One of my all time favorite quotes is from the transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. He famously said:
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him”
I love this quote (with the exception of male bias) because it explains that no matter who you cross paths with, every individual has an insight or experience that which you do not. By realizing every person has something to offer, you create the open mindedness to learn from any and all people.
Pertaining to people we like, it’s easy to learn from those we respect. Think of one of your closest friends. Your friend, like all human beings, has flaws. You appreciate all the great aspects of your friend, while tolerating or even learning to love their flawed characteristics.
But what about people we don’t see eye to eye with? We have a tendency to focus on the bad aspects of the person, while downplaying what could be seen as a redeeming quality or an insight you could learn from.
Below I’ve provided a rapid fire of examples featuring different kinds of people that fall under this category. These people include public figures and acquaintances you know in your everyday life.
Next Door Neighbor – Generous person BUT never stops talking
Professional Athlete – Great teammate BUT very cocky
High School Math Teacher – Incredible sense of humor BUT is bad at math
Crazy In-Law – Wonderful pastry chef BUT believes in all conspiracy theories
It’s easy to view these people and only focus on their negative aspects. It would be a shame to not learn from the good these people have to offer. Instead of the negatives, walk away observing the right things.
One trick to focus on the good of people is to flip the positive and negative aspects in a statement. The word “but” is usually used after a redeeming quality, but right before acknowledging somebody’s flaw. For example, “He has an incredible sense of humor but is bad at math”. It’s easy to ignore his sense of humor once we get to the “but” of the statement. Anything said after “but” devalues what was said beforehand.
To fix what we think about our high school math teacher, simply switch the order of the sentence to the following: “he is bad at math but has an incredible sense of humor”. By restructuring the statement, we’re more likely to value the teacher for his humor. The most profound piece of a statement is how it ends, therefore end with the positive aspect to remember the person by.
Call to Action
Think of somebody in your life that you believe is unintelligent, uncharismatic, unlikeable, or just plain annoying. Next identify the aspect you appreciate about that person. There are two benefits from performing these steps. One is you learn to value and appreciate all people. Secondly, through the act of observing positive traits in others, you yourself can better implement those traits or lessons into your own life.
Bottom line: humble yourself when evaluating other people. To pass up on the special aspects of another person would be doing that person and yourself a disservice. Always remember that no one is special but everyone has something special to offer.
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