It is sad that so much of the fighting, intolerance, and hatred of “the other” seems to align itself along the lines of, and even within, organized religions. Jesus, Mohamed, and nearly every other religious leader taught their followers that we are supposed to love and care for our fellow brothers and sisters. Instead, we use their words and the words of the great religious texts to revile others and separate us from them. I suppose it could all be attributed back to “original sin”, and take the easy way out by assuming that there is nothing that man can do about it because of that act. Personally, I think that is a defeatist mentality. Instead, we have to work hard to overcome hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and mistrust—first within our hearts, then within our religious organizations and countries, and then with those outside our comfort zones.
A favorite line of mine from Men In Black is, “A person is smart. People are stupid.” A paraphrase of another saying I like is, “Why hate a group of people, when there are so many reasons to dislike them on an individual basis?” Sure, it’s rather a negative thought, but it points out that there are likely many reasons to like a person, too. I can’t remember who, but someone told about their adventure visiting Iran during the Bush-era. They feared the worst before their trip… Would they be treated badly just because they were American? Would they be persecuted? Would they be injured or harmed? While in Iran, they did hear some negative comments about America, but generally they were treated very well. There may have been some resentment toward America as a concept, but that was never passed on to the visitors. The individual was likable for so many reasons, that there were no reasons to let any dislike of the group (America) influence them.
Think about someone or something you dislike. Is it because you truly dislike that person, place, or thing? Or is it because you don’t like what or who that object is associated with? Take Brussels sprouts (please, take them!). If you dislike them, is it because they are a green vegetable, and you dislike green veggies as a rule? Or is it a more specific dislike? In the U.S., people are having to reevaluate their opinions of Cuba. After decades of our government painting Cuba as a terrible Communist dictatorship, we are now told that they have improved and we should start being friendly with them again. But has Cuba really changed, or has the U.S. government finally come to realize what most of the rest of the world did long ago… Cuba may have some problems, but it’s got a lot of good points, too!
We spend too much time worrying about the bad in others, and far too little time finding the good in them. I personally try to find something positive to say about someone every day when I am talking with them. Many times I will get involved in my work and forget to do so, but it’s a good challenge to try. Sure, it’s easy to come up with something positive about the people you like, but try it with someone in your work who finds ways to annoy you practically every day. I promise that if you start looking for the good in other people, you will find it in nearly everyone. And once you do, you will discover that people are generally good, even if they have annoying habits, don’t look like a supermodel, or don’t share your religious or political convictions.
Do you want a real challenge? The next time a telemarketer calls or a religious follower knocks on your door, don’t slam the receiver down or slam the door in their face. Instead, be clear that you are quite happy without purchasing a new thingamabob or visiting a new church, and then try to engage them in an actual conversation. The weather is usually a good starting place. First, you will find that the other person is tremendously surprised at your actions. Second, if they don’t hang up on you or leave when they learn you aren’t interested, you will probably discover a person who is very committed—they would have to be to do what they do. If you continue the conversation a bit, you might find out why. Look for the good in the other person, and you may find that they are not just an annoying anonymous voice or face, but someone not so different from you. You may find their task of disturbing you to be annoying, but the person doing the task often is nice if you get to know them a bit.
Why on earth would you want to do that little exercise? Well, besides the thrill of excitement you might get from running your own little psychology experiment on someone otherwise interrupting your day, it helps you learn to look at people and situations in new ways. Instead of automatically seeing the bad in a situation or a person, you start to see the potential, at least, for good. Take that experience beyond daily interruptions, and apply it to other areas of your life. Your life will become more fulfilling and happier. It can be the start of a life-changing experience.