Treat people the right way

It’s been known for a long time that holding grudges hurts the immune system
Gerri King Feature

“You just yelled at that person!” “Yes, because that person yelled at me!” “Did you like it?” It’s not uncommon to:

• honk at those who honk.

• respond loudly when people yell.

• stop talking to people who are reluctant to talk to us.

• insult those who insult.

• be impolite when someone is rude.

• discriminate against groups who are perceived to discriminate.

• spank children to teach them not to hit.

• support capital punishment, i.e. murder people who murder.

You get the point. We act like those we detest and respond like people we don’t admire.

When we respond similarly to the aggressor, we are justifying and validating their behavior. A screaming person begins to look rather silly if their target remains calm and talks softly. When we yell back, we’ve condoned and normalized their actions.

If we’re not going to stop for the sake of others, there are selfish reasons to refrain.

Seeking revenge and holding grudges is not only the basis for dangerous activity, it’s detrimental to our physical and mental health. In fact, it hurts the immune system.

Angela Buttimer, a licensed psychotherapist wrote, “Your brain doesn’t know what is real and what is imagined. When we hold on to grudges and resentment, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. When you replay in your mind an experience you had six months ago, your body reacts as if you’re having the same experience over and over again.”

It’s been known for a long time that holding grudges hurts the immune system. An overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt our body’s processes, which puts us at risk for many health problems including anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, and impaired memory and concentration.

Self-preservation is one reason to learn healthy ways to cope with unsettling situations. There are many others.

Consider the work environment. I am well aware that the following suggestions will result in eye rolls, and I’ve gotten quite used to the skepticism it elicits, but I think it’s worth the risk. Imagine a blamefree and gossip-free environment. The concepts are easy to understand and hard to do, because blame and gossip are both so habitual.

Blame-free means that it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. What does matter is that whatever is not working gets fixed. The concern is that people won’t be accountable. The reality — at least in workplaces that have adopted it — is that people are more accountable. They’re comfortable saying that they made a mistake, screwed up, or did something wrong because they know that instead of a punitive response, their supervisors will gather staff to assess what happened and discuss how it can be avoided in the future.

Gossip-free means that we talk to people instead of about them. We can still support a colleague or friend who is upset with someone by asking how we can help them figure out a way to talk to that person directly. But if the person talks to us instead (even if we’re in a supervisory role), it does not help.

So many of our thoughts and actions are based on our perceived truth, but assumptions are guesses we begin to believe. I’ve learned that I often say I don’t have time when I don’t want to do whatever I should be doing, like trying to resolve a conflict. I should remind myself that I’m choosing not to take the time to do it, and I should also examine the reasons, so I’m not just “shoulding” on myself.

Assessing how best to approach and respond to someone is a major requirement for effective socialization, which brings us to political correctness. As restrictive as it might seem, its primary function is to remind us of how we view others. If I have to stop myself from saying something, it’s time to examine my beliefs.

Worse than being judgmental is being judgmental and not acknowledging it to ourselves. Take, as an example, prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is generalizing about a group, and discrimination is acting on it. If I don’t want to discriminate, I need to own up to my judgements.

That’s not easy. However, it’s necessary.

Simply put, are we happy when we’re treated unfairly or unkindly? Assuming that we’re not, perhaps we can begin by refusing to mirror what upsets us.

Gerri King is a social psychologist and organizational consultant who lives in Concord.

Categories: Business Advice, Workplace Advice