The clank of iron banged over the sound of music in my headphones. I glanced at my watch, 8:15am. Like many others, I have gotten in the habit of starting everyday at the gym since the New Year. Now, well into February, what used to be a packed playground of sweaty bodies was now slimming to the devoted few. I felt proud for a moment and smiled. As I did, I looked down out into the parking lot and saw a guy I had met the week before dancing in front of a car. “What a clown,” I thought as he pretended to jog with the car as it drove away. I glanced up and saw another regular who had been watching with me.
“Did you just see that?” he implored.
“Yea, I know that guy. Don’t worry about it, he’s just goofy, that was probably his friend”
“I guess so…” the man trailed off as he shook his head, unconvinced, and walked away to finish his workout.
I didn’t think again about it until fifteen minutes later when I saw a policeman downstairs. I looked back at the parking lot and three squad cars and an undercover Charger pulling up to the gym. To my surprise, it was my dancing friend who was taken aside and questioned by three officers on the curb. I ran over to the man who had watched with me to find out what I had missed.
“What happened?” I said incredulously.
“I was going to find you,” he said, catching his breath, “That car almost hit your friend so he started yelling threats at the driver. When it pulled away, he ran after it banging on the side with his hand. The driver must have called the cops.” My mouth dropped open without me meaning it to. He smiled.
“Do you always see the world through such rose colored glasses? Good for you.”
“I don’t know. I guess so.” I chuckled as I snapped back to reality and I walked away. Do I really see things differently than other people?
This small instance kept me thinking the rest of the day. A man and I had seen the exact same thing but at the same time, we saw two completely different realities. The true one is easy to see but I kept asking myself which view really matters? My own ‘rose colored glasses’ version or his ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Maybe I’m being too harsh but do you see the stark contrast? In other words, does the reality of the situation hold more weight than the interpretation? Or is it really vice versa? Take the constellation of the Big Dipper for instance. A four star grouping that can be seen from anyone in the Northern hemisphere on a clear night. However; a kid sees a spoon, a traveler sees an arrow to the North Star, an adult sees a constellation, and a scientist with a telescope sees remnants of light from burning gasses years old already. What changed? The Big Dipper didn’t. The lens of the observer did. So which lens is right? I’ll leave that up to you to decide; not only with the stars but in the way you view the world around you.
Technically, we are all creatures of selfish ambition. Our daily decisions are governed by self-serving motives between 99.9 and 100% of the time. This even goes for those who give large amounts to charities. These people still want recognition in the same way a donated community baseball field is sometimes named after the donor. With this in mind we can assume that the vast majority of people you and I come in contact with are thinking about themselves. This is the lens through which we inherently look through ourselves. Yes, I do mean inherently as in we’re born with it. Don’t believe me? Take the principle of fairness.
I remember one Christmas when I was very young. My younger brother and I were digging through our stockings early Christmas morning as my father filmed from our VHS video recorder. Yes, VHS. My brother pulled out a small grey box and in his absolutely adorable, 4 year old voice exclaimed, “Look Drew, I got a Swiss Army knife!” Naturally I got even more excited because being similar in age, we typically got the same stuff, sometimes in a different color. With the camera still rolling, my fingers clawed at my stockings bottom and until I found something that felt similar in size to what Jack had just revealed. I started to say, even before my arm was out of my stocking, “Look Jack….soap!” I smiled, look dead at the camera and held out the small blue, whale shaped soap as if it were my greatest treasure. When I watch the video, my acting at age five could have won an Oscar and yet, I felt defeated. It wasn’t fair. I looked through the rest of my presents but nothing ‘matched’ the quality of my brother’s pocketknife. The funny thing is that, two decades later, I still remember exactly how I felt when this happened. The point is that I never thought of how great it was that my brother had gotten such an amazing present. I never shared in his happiness or gratitude. I thought only of myself and no one taught me to do that, it was the inherent lens I had known since birth.
I’ll try to salvage a point from my tangent here. It’s not about the rose colored glasses as much as it’s about the way you view the world. I provide examples of how different observers or my younger self sees circumstances for one reason. The best, most profitable way for you to walk through this life is to view the world in the way others see it. Lets break this down quickly into two assumptions:
- It profits you ZERO to try and get others to see things from your perspective. You are literally wasting emotional and physical energy half the time you attempt to explain ‘where you’re coming from.’ If someone does want to know why your tired or upset, then by all means tell them because they are trying to practice this principle. But realize the majority of people care more about the way a pimple on their forehead looks than your grandpa’s near-death experience in the past week.
- It profits you MASSIVELY to try and see things from other people’s shoes. I love to ask people how their day is going. It’s so simple and yet so few people do it that I often get wide-eyed surprise or, at times, a monologue of the worries and frustrations. Either way, it makes them like me more and I typically deal with less friction in getting the thing that I want in the end. See? Selfish motivation still applies here. People don’t realize the most selfish thing you can do in a conversation is to listen.
When you listen, you are only gathering information to add to your own wealth of knowledge. Believe me, because I listen to people, I see what motivates them. I am able to understand them better. Now, in a conversation, I will often hear things that the person doesn’t even say. I know that sounds confusing. For example, I had a friend talking to me about his dad. He went on and on about how he is irresponsible, bad with money, and is always doing nice things to try and win his mom back (divorced) while she just spits on any kindness he shows. He shook is head and said, “My Dad is such an idiot.” I looked at him and said, “No, it’s very clear that you love and care about him quite a bit. You want the best for him, get frustrated when he wastes his time on your mom, and want a better relationship with him.” He agreed with me but was a little surprised at how I got to that conclusion. It’s simple. I listened. I tried to see his dad from his shoes and paid attention to the why behind the what. Our culture could use a lot less what and a lot more why. This is my opinion of course and you are welcome to disagree with it. But why? Ok, now I’m being silly.
I’ve given up on making a point. My point could be that everyone is selfish. The point could be that listening only helps the listener. The point could be the glass is half full. I guess the main point is just ME encouraging YOU to look at things differently. Look at your own actions. What motivates you? Look at others and what motivates them. In college I took a Criminal Justice class that focused on conspiracy theory. I’m not big on the subject itself but I loved the professor. I’ll never forget what he said about his goal for the class. “In this class, I do not purpose to answer or prove any of these theories right or wrong. I only purpose to keep asking questions.”
Are you asking questions? Why not?