I find myself in philosophical mood this morning. I am pondering how we relate to other individuals and how we think about the world. I have an old friend [a fellow Brit, who has lived in California for many years, which might explain his perspective on the world] who, from time to time, will don a sagely expression and say “I think thinking is very important.” I believe he is right, but what I want to muse upon is thinking about people …
A baby has a very simple view of life: “me, me, me.” They are totally self-centered and are only interested in their own simple needs: they are hungry, need a change of diaper or are unhappy or in pain and need comfort. It may be argued that some people never really grow out of this mindset, but most of us spend a lot of our childhood learning empathy – putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
It is often said that a solid, basic guideline to leading a good life is the Golden Rule: “do as you would be done by” – treat others as you would hope to be treated yourself. For the most part, this is good guidance. I am not in the habit of punching other people, as I dislike being punched myself. I endeavor to be honest and truthful, as I value these attributes in others.
But this does not always work. For example, if I meet someone new, my natural response is probably to shake hands with them. Most of the time this is fine, but, if I greeted a Muslim woman in this way, it would probably be a most unwelcome gesture. Similarly, if someone had an injured right hand, my grabbing it might cause them considerable pain, which is not a good first impression.
So, the next stage in maturity of thought is an appreciation of diversity. Not everyone thinks the same as you [or I] do and that must be understood, respected and accommodated. If you have a way of doing something, it may be entirely valid, but it is not likely be the “right way” in an absolute sense. Frankly, I have struggled with this as I have gotten older, but increasingly I value the variability I find among people I encounter and love having friends from a variety of backgrounds and a wide age range. I have a favorite prayer [even though I do not do religion, I find it inspiring], which includes the following lines:
“Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.
“And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.”
I hope that I am guided by these wise words in my everyday life.
Remember, the Golden Rule is a good starting point for making your way in the world, but be cautious, as it is also the root of all prejudice.