Boys Town Logo
Boys Town Logo

Imagine you're late for work; you've just pulled in behind one car at the red light. The light turns green, but the lady in the car in front of you is looking in her backseat, not at the light.

The light turns yellow, red and green again, but still the woman is looking in the back seat. Finally, on the third red light, you get out of your car to go complain.

Imagine how annoyed, even angry, you are by now. You were late for work before, now it's worse. But when you knock on the car window, the woman looks up at you with tears in her eyes. You look in the backseat and see a baby turning blue. Everything just changed, didn't it? Your anger has been replaced with empathy for the woman and a desire to help the baby, right?

So how many times in life do we get angry at people, when in fact, if we knew the circumstances, we might be more forgiving?  This circumstantial way of viewing problematic behavior is called behavior analysis.

And as Dr. Patrick Friman, Vice President of Boys Town Outpatient Behavioral Health Services, tells us in his TED Talk, looking for the baby in the backseat when people display problematic behavior ultimately makes us more empathetic.

The Circumstantial ChallengeThe next time someone cuts you off and takes your parking place, challenge yourself to think circumstantially. Maybe they have a sick child at home and are picking up a prescription. Think about what baby might be in their back seat and cut them a little slack. So, you get in a few extra steps in the parking lot. It's not the end of the world.

The next time you hear a neighborhood kid shouting words you wish they weren't into their cell phone, think before you berate. Just imagine for one minute that they've failed a calculus test that afternoon and now their significant other is breaking up with them. Instead of adding to the scream fest, you can walk away without adding to the emotional pile-up. Or if you're feeling brave, ask them if they'd like to talk. Either way, you've not made a judgment on them as a person but considered what might be going on behind the obvious melt-down. Easier Isn't Always BetterIt's always easier to make assumptions and be angry with someone when they present difficult behavior. But wouldn't the world be a better place if we could all stop for just a second and consider what might be causing this person to behave the way they are?

Wouldn't we all feel so much better at the end of the day, or the week, if we'd granted people grace? If we took a circumstantial view of their behavior? Wouldn't it be easier to grant ourselves some of that grace as well if we're bestowing it on others?   

Challenge yourself to step back and accept that you don't know why people behave the way they do. Imagine the baby that might be in their backseat. Chances are, at the end of the week, you'll feel better about others, the world and yourself.

To listen to Dr. Friman's TED Talk on igniting compassion, click here​. It's the best 11 minutes you'll invest today.