Learning to Love Well: See the Innocence in Others (episode #22)

Sep 07, 2022


Joy Lab Podcast (episode 22)

We're digging into our second lesson on Learning to Love Well, which is seeing the innocence in others. This skill gets at the heart of the illusion of separation and opening up to the truth that we are interdependent. And, when we see the innocence in others, then we'll start to see it in ourselves as well (and even if we start the other way around). No matter who you start with, once you see the true essence of yourself and others (and give yourself and others a break), the world really opens up. Joy has bigger paths to flow through when you're gentler on yourself and others and daily life gets, well, easier. 

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Find key takeaways and the full script below the video.



Key Takeaways:

  • Sister Helen Prejean:
    • "I watch what I'm doing to see what I believe."
    • "A person is more than the worst thing he has ever done." 
  •  Seeing the innocence of others vs. looking down on someone... it can be tricky to notice the difference.
  • When we limit judgment on others, we suspend it on ourselves (and vice versa). This is healing. 
  • Theory of Mind: A reminder that our beliefs about what people are thinking are just that; beliefs and theories. We make guesses through the lens of our own experience. 
  • The Golden Rule is surprisingly helpful for mental health: Treat others and we would like to be treated. The benefits of it go both ways. 
  • Imagine-other perspective taking vs. imagine-self perspective taking. Imagine-others can be more helpful and less stressful. 
  • Two of Parker Palmer's Habits of the Heart that really resonate here: 
    • An understanding that we're all in this together.
    • An appreciation of the value of "otherness." 


Links Mentioned:

Full Transcript

Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at

Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons

Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek, so welcome to Joy Lab where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on our elements of joy, the positive inner states that become the building blocks for joyful life. So our element for this episode is love. And it's part of a five-part series we're doing.

This is the second one. Uh, it's not really necessary to go back to the first one, but it's a really good one. But you can listen to this one without going back. each of these skills really stand on their [00:01:00] own they're beneficial in their own, right. So the second skill is learning to see the innocence in others.

So can you define this one for us, Henry? Sure.

Henry: So big picture, this really gets to the heart of the illusion of separation. We're not as different from one another, as we think. No matter where we're from or how educated we are. We're really not that different. No matter the color of our skin or the religion we follow.

We're not really that different. You know, even our politics, which have become such a dividing point, don't change the fact that our being human means that we are so much more alike [00:02:00] than we are different. But this idea, this concept of seeing the innocence in others goes even deeper than that.

Not only do we have so much in common, but we are also profoundly connected with one another. So much more than we realize. So that's kind of the big picture, that we are not as separate as we think. But at a more practical level, seeing the innocence in others means really seeing them. No matter how they are acting in that moment, seeing their essence,

looking past their flaws. Even [00:03:00] when they do things that piss us off, try to see beyond their actions.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: It's okay to get mad, but try to see what is underlying their behavior. So this does not mean that their actions don't have consequences by the way. Or, that they should not be held to account. But you know, think about how you would respond, Aimee, to your four year old when she acts out, she might have consequences, but you don't conclude that she is a bad person.

You know, maybe she's angry. Or she needs something, but doesn't know how to ask for it. Maybe doesn't even really know that she needs it. And as adults, you know, we're not really that different. And at any given [00:04:00] time, I believe that people are doing the best that they can. It might not look like it.

But they are.

Aimee: I love that example. It holds for my dogs too. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt all day long. I know they're trying their best. Um, two quotes come up for me really, based on your illustration, Henry, they're both from sister Helen Prejean, an activist and a nun. And she's also the author of "Dead Man Walking."

The first is that "a person is more than the worst thing he has ever done." And the second quote is "I watch what I'm doing to see what I believe." So first, just imagine if the worst thing you've done was how everybody defined you. Right? I've done crappy things, just like everybody else has. That would be terrible.

But we often do that, I think. I know I have. Just that little sliver of an example of a behavior, and then I let that run my [00:05:00] definition for somebody and that second quote, I watch what I'm doing to see what I believe that reminds me how much of a winding journey it is from our beliefs to our actions.

And it's really common to hop on the wrong road and not even know it. You know, we wanna walk our talk. But it's really easy to get tripped up. It takes work, a lot of mindful self-acceptance like we talked about, uh, last episode to stay on the right path. That actually gets me thinking more about something that gets tricky here, I think, which is, thinking that we're seeing the innocence of others when we're actually just looking down on someone.

