The most important (and hardest) lesson I've ever had to learn is to treat other people the way I'd like to be treated if I were in their shoes (Lesson Learned 1.0). To be perfectly honest, dear reader, I still haven't quite got this one down pat yet.
Ironically, this is the lesson that, throughout history, we have been trying (without much success) to bang into one another's thick skulls. It's the Golden Rule. Jesus' New Commandment. And yet... somehow, we never quite manage to understand all the various permutations of this lesson.
It still applies when I'm having a bad day.
It still applies when they're having a bad day and are taking it out on me.
It still applies to people I don't particularly like or I think are particularly stupid.
It always applies. Although sometimes, I really wish it didn't.
It's easy to treat people like us the way that we'd like to be treated, because we can put ourselves very easily in their shoes. But for people who are different than us - a different race, a different socioeconomic group, with different political views - well, their shoes don't necessarily fit. They pinch at funny spots, they give you blisters, they gape and leak and let in sand.
So we don't necessarily always want to try. Why would anyone in their right mind put themselves in the shoes of the overweight old man at work (whose children are all grown up and moved away, and whose wife is sick) who just seems to want to block your project with asinine objections? Who'd want to put themselves in the shoes of the bitchy girl behind the counter of your local cafe (who's just been yelled at for ten solid minutes by a less friendly customer) who rolls her eyes at you when you order a skinny latte?
Empathising's time consuming and difficult. It's exhausting. It involves a lot of listening. And the more different someone is from us, the harder it is to empathise. So sometimes, we don't bother trying.
And this brings me on to the other lesson that I've found very, very difficult to learn - but is really a subsection of Lesson Learned 1.0 - everyone's human. And humans are fallible (Lesson Learned 1.1).
I've learned both these lessons more times than I'd care to admit, in more ways than I'd care to admit. Yet life keeps finding a way of trying to shove these lessons down my throat - and each time it happens, it gets more painful.
Life's a real pain like that.
So how do I keep learning this lesson? I try and make myself stop and think about why people act the way they do. It doesn't always stop me from wanting to slap their silly faces, and I don't always manage to do it in the heat of the moment. But I'm human, and therefore fallible, and so I try and forgive myself and do better next time. Try, of course, is the operative word.
xx - S