More often than not, as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, “stories” immediately start running through our minds. Some of these stories may be relatively innocuous (prioritizing tasks for the day at work, mapping out that new route for a commute) while others might actually influence the way we see other people. We may start the day with preconceptions about our spouse or partner, our child, or a roommate based on a recent experience or interaction. And beyond the home, we may already have “stories” about our neighbors, grocery store clerks, work colleagues, the barista in our favorite coffee shop, and even complete strangers.
Looking at the surface, we may make a snap judgement that a person is beautiful, or not. We’re wired to do this, to base assumptions on appearance, but when we dismiss others in this way, we miss out on seeing the person that exists behind the body, beyond our preconceptions of who they are.
Sometimes it’s easier to operate on auto-pilot in our everyday relationships, but this tendency to automatically interpret the world can lead to disconnection, dis-ease, and unhappiness in life.
However, if we intentionally practice being more open and receptive to others, and repeatedly make an effort look beyond the surface, we can create real and lasting connection, which is an essential ingredient for enduring happiness.
I invite you to try this 4 step practice today with anyone you come in contact:
- Put your lenses of judgment aside. Whether you believe it or not, you instantly judge someone as soon as you see them. It may be the color of their skin, their ethnicity, a memory you have of this person, or maybe the expression on their face at the moment you meet. See if you can set that aside for a moment and adopt fresh eyes.
- Really see the person. Remind yourself that this is someone who has a history of adventures, who has experienced failure and/or trauma, someone who loves, fears, regrets, triumphs, someone who presumably has a family and friends. They have a beauty inside that they likely aren’t even aware of.
- Ask yourself: “What does this person most deeply want?” The answer is likely within you, and it involves being treated kindly and feeling a sense of belonging.
- Provide a gesture that feeds this need. Smile at the person. If appropriate, ask them if you can help them in some way. Listen to what they have to say. If it’s a family member or a friend, tell them you love them. There are so many ways to do this. Aim to continuously ask yourself if what you are doing is in service of connection or disconnection. It’s a simple question that can sometimes lead to important answers and actions.
The fact is, when we and others around us feel understood and cared about, a sense of acceptance and belonging arises. This breaks down barriers and makes our relationships deeper and stronger.
As Mother Teresa said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.” A moment of connection may have rippling effects across many people, in the same way that a pebble thrown into the water creates ripples of waves.
Give it a try!
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.