I developed a mantra during my sophomore year of college that has helped shape my view of the world socially, professionally, and philosophically. It goes like this: “people behave rationally within their own realities.” I came up with this not-so-revolutionary phrase as a result of being involved in a schizophrenia research lab. Being in an environment that closely examined the etiology and experience of schizophrenia altered my idea of how we explain reality to one another.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and debilitating mental illness that is incredibly disabling and widely misunderstood. While we have medication that can help treat symptoms, once someone develops the disorder, they enter into a lifelong battle of how to manage it. One thing that was important for me was understanding why people with schizophrenia often behave in ways that seem strange to other people: not getting out of bed for days, not leaving their house, mistrusting lifelong friends, family members, spouses. And it all appears to occur “out of nowhere” often around the ages of 18-24. When I began to delve into both qualitative and quantitative research, I was exposed to more of what it is actually like to live with schizophrenia, and all of a sudden, these strange behaviors started making sense in context of the thoughts that lead to them.
Would you trust your best friend if you were 100% convinced she was plotting against you? Would you leave your bed if you felt that you were not in control of your own behavior? Would you feel comfortable walking down the street if it appeared that everyone you walked passed was staring at you?
It occurred to me that there was something biological altering what these people believed to be reality. So, within that altered reality, they behave rationally.
I use this example because this mantra has helped me navigate any kind of stressful interpersonal situation possible from family, friends, colleagues, to strangers. And every where in between. I also think its important to understand in the context of fitness and nutrition. If someone’s world tells them that health means monitoring only their mental health, that that is health to them, then that’s what health is to them. You can’t argue with that. If someone’s world tells them that obsessively counting calories and not nourishing themselves all for the goal of maintaining a certain physique, then that’s what health is to them. It’s honestly crazy how passionate and almost enraged people become when their paradigm of health is challenged. But, when you consider how much people attach it to their sense of belonging and perhaps even their own identity, it starts to make sense.
So my charge is two things: 1) welcome people into your world. You might have come across things that they aren’t aware of that is helpful for them. 2) However, you might learn something from them that works best for your body. So before you immediately question the validity of another person’s lifestyle, maybe do something as simple as asking them why they do it or where they learned about it.
I figure we might as well open ourselves up to another person’s world at the risk of missing something that could have been a game changer.