Playful, close connections without the fear of offending anyone

Photo: Whipps Photography

Author and self-help guru Wayne Dyer once said;“Most people are waiting to be offended” Seems true doesn’t it? Too true.

As a species we are self-absorbed. We had to be, if we weren’t, we might not have made it. It is simply a habit of our design to be focused on ourselves in order that we are safe, alive and adhering to evolution’s prime directive— reproducing with the greatest of fecundity.

There came a time in our trajectory when this instilled self-focus extended beyond physical security to social safety. Our connection to a tribe was crucial to our survival, exclusion was sure death. To this day social concerns; what other people think of us, are as relevant to us as physical threats, and just as deeply embedded in our psyche as fear of lions or drowning. Hence our tendency to be easily offended by others. At this point, with ostracism less of a risk, and others not as necessary to our survival, we could probably do with a bit less of this tendency and more of a —”I wonder what it is like to be them?” —focus.

This faculty does not come easy, but neither did reading or writing when we were young, or when we were just embarking upon these cultural adaptations as nascent sapiens.

So, the trick is to leverage some part of us to subvert the parts that were once so important but no longer nearly as essential. One of the most powerful gifts of the human mind is the power of imagination.

I have found that if you know enough about someone to imagine their life you can run a simulation on what it is like to be them, and the image you see can dominate your internal make-it-about -you machinery, freeing you to get out of your world and into theirs for a just a moment.

For example, let’s say you are in the garden and one of your neighbors comes into grab something, you say hello and ask if he would like to come over for dinner tomorrow night, he says no he can’t do that. In that moment, instead of making something up about what that means about you, and being reluctant to invite him over in the future, you run a visual simulation on what you know about what he is dealing with or what he cares about. Perhaps he has a serious deadline, or his kids are visiting, or he is a germaphobe or any number of thousands of things that are unique to a person, and you smile and gesture understandingly.

Evolution programmed us brilliantly. In a time when so much of that programming fails to serve us, we can honor that brilliance without being a slave to it. Awareness of, and escape from our primordial impulses represents our deepest challenge as a species, and our surest access to close, upset-free, playful, vibrant human connection.