And I think it can be really easy to fall into that, to think that person or that group doesn't agree with me because they're too dumb. I'm totally boiling it down to the core thought there, but that's what we're thinking. I know I have. We believe that we've got the one and only answer. And those who don't agree are [00:06:00] missing something they're broken in some way.

They've been gaslit, they're uneducated, they're evil. We can jump to some pretty big conclusions. We got into this quite a bit in episode 16, when we talked about intellectual humility. And really how epically destructive, that type of thinking can be. And what's interesting is, you know, we feel sorry for them and it can feel like compassion or empathy, a bit. Like slippery little experience. But really,

I think we're just sort of inflating our own ego. You know, we're trying to build a new cult. Again, I'm absolutely speaking from experience, not from building a cult, but falling into this thinking. That, oh, I'm being compassionate or empathetic. But really I'm just trying to sort of build up my own ego.

So I think the key is here, you know, when we see the innocence of others, we really start to see, like you said, Henry, that we're all here. We're trying to do our best. And we all fail and we're all bad at stuff, but we're also [00:07:00] good at some other stuff. But with that, with sort of being open to seeing the innocence of others, we kind of have to see our own innocence too, I think.

Henry: Yes. You know, in our most recent podcast, we talked about why it's helpful to learn to love yourself first. Now, we're suggesting that you see the goodness in others. Which is really just kind of the flip side of the same coin.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: So your point about not looking down on others, I think is a really good reminder that how we look at others is also how we look at ourselves. And vice versa just goes both ways.

So. Let's suspend judgment on others and also suspend judgment on ourselves. It's hard sometimes to see the goodness in others [00:08:00] when they're acting like jerks.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: But if we can hold off from judging them, for even a moment, we might create an opening in ourselves. So we don't have to accept their actions,

we don't even have to agree with their point of view, we just want to create a little opening in the barriers that exist between us. Those barriers are artificial, anyway, we created them. They only stay if we get locked in to our way of thinking. Judging or reinforcing this message that there is something wrong with them,

Aimee: Right. There's, there's something that's helped me here. And I, um, it's kinda like an overly complex [00:09:00] psychological construct of study, but in reality, it's one of those like slaps on the faces of obviousness, but it's called theory of mind. So theory of mind is really the reminder that our beliefs about what people are thinking are just that; theories.

When we really have no idea what people are thinking, what their intentions are. You know, we can make a best guess, but it comes through a lens that is created with bias and fear, and yearning, and love and all this other stuff, that's part of our experience. And then we smash it together to tell ourselves a story about what the other person must be thinking.

And kind of, when you think about it, it's sort of hilarious, we go through this whole process and most often stress ourselves out about it. We take things personal or make unfair conclusions. And I'm coming back again to Helen Prejean's words here: "I watch what I'm doing to see what I believe."

And I think that makes sense for us, right? [00:10:00] It takes some work. We can do something, we can behave in some way, and then we can assess everything that led up to it, everything around it, how we may have gotten tripped up. Much of the mindful self-acceptance work we talked about last episode, we can connect our dots.

But it's really hard to do that for someone else. To do sort of that audit. I can't watch you and see what you believe. I really wanna think I can. But really all I can do is make some theories. I really don't know. So making firm conclusions about what someone else is thinking is like shaky at best,

Henry: Right.

So one way that we can infer what's going on in the mind of another is that we know what's going on in our own mind. So in other words, we know firsthand how complex the mind is. And just how easy it is to get knocked off [00:11:00] balance. So we know from our own experience that we can easily be overtaken by our thinking.

We can be driven by these unconscious impulses and we can act badly, simply because we're feeling bad. You know, I think in a way, this is another way of talking about the golden rule. We forget that the golden rule, treating others as we would like to be treated, it's not just good for others, it is really good for us. Living this way makes us happier,

makes us better people. It reminds us to be a little more forgiving. So seeing the innocence in [00:12:00] others, seeing their essential goodness, actually does more good for us than it does for them.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: Because you know, it just feels a whole lot better to not be carrying around all these judgements and resentments.

Aimee: Yeah. Those are heavy, right? so to shake 'em loose. There's actually kind of a simple, but powerful strategy to do this, that I really like, to see the innocence of others. And it's a bit different than I think folks might guess. And it's to imagine others, but while staying in your own shoes. So this can be really helpful strategy to start to practice this, this seeing the innocence in others.

