrible place. “

And so it goes, he explained. Almost everything we know about other people is just a story we tell ourselves in our head. And a lot of how we perceive them, and how we choose to treat them, grows out of our stories. So we need to be careful about what we choose to believe, especially about people we don’t know.