In the first season of The Americans, the series about Russian spies living among us in the 1980s, when President Reagan is shot and Al Haig announces that he’s in control at the White House, the Russians freak out. In the Soviet Union, this sort of announcement would mean a coup. People start to act on their assumptions based on their misunderstanding of American culture.
We’re often like those Russians, I think. We look at events and judge them by our own standards of what’s right and normal, forgetting that there are other standards out there. We say things like, “I would never do that,” as if that is the only criterion for judging something as right or wrong.
Now I’m not saying we should let ourselves be beat down or let others take advantage of us. But I do think it would help if instead of automatically responding, we gave ourselves time to reflect on where other people are coming from and recognize that in their minds, they are behaving as naturally and normally as we think we are.
It might not cut down on all our disagreements, but it might make those disagreements more civil.