I smiled and said "hello" as I walked past a lady who lives in our apartment building. Usually she is very pleasant and stops to chat with me, but on this day her expression said "Leave me alone."
I walked on, but immediately in my mind I began to write a book about the situation. "I wonder what’s wrong with her." "Maybe she doesn't like me anymore." "That wasn’t very nice." "Sometimes she can really have an attitude." "That was rude."
I kept it up until I got diverted by something else, and I forgot all about the incident. But somewhere in my mind all the chapters of that book were still there, and those thoughts were now pieces of grit in my relationship with her – not because of anything she did, but because in that moment I believed and supported those thoughts.
Later that day I happened to see her again and she approached me. I continued to fill the book in my mind with thoughts like "oh no, now I’m going to have to deal with her attitude." "She’s going to complain about something." "I'm going to have to prepare myself for an emotional outburst." And on and on until she reached where I was standing.
We chitchatted a bit and then she volunteered what had happened to her that morning. A few days prior she had had an abnormal mammogram and had to return this morning for an ultrasound. She was not allowed to wait for the results, so she became very anxious. Since the weekend was approaching, she feared she would have to wait several days to hear the results.
I could relate. It just so happened that I'd had a similar situation just a month before. I was anxious too – so much so that I had trouble functioning and I lost sleep over it. I relayed to this woman what a good friend had said to me: worrying is not going to change the outcome, whatever that may be. You don't have all the reality right now. Wait for the information and just take the next step that the situation calls for. That's all that is required.
For me, that helped to reduce my emotion and I could begin to function again.
I don't know if it helped this lady or not. But I learned a valuable lesson from this experience. That book I wrote based on her expression when I said hello was complete fiction! The expression on her face was not aimed at me, but I took it personally and created a barrier in my relationship with her that would have remained there forever if I had not seen what I had done: I had supplanted reality with my judgments.
My mental library contains millions of "books" I've written and filed away about every conceivable subject, including my closest family and friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers. It's no wonder that conflicts and misunderstandings crop up seemingly out of nowhere.
Judgments create barriers in relationships. Barriers create conflict because they are an unsound basis of reasoning. Once recognized as an incorrect basis of reasoning, judgments can be dropped, reality can be contacted, and conflict is avoided.