That goddamn mug

I find myself often having to explain to people how our reaction to certain events or actions depends a lot on the existing context where we were relating to someone, and while it's imperfect, there's an analogy I often use to do that job.

Imagine a mug that's left on a coffee table. If you're on good terms with your roommate, then it's no big deal — "don't sweat it, I've got it!" But if you're not feeling like you're on the same page, then that one dirty mug left out on the table is proof of their fundamental disrespect for the shared space, and for you as a person. The mug is the physical manifestation of their contempt, and of the lack of shared values.

The question is whether our reactions are primed by the prior context that existed when we were entering the situation, and the test is if we can be empathetic enough, and detatched enough, to evaluate the action on its own merits.