Do Unto Others

As a general rule, I’m very suspicious of over-simplification.  I rarely see anything in stark black and white, preferring instead to examine the various shades of grey that exist in between two opposing sides.  I think that most people and most situations are not only rather complicated, but also usually evolving in new and different ways that defy simple classification.  That being said, the older I get, the more I realize that in an increasingly complicated and angry world, there is one very simple rule that almost always applies:  treat other people the way that you want them to treat you.  (Also known as “The Golden Rule.”)

The issues that we face in our lives, both on a personal and public level, can be unbelievably complex, and often seem overwhelming.  And I don’t believe the day is ever coming when good people will always agree on everything, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they happen to be.  But I do believe that when we are deciding how to speak to or treat another person, we can just take a minute to ask ourselves, “if this situation were reversed, how would it make me feel?  Would I like it if someone spoke that way to me?  Would I like it if someone treated me that way?”

Would we be so quick to post that snarky political meme on social media if we took a second to consider how we feel when someone makes fun our our political views?  Or worse, makes it clear that they consider everyone who voted the way we did to be either evil, an idiot, or both?  Do we like it when someone makes sweeping generalizations about our religion (or lack thereof),  especially when the generalizations don’t match what we actually think or believe?

On a more personal level, do we like it when someone vents their anger on us?  Do we appreciate it when someone (oh, so helpfully) points out our every single mistake?  Do we learn anything when someone else constantly preaches their point of view, and never once asks what we think?  Or worse, assumes that they know exactly what we think, and why, and proceeds to tell us how wrong we are?  Is it helpful when someone trivializes our fears?

People are complex beings and the opportunities for misunderstanding, hurt, and anger are staggeringly abundant.  Our lives are complicated and sometimes our problems are overwhelming.  So it seems to me that the simplicity of “The Golden Rule” is a gift to us, and a guide that can help us navigate the storm.  We just need to try, as often as possible, to treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves.  It won’t solve all our problems, but I honestly believe it would go a long way toward calming the waters for everyone.

Sing Your Own Song

IMG_0354During our recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I went into an Irish pub in hopes of hearing some authentic Irish music.  And while the pub did have a young man singing that night, he didn’t play the traditional Irish music we had hoped to hear.  Instead, he played a wide variety of familiar songs, and at one point he even launched into a medley of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits.  At first, I was annoyed that he wasn’t singing the songs I wanted to hear, but after a while I just relaxed and enjoyed the music.  He played a mean guitar and had a beautiful voice, and eventually I realized that what he was doing was singing exactly the songs he wanted to sing, and singing them very well.

Maybe it was the two glasses of wine, but I began to think that there might be a lesson for all of us in that pub.  The young man could have played it safe and served up exactly the sort of music that most tourists want to hear when they enter an Irish pub, but he choose not to do that.  Maybe he wasn’t good at performing traditional Irish music, or maybe he simply didn’t care for it very much.  Maybe he knew that the city of Galway is full of pubs that cater to its many tourists, and felt that he would stand out from the crowd more if he performed a different kind of music.  I didn’t ask him, so I’ll never know.  But I got the sense that he was pouring his heart into the music he chose to sing, and because of that his performance was so good that my husband and I stayed and listened to him much longer than we had intended.

Not all of us can sing or play an instrument, but I believe that each and every one of us has something unique to offer.  We each have our own individual perspective on things, our own unique gifts and our own special way of viewing the world around us.  I have gone to several of those popular painting classes where the teacher shows everyone (no painting talent needed, thank goodness) how to paint a particular picture.  And even though we are led through the process step-by-step, I am always amazed at how different our finished pictures look.  Even with the same subject, the same paint colors and the same teacher, we all come up with something just a little bit different, and that is uniquely ours.

There will never be any shortage of people in our lives who want to tell us exactly how to act, what to believe, and how we should use our creative gifts.  And sometimes its very tempting to listen to them in order to feel the acceptance and validation that we all tend to crave.  But when we do that, when we ignore our own truths and mimic someone else’s, or when we paint the picture, write the story, or sing the song that someone else wants us to, we are turning our backs on the essence of what makes each of us a unique and worthwhile individual.

I think it’s important to trust our own perceptions, to believe in our own visions and to stand in our own truths, and to share those with others, even when we’re not so sure how they will be received.  One way or another, we all need to “sing our own song” with courage and conviction.  Even if that means belting out a Johnny Cash medley in a traditional Irish pub.

Are You Sure?

IMG_1271I have probably read all of the “Peanuts” cartoon strips that were created by Charles Schulz, but one of his stories in particular stands out in my mind.  The character of Linus discovers that the summer camp he is attending is being run by a group with very strong religious beliefs that are very different from his own.  One night, he’s sitting around the campfire with all the other campers, listening to that night’s lecture from the group’s leader.  At one point, he raises his hand and politely asks, “May I ask a question, sir?  Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?”

I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to identify with Linus.  I don’t care what the subject is–something as important as religion or politics, or something as trivial as which local restaurant makes the best guacamole— I am always a bit uncomfortable around people who are so very, very sure that they are absolutely right.  Of course I understand that strong beliefs are not only okay, but necessary, as we navigate our way through this messy and confusing world.  But I think that we should always leave room for that tiny bit of doubt that keeps us from being so sure about our beliefs that we end up being caught in a cocoon of our own arrogance and assumed superiority.

When we are too sure that we are right, we become the people who know very well how to talk, but forget how to listen.  We become the people who want to silence those who disagree with us, because we are so very certain they are wrong and that their opinions are dangerous.  We tend to close our minds to new ideas, other perspectives and even out-and-out facts that challenge our views.

Personally, I have been wrong so many times in my life that I find it easy to believe that I will be wrong many, many times again. I do know what my life experience, my education, and my observations have taught me so far, and that has shaped my beliefs. But I also know that the longer I live, the more I learn, and sometimes new information presents itself that causes me to rethink, re-evaluate and sometimes even change some of my most firmly-held convictions.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Remember when the latest scientific evidence taught us that the world was flat?  Neither do I, because I’m not quite that old.  But the point is that we are making new discoveries all the time that are going to challenge some of the beliefs that we hold dear.  And if we’re lucky, we are also going to keep meeting new people, hearing new perspectives and gaining new understandings that are going to shape how we view ourselves and the world around us.  Life constantly moves forward.

I think strong beliefs and firm convictions are good, but they are even better when combined with an open mind and a loving, accepting heart.  Because none of us can be right all the time.