True maturity requires treating adults like children

When a toddler throws a tantrum, we assume they must be hungry, tired, bored, or need to poop. We don’t immediately conclude that they are selfish jerks, megalomaniacs, or fundamentally evil. Instead, we offer them comfort, snacks, and naps, and it almost always works.

When an adult upsets us with a snarky comment, a thoughtless email, or an unkind action, we react very differently. Their misstep consumes our thoughts. As a rational actor in the endless pursuit of self interest, they must be angling against us in some way. They’re an asshole, a cheat, or a fraud. If only they were as compassionate as us, the world would be a better place.

We draw these conclusions for a good reason: We know we control our own actions, so we assign rational agency to the actions of others. But veteran judges make harsher parole decisions immediately before lunch. Surgeons make more mistakes at the end of long weeks. Wall Street reacts more negatively to investor calls scheduled in the afternoon, regardless of the content of the calls. The control we feel is an illusion. Consequently, the bad intentions we project onto others are mostly incorrect. Like us when we behave badly, they are almost certainly victims of circumstance—just having a bad day.

We are far better off assuming the best of others until they prove us wrong. Generosity of spirit isn’t just altruistic, it better reflects reality. True maturity requires treating adults like children.

Complement with why most successful people have no idea what made them successful, how isolation undermines creativity, and this podcast interview about how to make your thinking more flexible.

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