So I'll explain it here. Um, there's actually a really interesting study that looked at the differences in what's called "imagine others' perspective taking" and [00:13:00] "imagine self perspective taking." I know these sound annoyingly similar, but the difference is really big here. So with imagine self perspective, it's the usual put yourself in someone else's shoes, right?

You imagine that you yourself are experiencing what that other person is experiencing. Now with imagine other perspective, we're imagining what they are experiencing, but we're not putting ourselves in their shoes. We're trying to understand more about their own experience. And interestingly, when people take the imagined self perspective and imagine themselves in someone else's shoes, it can lead to more stress for that person,

the person who's engaging in that exercise, that's putting themselves in the other person's shoes. And most of us are familiar with what happens when stress hits, we often go into fight, flight, or bite or freeze, right? So as we're trying to imagine ourselves in their [00:14:00] shoes, the stress surges, and we kind of shut down.

Which shuts down empathy, which then shuts down action taking, wise action taking, or helping behaviors. We kinda lose the motivation to care for them. So it's this really interesting, subtle shift. So when we imagine others' perspective, just trying to understand what they're going through, it allows us to gain a little bit of distance from the stressor, from the context that we're trying to imagine, and then we can stay out of the stress response

and empathy can actually increase. Helping behaviors then increase. I just find this fascinating, just that little shift and it really makes sense too. You know, just talking about the divisions you noted earlier, Henry, I mean, How often have I said, God, if I was in their situation, I would be doing this and that sort of inflating my own good decision making.

And it's easy to pretend that I'd do better, that we do better because we [00:15:00] don't wanna feel uncomfortable with how we might respond in a similar way or in a way that might be ideal or to be, you know, burdened by the stressors that that individual might be actually burdened by. But when you try to imagine someone else dealing with their own set of circumstances, you can more easily see, yeah, I get it. Or, geez, that's hard. So I love the suggestion from this study that was directed to speaking with kids, but it works for us adults too. And it was this, the authors noted, instead of saying, "how would you feel if that were done to you?" We could instead say, "think about how that person is feeling."

Henry: Yeah. I, I like that exercise.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: I, I think it reinforces this idea that we're just not really so separate from each other.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: So one of my role models is the [00:16:00] author and educator Parker Palmer. And in 2011, he published a book called "Healing, the Heart of Democracy." I can't help, but note that this came out 11 years ago, and yet in so many ways, it's addressing the deep political divisions that we're seeing so rampant today.

So in this book, he identifies five core principles that he calls "habits of the heart." Parker believes that these are essential to democracy. And I think they're also keys to a joyful life. So I'm not gonna go through all of them right now, but I wanna mention a couple because I think they're really related to this topic.

So his first habit of the heart is this: [00:17:00] an understanding that we are all in this together. Just think about that and understanding that we are all in this together. He talks about the illusions of individualism and national superiority and points out this obvious fact about how interconnected we all are actually.

So we are interconnected not only within our own borders, but globally and indeed with all other species. So Parker writes, we must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent on and accountable to one another, and that includes [00:18:00] the stranger. So the second habit of the heart is this: an appreciation of the value of otherness.

He's acknowledging that while we're all in this together, we spend most of our lives in one sort of tribe or another really. We kind of divide ourselves up and gather together with like-minded people or similarly-educated people or what have you. And one way the human mind tricks us is to believe that this is all about us versus them.

And does that ever resonate right now? So Parker suggests that inviting strangers into our lives makes our lives better, [00:19:00] more expansive. It can make us greater than we were before. So, you know, let's be honest, we do see and feel divisions among people. We have been training in that for most of our lives.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: But it has gotten to the point that most of us are rightly concerned about this sense of division. You know, we are feeling it at a really deep level right now, and we are not gonna be able to change this overnight, but I think Parker's suggestion to appreciate the value in otherness, just like our suggestion to see the innocence in others,

is a really good place to start. Refusing to listen to one another is not [00:20:00] working. Judging one another is not working. It doesn't make us feel good either.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: So maybe it's time to create an invitation rather than building more walls. Maybe it's time to suspend judgment. Judgment of ourselves and others both.

And let's just see what happens.

Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit Joy Lab dot coach to subscribe for your monthly infusion of joy, and to learn more about the full Joy Lab program, be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.


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