A few years ago Lissy and I put up a quote on the wall in the basement: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Often mis-attributed to Plato, it can be traced back to Ian MacLaren, as outlined in this post on Quote Investigator.)
Maybe surprisingly, it’s something I’m reminded of when I talk about joy. “And somewhere along the line it dawned on me that it’s not about figuring it all out so I can finally, from that moment on, live a happy life. This process IS a well-lived life.” (from Unschooling Grows Far Beyond “Not School”) Bad things happen. In my life, and in everyone else’s lives too. That is life; it’s not stuff that gets in the way of life.
The idea that everyone has a story is something my children and I have discovered over the years as we’ve talked about other people’s thoughts and perspectives, and how they came to think that way. People are pretty fascinating.
Like a couple weeks ago, I was chatting with a mom at the dojo when she commented that I’m there a lot, with a tone that implied she felt sorry for my circumstances (which nowadays is often followed by “I bet you can’t wait until he drives himself.” I’m fine, thanks.) In this instance, I replied that I didn’t mind, that I enjoyed my time hanging out there. And her reply was, “Oh yeah, you homeschool, it’s a good thing that he comes here then or else he’d end up weird.”
Hmm. There is a lot wrapped up in there.
I could have reacted defensively, or felt judged. I think I let out a short giggle. For me it was a “wow, that came out of left field,” kind of reaction. Yet in those couple of seconds I realized that from her perspective, she probably felt like she was paying me a compliment: Your son’s not weird!
Think of her journey for a moment. Her conclusions are drawn from her experiences. And those aren’t “wrong”—she lived them, they are hers. Happily, we are another experience she can now add to her pool of memories tagged “homeschoolers.” And though her experiences with Michael have meant she doesn’t tag him as “weird,” that’s not to say she wouldn’t tag my other children that way. On the other hand, even if she would, they might be fine with it because maybe some of what she’d tag as “weird” they might tag as something else, like “creative” or “self-care.”
The experience was another reminder that other people’s opinions often say more about their experiences and understanding of the world—their perspective—than they say about me. And that’s such a helpful way to look at it: it’s not about me.
We can both happily exist in the same universe. We are each on our own journey, continuing to amass experiences and learn from them. Our differences are most often a matter of perspective. I can choose to be considerate rather than judgmental.
So when I’m checking in, I ask myself, have I been feeling judgmental of those around me? If so, I remind myself that I don’t intimately know the life experiences, and maybe the battles, that have led them to hold the perspective they do today. So instead I can be considerate. I can be kind.
And even more fun, if they’re open to conversation, I might be able to add some new perspective to their understanding of the world. And they to mine. 🙂