One of the concepts that I have shared with folks over the years is that of people being consistent. Often, people will present new events as utterly unbelievable about someone in their life. “Can you believe that this person said or did____?” is often the beginning of recounting any given incident. And if you have listened to a few of these stories, you may have come to the same conclusion I have – these are not unbelievable – they are consistent. Let me share an example from my own life with a story about my father.
My father was an abusive man, and when my parents were divorced in grade school, he became an absent father. When my own children were 11 and 2 years of age, we went on a trip to Colorado. I knew my father was living in Laughlin at the time and thought this might be the only chance for them to meet him. Since neither one of my daughters had ever met their grandfather, I thought it was worth a shot. I called and planned for when we would be passing through. He told us that he would meet us at our room in a local hotel no later than 11am.
On the morning of our scheduled meeting, we waited in our room as time passed and the kids grew hungrier and more restless. At 12:30, he finally showed up at the door. He shared that he had won a two-hundred-dollar jackpot and had to wait to get paid. We proceeded down to the brunch in the hotel where we met his current wife. When my father jumped to the front of our group, I thought that it was kind of him to pay for our meal after the wait and new winnings.
As we progressed through the turnstile, it became clear that he did not pay for our meal and just wanted to eat first. Unbelievable!? To be honest, it was wonderfully consistent behavior. I was in the second group to get food and was chatting with his wife. She asked if my father had changed much. I paused and said, “No, he just looks older.”
The unbelievable acts of others are often just more examples of their consistent behavior. When we frame it as consistent behavior, it can be experienced as less emotional. We see their actions as more data about consistent behavior and therefore less of a trigger that derails us. The unbelievable would have been generous behavior on my father’s part. Instead, he just looked older being consistent.