Confucius said, “Don’t do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.” That’s a little twist to the old familiar saying, but I am trying to make a point that should become clear as you read along.
I recently attended an Enumclaw City Council meeting. Afterward, I had a talk with my editor and with some city officials. Those conversations came as a shock to me. I haven’t been on the council for more than three years and my conversations with them brought me back to the reality of how much of that world I’m no longer in contact with.
That got me thinking about all of us. We all live in our own worlds and we are absorbed with our own thoughts and issues. It’s a rude awakening and very humbling to listen to someone else’s world and realize how egocentric we all are.
There are lessons we can gain from such reflections.
I had a teacher colleague apologize to me about leaving the tables in our commonly shared classroom in disarray. He had called me the day before to apologize that he had been called out of class for an important meeting and did not have the time to rearrange things. To me it wasn’t a big issue, but to my colleague it was really important.
He told me that when he taught in a middle school years before, a teacher who shared the classroom came into the room, saw some items were out of place and threw a fit. My colleague was deeply affected by the experience and transferred those feelings of guilt to me. He thought I might react in the same way the other teacher did.
All of us have had experiences like my colleague. We all emotionally transfer feelings based upon one historical instance to another situation that has parallels. The problem is that we make decisions about future interactions based upon that painful experience, without thinking about the context of the other person’s actions.
Understanding the perspective of another person is probably one of the toughest things there is to do.
Years ago, I was involved in a hiring interview with my principal as the lead. She rejected one candidate simply because that woman’s voice, looks and mannerisms reminded her of a teacher she had trouble with in her past. She said as much. It didn’t matter that the teacher being interviewed was a different person. What mattered was that there was enough of a parallel to reject that person outright.
Both my colleague’s fears and my principal’s decisions came as a result of previous bad experiences. Unless we reflect and work to see the incident from a more objective perspective we all tend to fall into the same trap. We need to ask ourselves why a person acted the way she did – to see the world through that person’s eyes. Reflecting on others’ actions requires that we give them enough grace and right intentions as we give to ourselves when we do things others react strongly to.
It’s human to project our experiences unto others. We all live in our own worlds and it’s a shock to our systems to listen to another’s story and understand their world through their experience.
Being humble, not jumping to conclusions and giving the offending party the benefit of the doubt is the most effective way to, “Don’t do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.”
Easy to say, hard to do.