People. They’re the worst, aren’t they?
They cut us off in traffic. They slow us down in the checkout lane. They have the unbelievable gall to hold political beliefs that are different than ours. If it wasn’t for them, this might be a pretty decent world.
Except … to them, we’re them.
See what I mean? We’re so wrapped up in our own lives, we can’t spare a thought for anyone else. Those people who are pissing us off all day? They have lives, too.
When did we lose the ability to empathize? To put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes? To realize that they’re not out to get us … they’re just trying to make it through the day. Like us.
As Brene Brown writes, “We’re all doing the best we can.”
Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has also written three No. 1 New York Times best-sellers, the most recent of which — Rising Strong — resonated with me more than any book has in a long time.
That realization — that we’re all doing the best we can — is an important one. When we start seeing the world through that lens, we start embracing empathy and compassion. We start becoming nicer. If we can do that, the people we encounter each day might do that as well.
In Rising Strong, Brown tells the story of Jean Kantambu Latting, a professor in Brown’s master’s and doctoral program and an instructor in leadership and organizational development. “Whenever someone would bring up a conflict with a colleague,” Brown writes, “she would ask, ‘What is the hypothesis of generosity? What is the most generous assumption you can make about this person’s intentions or what this person said?’
“As I started working from the new intention that people are doing their best, I remembered Jean’s question and started applying it to my life,” Brown adds. “If someone sent me a curt e-mail, I would try to generously hypothesize that he was having a crappy day, or that he’s not a great e-mail communicator, or that maybe his actual tone didn’t translate over e-mail. Whatever the case, it wasn’t about me.”
We need barriers, of course. As Brown writes, “Generosity is not a free pass for people to take advantage of us, treat us unfairly, or be purposefully disrespectful and mean.”
But it is a great starting point, a place where we can unload our anger and start seeing things in a kinder light. When we start doing that, we start feeling … great. When we approach every interaction thinking the best of people instead of the worst? What a liberating, almost joyful feeling.
Try it a few times. You’ll start to get hungry for it.
That’s when we’ll start changing the world.
(P.S.: This applies to politics and politicians, too. All of them — every single one — is doing the best he or she can. Keep that in mind as 2016 approaches. It might just make all of this campaign nonsense a little easier to bear.)