A few weeks ago we had a professor come and give a presentation on gerontology. Part of the presentation was having to walk through several simulated experiences of how your body ages. We actually experienced the difficulty of every day tasks as aging takes its toll. The point was that as these tasks gets more difficult, the rest of the world does not stop to take this into account. They are expected to function the same as every one else around them.
We don’t always see the difficulties they are experiencing.
There is a woman I know in her sixties who is experiencing some hearing loss. We joke about it frequently. But over the last year or so I had grown very frustrated with her interactions with my three-year-old son. I knew she loved him dearly but occasionally she was quite rude to him. I wanted to scream at her and say: He just wants your attention – talk to him!
During our presentation we talked about hearing loss. One of the marks of hearing loss is that children become very difficult to hear. All this time I had assumed she was being rude. She actually was just having trouble hearing him and didn’t want to embarrass herself.
This changed my whole outlook on her and her interactions with my son. What was once a cause of irritation and frustration, now became I place to offer grace, patience and compassion.
When we learn to walk in others shoes, it changes everything.
Think for a minute about the people who really bother you. Think about the people who you really want to condemn their choices. What would happen if you began to ask the question: Why are the like this? What might be causing this? What happened that led them down this road?
Digging into these questions probably won’t change their behavior. And most likely it will not make their behavior any less upsetting. But it might change how you react to it.
Take for example, getting to know a homeless person. Sitting and talking with someone who is homeless changes your view of those who deal with that plight in life.
Or the girl at work who seems to be rude no matter what the interaction… What if you knew about the deep trust issues she has or how difficult life is at home?
Or that person that has the particular addiction or behavior that you find repulsive… What happens when you trace the course of his life up to the point of having an addiction?
We often see people as little more than their behaviors. I think we need to do a better job of learning to sit in people’s shoes and understanding their stories. When we do, we may discover that the most difficult people in our lives are the ones in need of a little extra grace and compassion.
This is a topic that needs stories! When have you learned a difficult person’s story? How did it change your opinion?