Do You See Good People or Bad People? Using Mindfulness to Improve Our Outlook

I believe most people are good. This belief may be due to the upbringing and life experiences I’ve encountered. It may be because I have a learned habit of reframing most experiences to highlight the positive. Whatever the reason I know not everyone agrees with me.

I had a long-term love who openly declared he believed most people are bad — out for themselves no matter what. This declaration made me sad and a little mad. It felt like a stubborn mindset that only made it harder to win his trust and get to the soft sweet heart inside his tough exterior. A thickened skin, sharp tongue and hair-trigger defensiveness protected him from all the evil he believed existed due to previous negative experiences. The same protective measures also served as an obstacle between him and me. It was difficult to let down my guard and offer warmth and love when he was poised to take me down emotionally if I set off any of his alarms. Unfortunately, warmth and love were exactly what he needed to let go of the evil perception and angry reactivity.

The numerous recent mass killings, divisive politics, sexual crime outings and increase in depression and anxiety could persuade me to believe the world is going hell in a hand basket. I could invest in hopelessness. It would be easy to spiral down into sadness and hatred. There are a lot of people doing horrible things. I could go dark, but I choose to bring light.

Mindfulness and secure relationships

Some of you may be sick of hearing about mindfulness or you may consider it to be new age mumbo jumbo, but I want to tell you about something you may not know about it. Its qualities overlap or parallel the qualities of secure relationships. This link can profoundly affect your well-being if acted upon and I want you all to know about anything that can have such positive effects.

Dr. Dan Siegel (Harvard medical school graduate, psychiatrist and author of numerous books on neurobiology) lists nine prefrontal cortex brain functions that overlap with mindfulness practice and secure parent/child attachments. They are: regulation of body systems, balancing emotions, modulating fear, responding flexibly, attuning to others, exhibiting insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. By extension, mindfulness overlaps with secure adult attachments as well.

Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love (COAL) is an acronym invented by Dr. Siegel to describe the qualities of mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as being aware of what is happening while it is happening and not putting judgments on what arises. If we are mindful, we are present and paying attention. We do not go on autopilot. While in a mindful state we remain curious, open, accepting and loving.

COAL leads to light. Each quality included in the acronym, creates a receptive versus a reactive way of being.

When there is no one open to us

About ten years ago, something switched in my mind and in my life. I felt disconnected and overlooked. I was depressed and looking for a change/relief. I intuitively sought out people with a more open and accepting presence. I started reading everything on mindfulness, mental health and spirituality. I slowly retrained or revealed? my mind. I began to practice openness, acceptance and loving kindness. I set my curiosity free.

The depression lifted and I found myself excited about each day.

When we’re afraid, we aren’t receptive

I’d love to say my days were all sunshine and cupcakes from then on but that is not true. I went through other darkness mostly having to do with my reactions to others with a more negative outlook. They weren’t open and accepting and I had a hard time handling their hurtful words and behavior. I closed off myself to avoid the pain from a lack of connection or I reacted in an emotional and not so pretty manner. Either way, I was not receptive. I reacted to them how they were reacting to me. I was not mindful. I was not open. It felt too risky.

Looking inside and out

How did I get away from that downward spiral? I began to look at my own internal processes. I noticed when I was at ease and when I wasn’t. I dabbled in meditation. At the same time, I became more aware of my relationships. What was missing? When did I feel the most seen/heard? When was I most open and generous?

I eliminated relationships where there was not a willingness to share internal insights and empathy. I added ones where we could expand together. I worked at but then eventually left the relationships that stifled my curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.

Even the people I left behind, in my mind, are not bad people. They just were not able to practice openness and acceptance with me. They did not know how or they were too wounded to trust others. This could be different for them now. I hope someone was able to show them enough love and kindness to break their hearts open. I couldn’t do it while in a relationship with them.

Challenged every day

My boyfriend and I went to a live auction for my church on Saturday. Surrounded by loving, open and generous people, we had a blast. I left that event feeling high on belonging and goodness — humanity at its best.

The devastating shooting in the Texas church took place on Sunday. It would be easy to fall into a mindset of sadness and anger after such a horrific event. It would be easy to focus on the killer as a bad person. My heart aches for the victims and their loved ones. I assume they were good people. I love all the good people who swooped in to help. I have to stay open to the good in people.

You don’t have to be religious, just open

I do not associate all good people with a church. That’s another great thing about mindfulness. It’s not tied to any particular faith. It’s available to all at any time.

I strive to stay open to what happens as it happens. It’s a struggle to filter out the negative and damaging distractions that cross our path every day, but to have rich inner lives with hope and understanding, we have to refrain from slipping into rigid mindsets of negativity. To have secure and beautiful relationships we have to stay curious, open, accepting and loving.

Big benefit of noticing good people

An awesome side benefit of paying attention to the good people in our lives, is that when they are happy or experience success, we also feel a surge of happiness or joy. We experience empathetic joy. What an incredible bonus!

Do you tend to see the good or the bad in people? Are you aware of how open or closed you are? How do you stay open and accepting?

**Special request: If you have read The Quiet Rise of Introverts, please leave a short review on Amazon. Let me know one thing you took away from the book or something that helped you. I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!**


Originally published at brendaknowles.com on November 10, 2017.