I had this quotation made into a poster many years ago; it hung in my classroom along with a lot of others. I have no idea who said it first. Some people attribute it to Wayne Dyer, others to the author of a book with that title. I don’t think it was either of them, but the thing is, if it’s the truth it doesn’t matter who said it, it’s still the truth.
When you first read or hear this statement, it sounds sort of like an in-your-face, “You don’t like it – tough!” sort of statement. But in actuality, it is a deep assertion of the awareness that another’s perceptions do not constitute or determine our own self-worth. And that our perceptions, the only ones we can judge by, do not necessarily see the whole truth about another person or situation.
I would explain this quotation to my students. “If on the first day you meet me, not knowing me at all, and I remind you of your Aunt Effie, whom you hate, there is nothing I can do about it. You can hate me, or you can find out who I am, and then realize I’m not like your Aunt Effie. The second way is easier.”
When I was very young – probably about 6 or 7, I remember wondering whether, if I liked lime jello and my friend didn’t, was it because she and I tasted the same thing, and she didn’t like the taste and I did, or was it because we tasted different things? We can’t ever know. And we can’t ever know what aspects of a person’s experience and current mood and life situation form his decisions regarding who or what has value. We never really see through another’s eyes, through his mind, or heart. We can only judge by what we see, feel, or perceive.
I used to think that whenever I encountered someone who seemed angry or upset, that there was something wrong with me, or that I was in some way the cause of their displeasure. I also remember the exact moment when the light dawned, and my whole viewpoint changed. I was walking up the stairs in a school I attended at night, and my friend’s husband, a teacher whom I was friendly with, was coming down the stairs. I said, “Hi, Mel.” Mel just kept on walking, head down, ignoring my greeting.
My first thought was, “He must be having a rough time tonight.” And then I stopped in the middle of the stairs and experienced a startling recognition – that what was happening in his universe had nothing to do with me. This was a revelation. It changed my life, because suddenly I knew that all my self-centered ideas about what people thought about me were just that – self-centered notions focused on what people thought of me, not what was actually going on for them. It’s significant that much of the time I assumed they were thinking negative thoughts. Which reflected back on…uh…me, and what I thought of myself.
So – as I said, this was life-changing. I started to see other people more clearly, to notice when they were stressed or unhappy, and I was able to be a better friend, because I wasn’t thinking about what people were thinking about me. And I also realized that what is most important is to be true to myself, to my values, ideals and ethics, and then I don’t have to worry about anyone’s opinion.
If someone doesn’t like me, or is having trouble being around me, and a work situation or life situation is being affected, I can sit down with the person and listen to what they are experiencing, without feeling at all threatened. Sometimes just listening, and saying “thanks for telling me,” without defending myself, is really, really helpful. (I have done this, and usually it changed the relationship, if not to one of close friendship, at least to one of acceptance.)
I cannot be what others want in order to make them comfortable. I can only try to live my life as consciously as possible, being present and being accepting of others. I know that if I have a problem with someone, part of the problem always resides with me; I’m responsible for my half of the equation in any relationship. As for me – I can be what I wish myself to be; it just takes work!
I’m writing about this because I realized the other day how many people I encounter in a given day, and how much I find I like most of them. When I meet someone who seems curmudgeonly or unkind, I figure they’re having a bad day. I smile, and if they can’t reciprocate, at least someone thought they were worthy of a smile.
Great article and so true. I had the same aha moment when I was having dinner with a couple and a male friend of theirs. He barely paid attention to me and I was uncomfortable thinking he didn’t like me, when I realized he was terribly shy. I treated him differently and he thawed!
I wonder how many others have had this exact experience! We give ourselves such negative feedback about the possibilities of someone else’s ideas about us that we don’t really look at them clearly, or even wait to find out how they really feel.
Well said! I always look forward to your blogs.
Thanks, Joyce! I appreciate the feedback. Keep reading!
Davina: Your words are so in concert with the tenets of Ncherin Buddhsm. I have come to realize that all wisdom and compassion is one in the universe- to all religions and philosophies at their base. It is only the folly of a man over the centuries that have prostituted that goodness.
Keeping your good health in my prayers,
How right you are! Religious and spiritual beliefs do seem to have been distorted to suit the desires of a few power hungry people. The results have been disastrous, but I have a feeling we are on the road back…
Just finished reading your current blog and IT is written succinctly and simply.
Basically, I am a firm believer of the theme of your blog too; as I can only be
responsible and accountable for myself.
Personally, I always try and adhere to the GOLDEN-RULE:
DO UNTO OTHERS, AS THEY WOULD DO UNTO YOU.
If my efforts are not to the liking of others; that is their choice and decision to
react to whatever way their EGO manifests.
As human beings on this planet, if WE were all as nice, polite, and congenial to
one another as YOU are to me, living on this EARTH would just be that much more
Yes, we do need to remember the Golden Rule, and if we could actually practice it all the time, the problems of the world would vanish…
Hello Davina, I loved reading your post. I too practice the Golden rule – the way I remember it is “Treat others as you would want to be treated” – or in the old fashioned language, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I also practice Lovingkindness and wish all beings well. It is a challenge sometimes to refrain from taking things personally. I loved your insights about just listening and being present with people. Thank you for speaking your truth. Much love, Becca
Yes, it is easy to love those people we like, but the challenges are what make us stronger! So we have to always consider that when we treat others as we wish to be treated, then we have to look first at what we understand about ourselves, and then try to give that understanding to the person who is making us grit our teeth, so to speak, and give every possible kindness.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”. I remind myself of this whenever I have felt bruised. Unfortunately I didn’t understand this until I was forty.
Yes, and most of us still have to continue to learn it! It takes vigilance and practice…