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Resident Vs Visitor Mindset

A few weeks ago, I found myself getting quite irritated with the residents in my colony. They have this tendency to ignore the sidewalks and use the road for walking, usually the centre of the road, with an almost proprietary arrogance in their manner. It struck me a little later, that were I in another city or country, anger or irritation wasn’t likely to be have been my first reaction.

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Instead, I would have looked upon their behavior with professional curiosity. There would be a note, mental or written, detailing my observations of their behavior, questions jotted down, querying cultural factors, local customs and individual attitudes that led the behavior I was observing.

Then why, I wondered, did similar behavior inspire irritation in the place, city or country of my residence, instead of curiosity? That set me thinking.

Going by the notion of familiarity breeding contempt, was it possible I felt contempt for those in my colony, due to their notional proximity? If so, what were the input parameters for contempt? How was contempt generated?

From a biological standpoint, research indicates that the process of generating contempt from a state of familiarity, might well be one that is governed by neurons and neurotransmitters, specifically related to dopamine.​1​

A psychological perspective is however likely to resonate far more with us. As it turns out, we tend to favor ambiguity , which leads to our finding multiple points of similarity, usually based on extrapolated or assumed evidence. This then leads to our liking the person in question. Later, as we get to know the person better, we may find concrete facts pointing to a lack of similarity or perhaps a dissonance in values, which may then lead to the creation of contempt. ​2​

Most relationships begin with a visitor mindset, and end as residents.

From another psychological perspective, it may be, that contempt begins to form as an outcome of feeling neglected, uncared for, unloved and perhaps disrespected. The root may be the perception of devaluation or the feeling of being dishonored by the other.​3​

Regardless, let us return to the resident versus visitor mindset.

As residents, we are not only familiar with other residents, but also, over time, tend to begin harboring expectations. As we would agree without doubt, expectations are rarely met one hundred percent of the time, and when our expectations aren’t met, we tend to be disappointed, and feel sorrow, as stated by that very famous statement, “Expectations are the source of all sorrow”. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say, that the disappointment and sorrow felt in this context, could well contribute to the input factors for the creation of contempt, i.e. a feeling of being devalued, dishonored and unloved, thus further contributing to the downward spiral in our relationship with other residents.

A resident mindset therefore, is prone to the twin phenomena of expectations combined with contempt, leading to and stemming from a devaluation of, expectations from and dishonor towards fellow residents of that space. A visitor mindset on the other hand, is refreshing, curious, respectful and more along the same lines. You see where I’m going with this?

Were I a visitor in my own colony, instead of being irritated, about jaywalking, I’d make observations and ask questions, choosing to experience and observe instead of analyzing and judging.

Remember, the scope here could be a couple or indeed an entire country. When we begin most relationships, including romantic, professional and others, we’re usually in a visitor mindset. We’re respectful of the other person’s sensibilities and wishes, and try to learn more about the person. We usually like being around and exploring the many dimensions of other party, when we’re in a visitor mindset. Later, as we move into a resident mindset, we begin to develop expectations, our assumptions increase, we develop a tendency take the other party for granted or expect them to ‘understand’, we favor other new (visitor) relationships over this existing (resident) one.

Accepting the fact that everything is temporary, causes expectations to be grounded, after which we are likely to shun the fear of the future and live in the moment, thus maintaining a visitor mindset.

Renu Handa, Transformational Psychologist

Apart from the negativity that accompanies a resident mindset, also consider the many lost opportunities for learning more about your fellow residents, our environments and perhaps even, a little more about ourselves.

While it is undoubtedly a pipe dream, imagine the learning, respect and exchange that a widespread visitor mindset would bring about, instead of the judgement, hostility, suspicion and criticism that we as residents usually end up giving and receiving.

More than two decades ago, I learnt the following maxim in a training program – “The key to long term relationships is exceeding expectations in every moment of truth”. To this, I’ll add, “And retain a visitor mindset as long as possible.”

  1. 1.
    Mann K, Clandinin TR. How Does Familiarity Breed Contempt? Cell. Published online May 2017:775-776. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.007
  2. 2.
    Norton MI, Frost JH, Ariely D. Less is more: The lure of ambiguity, or why familiarity breeds contempt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 2007:97-105. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.1.97
  3. 3.
    Schwartz M. Does Familiarity Breed Contempt? Psychology Today. Published October 24, 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/shift-mind/201010/does-familiarity-breed-contempt

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