Friday, May 9, 2008

Make Your Perspective the Best

A couple of days ago, Caroline sent me this clip from AOL. It's from Indra Nooyi, the Chairman and CEO of Pepsico. She says, "My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed."

Hmmmmm. I like this, and it sounds vaguely familiar. Kinda like reframing events, looking for the silver lining. It's wisdom that works. Can't you remember a time when you got sooooo angry and/or hurt, because you assumed the worst possible interpretation of an event, or what someone said? Like, "She's awfully quiet this morning, maybe she's going to fire me." Or, "He's late; obviously he doesn't care about me, or he would be here already."

I wonder why some of us do this. I think the reason is, once again, fear. We jump to the worst conclusion, get really upset, savor the victim moment. The scholarly literature supports the thinking that fear of loss is the greatest motivator behind human behavior. We fear losing our love, our job, our status, and react accordingly.

Incidentally, the first words uttered by Pope John Paul II, right after he was "poped" way back in 1978 or 1979, were "Be not afraid." Maybe he realized the damage we do because we fear.

So, I got a wonderful opportunity to apply this perspective choosing a couple of weeks ago when my son scraped the side of my vehicle against a metal post or something, when he misjudged the turn into a car wash. Spending $500 (my deductible) on replacing what 5 minutes ago was perfectly fine, is not something I normally get enthusiastic about. However, I did remember my own fender-bender as a young driver, and I was delighted that my son got this fender-changing experience involving only one car, no trees, no alcohol.

Other benefits from this incident:

1) I got to deal with my beloved insurance company, USAA. I'm not sure if I really love that company, but the feeling is something like that. I've never dealt with any other, but you hear the worst stories about insurance companies, and this one has always, without one single exception, treated me well. I got through the filing-a-claim process with their customer service person, Dani Andrew, who acted like helping me with this was the best thing that had happened to her that day. Thank you, Dani!

2) As a result of my conversation with Dani, I got some of my other policies updated and got a new one that I had wanted. In other words, I took care of some important, but not urgent matters.

3) I get to drive a rental car for 4 to 5 days next week. Cool. It will be a newer model than my own car, and probably consume less fuel. My kids and I are excited about this.

4) I feel better about my son driving now. A teenage male behind the wheel of the car is probably about as safe as a youngster playing with a hand grenade in the back yard. This incident caught his attention and I think he is now a more aware driver.

The trick is not to go into automatic "tragedy thinking" when the unexpected appears. That starts with the decision to look for the most helpful perspective, always. It's the work of a lifetime, but one that gets you closer to the good life.