You’d like Michelle a lot. Most people do. She’s the kind of person who listens when you talk, who smiles often, and who says things that make the people around her smile. She’s incredibly intelligent, but in a way that makes others feel comfortable. It’s the way she expresses herself in simple terms you can understand — almost like she’s articulating the thoughts you already have in your head, but haven’t quite found the right words to say aloud.
And it doesn’t matter who you are either. Michelle always has a way of relating to you. Because, in a way, she’s been there with you all along. She can think like you, so she understands you. It’s truly a special gift. So many of us have limitations in our perceptions. We understand the soldiers but not the politics governing the wars. We understand the people who go to the movies but not the ones who attend to sensationalism and tabloid news. But somehow Michelle gets all of us. Again, it’s her gift.
If she hasn’t actually experienced what you’re talking about, she’ll be honest about it, but she’ll also make you feel acknowledged and heard. And once you return home after spending a night with Michelle, you’ll catch yourself smiling and thinking about how there needs to be more people like her in the world. Because if there were, there would be far less to worry about.
Michelle passed away today. I don’t really want to discuss the details right now, because honestly, they aren’t relevant. It could have been a car accident. It could have been old age. We are often far too concerned with how people died, rather than how they lived. And I want you to know how Michelle lived. She told stories — lots of stories that contained beautiful, subtle insights and wisdom about our lives and the world around us. And today, I want to share with you the last story she told me before she died:
How To Love
One Sunday morning when I was a little girl, my father surprised me and took me to the fishing docks. But instead of fishing, like all the other little girls and boys were doing with their parents, we sat down on the end of one of the docks and watched all the other children fish. For over an hour, we sat there and watched until we left without ever casting a single fishing line into the water.
I was simultaneously sad and angry. On the drive home I told my father that I’d never forgive him for being so mean to me. He looked at me, smiled and said, “I love you, Michelle.” When I didn’t respond, he asked, “Did you notice how happy all the other little girls and boys were? Did you see their smiles? Could you feel the happiness in their hearts?” After a moment of silence I quickly snapped, “I don’t really care! I just want to go fishing like everyone else!” My father took a deep breath and kept driving.
We went back to the fishing docks dozens of Sunday mornings throughout my childhood. And each time we saw dozens of other little girls and boys jumping and laughing and celebrating as they reeled in fish. But we still never cast a single fishing line into the water. We just sat there on the end of that same dock and watched. And my father never explained why. But he didn’t need to. Because years later, after I entered adulthood, and found myself volunteering at a local homeless shelter, I suddenly realized that those mornings spent sitting on that dock was where I learned how to love.
The Love We Miss When Life Gets in the Way
Michelle’s last story continues to make me think…
Too often we pass people in a hurry, without caring or thinking twice.
Or we judge those who aren’t moving at our pace.
And rarely do we ever stop. Just to witness. Or to listen. Or to love.
Because we forget, or perhaps never learned, that every passing face represents a story just as captivating, complicated and worthy as our own. Everyone has gone through something that has inadvertently changed them and forced them to struggle, adapt and grow. Everyone’s smile has been earned. Everyone we meet has fought hard, and continues to fight in some way. And to them, it’s equally as significant,worthwhile, and difficult as whatever we’re going through.
The happiness that is occasionally on display around us is truly an experience to marvel at and admire. And although it’s not always easy to do so, when we take time to truly witness and listen, instead of bypassing or judging too quickly, we can learn so much… about ourselves, about each other, and about love in general.
Morning Notes for More Love & Kindness
Since Marc and I intellectually understand that we shouldn’t bypass or judge people too quickly, but sometimes still forget when we’re in the heat of a difficult or pressing moment, we’ve implemented a simple strategy that continuously reminds us NOT to bypass or judge. Whenever we’re heading into a busy day in which we’ll likely be surrounded by others, we read a couple of the mantras listed below (reminders and quotes compiled from our books and our blog’s email archive) before we leave the house in the morning. Doing this consistently over the years has gradually changed how we see and treat people from the get-go each day. We still have to practice, of course, but we are far more patient and loving with people than we used to be.
To help you practice, I recommend storing or bookmarking this article in your smart phone or tablet, and then reading (and re-reading) the following notes to yourself at least a couple times a week.
- The most beautiful thing is to see a person nearby smiling. And even more beautiful is knowing that you went out of your way to be the reason behind it.
- If you have the power to make someone happier today, do it. It’s worth it. The world needs more of that right now.
- Some people build lots of walls in their lives and not enough bridges. There’s no good reason to be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people.
- Never stop doing little things for those around you. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.
- Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of love, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Be present. Be thoughtful. Compliment people. Magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses. This is how to make a real and lasting difference in your relationships, new and old.
- We don’t always need advice. Sometimes all we need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand.
- Today, just be 100% present with those around you — BE ALL THERE. That is enough.
- There’s no such thing as “self-made.” Someone else believed in you. Someone else encouraged you. Someone else invested in you. Someone else prayed for you. Someone else spoke life over you. Be that someone for others, too.
- It’s practically impossible to love our neighbors if we don’t know them, and yet that’s oftentimes the case. We live in such a hyper-connected world with such limited or nonexistent connection. Remember this. Relationships matter. Stories matter.
- In human relationships, distance is not measured in miles but in affection. Two people can be right next to each other, yet miles apart.
- Stay in touch with those who truly matter to you. Not because it’s convenient, but because they’re worth the extra effort.
- The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Too often we don’t listen to understand — we listen to reply. Bring awareness to this. And listen for what’s truly behind the words.
- Set an example. Treat everyone with respect, even those who are rude to you — not because they are always nice, but because YOU are. (And do your best to be thankful for the rude and difficult people too; they serve as great reminders of how not to be.)
- Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right.
- People are much kinder when they’re happier, which says a lot about those who aren’t very kind to you. Sad, but true.
- The real test always comes when you don’t get what you expect from people. Will you react in anger? Or will calmness be your superpower?
- The way we treat people we don’t understand is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion and kindness.
- Be kinder than necessary. What goes around comes around. No one has ever made themselves strong by showing how small someone else is.
- The best relationships are not just about the good times you share; they’re also about the obstacles you go through together, and the fact that you still say “I love you” or “I’m here” in the end.
Afterthoughts on “Loving” Offensive People
Some of the morning notes above (like numbers 14 through 19 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about distasteful things, and so forth. And although Marc and I recently covered this in a previous article on not taking things personally, I figured with was worth partially reiterating here:
Some people will violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us. But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.
So, what can we do?
- Be bigger, think bigger. — Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at the moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things this two-year-old could do to be happier. Sure, that’s easy for us to say — we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again — this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
- Mentally hug them and wish them better days. — This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either — they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.
Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile in serenity, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.
(Note: Marc and I build “smarter communication” strategies and habits with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy Course.)
Yes, it’s your turn…
To instill more love into this world, even when it’s difficult.
To love what you do, until you can do what you love.
To love where you are, until you can be where you love.
And, above all, to love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most.
Less bypassing and ignoring.
Ultimately, this is the way we find happiness, opportunity, and peace.
Let’s practice today, together. 🙂
Please share this post with others who you think may benefit from it, and also share your thoughts with us in the comments area below. If you’re up to it, I’d love it if you shared an additional quote or personal saying that reminds you to treat others with less judgement and more love (for both their sake and yours).
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