Choosing to believe the best about people is an important part of my spiritual discipline. I work hard to refrain from judging other people, even when they are making it very, very hard to not judge them.
I have come to realize that judgment is not really my job. The more I seek out the good in each person, the more good I find. I don’t mind if others find this attitude Pollyannaish. I am not blind to the shallow, cruel, thoughtless, selfish, and just plain mean actions of others — I simply choose to look past them.
I find it relaxing to concentrate on how alike we all are, and how much we are like our ancestors. I enjoy imagining families thousands of years ago in faraway lands having dinner together: the uncle who tells bawdy jokes, the teenager who feels misunderstood, the glimmer in the eye of the young woman who’s just fallen in love for the second time. Can’t you picture them now? I find our homogeneity endearing.
Getting Past The Tendency to Criticize Others
Focusing on our sameness has also helped me get past an unfortunate tendency to want to criticize others. I’m a pretty tolerant person, but occasionally I find myself thinking, “Nope. You are just not allowed to be like that.”
I get grouchy around people who have a daddy’s-little-princess attitude, and I deplore willful ignorance. Teasing gets my hackles up, especially when grownups tease children, and I get annoyed whenever people appear cynical and bored by the world. So now, whenever I see someone of whom I disapprove, I think: “There I am.”
A group of rowdy boys being obnoxious: there I am. Someone who is life-threateningly overweight: there I am. An extremely beautiful, elegantly dressed person: there I am. An exasperated mother at the supermarket: there I am. Her whining child: there I am.
There We Are
I think it’s funny that we feel like other people are different from us, because clearly we’re exactly the same. If you took all of humanity, stripped us naked, put us on the universe’s biggest football field, took two steps back, and squinted a bit, you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart.
You would not be able to see any difference between the shortest person and the tallest person. You would not be able to tell the difference between men and women. You would not be able to detect the very slight degrees of change in skin tone, weight, or age that we see as so dramatic. Basically, we’re identical. When I remember that, it’s easier for me to look at someone with whom I disagree and remember how much we have in common.
We all want the same things. Everybody wants to be loved and appreciated. Everybody wants to feel like their work matters. Everybody wants to raise beautiful children and eat food and laugh and tell good stories and get a good night’s sleep. When I remember that, it’s easier for me to feel compassion for the people who upset me.
So Here We All Are
We look exactly alike, we want exactly the same things, and we communicate in very much the same ways. Most human communication is nonverbal, and many of our gestures and postures transcend both time and culture.
People have always covered their mouths when laughing. People have always tightened up when being reprimanded. People have always glowered when they’re angry and cooed and clucked to entertain babies.
We share the same physical language. (Desmond Morris’s 1977 book Manwatching is, I believe, out of print and a bit dated, but still makes for fascinating reading with wonderful, evocative photographs.) When I watch people blush, scowl, grin, cry, or hug in the way that people always have, it’s easier for me to remember that we are all one family.
Focusing on Our Differences?
We do insist, however, on making a big deal about the minor differences that remain. He’s a Democrat. She’s French. He’s a vegan. She’s rich. Black. White. Pacific Islander. New Yorker. Queer. Decaf mocha latte with no foam. Like it matters.
I remember reading somewhere once that if aliens came to Earth, they would be surprised not by how violent we are, but how peaceable. It’s unusual that mammals as large as we are can live — indeed, seek to live — at such close quarters. Chimpanzees need almost one hundred square yards for their “natural home range” and spend their days in subgroups with just eight to ten adults.
But we humans love to crowd ourselves into dining rooms, shopping malls, apartment buildings, and stadiums. When I think that most of the time we humans interact calmly, even in large groups, it is easier for me to see acts of violence and destruction as anomalies rather than evidence of our baseness.
Adapting To The New Normal?
I know, too, that personal identity is not nearly as fixed as we like to tell ourselves it is. Being adaptable is one of our best survival mechanisms. We adjust almost immediately to things that, before we do them, seem impossible. Even the most extreme situations can become the “new normal” in a shockingly short time.
Disaster workers adapt to horrible sights and smells, prisoners adjust to the rules and hierarchies of jail time, and if you’re among the nearly 80 percent of adults who become parents, you know how quickly a person can get used to the life-upending effect of a new baby in the house. Heck, I bet some of you have even gotten used to the horrors of sitting in an office chair all day.
You may say that you hate change, but change sure loves you. When I remember how swiftly we can change our behavior based on circumstance, it’s easier for me to understand how crowds can get disorderly, how bureaucrats can forget how to laugh, and how peer pressure can trigger cruel words and inconsiderate actions.
You're Still One Of A Kind
So I see all of these similarities in people, and yet I also notice that you, my dear, are completely one of a kind, and your special combination of qualities is baked in. No one sees the world quite the way you do, and no one processes information in quite the same way you do. And once you are gone, your particular brand of youness will never come again.
This is why it is so important for you to do the work that only you can do while you are still here to do it. When I remember that your body and your personality are irreproducible and that your time here is fleeting, it is easy for me to cherish you. I see your uniqueness, and I think, “There I am.”
There I Am
The minute I think, “There I am,” I feel myself melt. I am jolted out of my superiority complex and into the memory of our oneness. I see my sisters and brothers, and how frail and flawed we all are. I feel the Net. I see my mirror.
LITTLE CHANGES ACTION STEP: Think of a person of whom you disapprove and list five ways in which you two are exactly the same. Let the divinity within you acknowledge the divinity within them. Namasté.
©2016 by Samantha Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists
by Sam Bennett.
About the Author
Sam Bennett is the creator of the Organized Artist Company. In addition to her multifaceted writing and performance work, she specializes in personal branding, career strategies, and small-business marketing. She grew up in Chicago and now lives in a tiny beach town outside Los Angeles. Sam offers her revolutionary Get It Done Workshops, teleclasses, public speaking engagements and private consulting to overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.
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