No one is without fault. We don’t always say the right thing at the right time or in the right way. We will fall. We will fail. We’ll embarrass ourselves and hurt others with or without intent. Distinctions come in the strength of our desire to evolve. It’s in whether we’ll cling to willful but comfortable ignorance or endure the uneasiness of growth.
Especially now, each of us should want to work toward becoming the absolute best version of ourselves. We’re seeing what happens when we detach from the suffering of others and underestimate the consequences of our actions (or inaction). Most of us are realizing that we can do more and be better than we’ve shown.
I don’t claim to be fluent in righteousness. We’re all trying to figure things out as we go. We make mistakes, learn, and then apply the knowledge to our lives. Well, those are the ideal steps. Unfortunately, we don’t always make it through the last two most important phases.
I’m talking about progress, not perfection.
I take being a better human to mean being better to fellow humans — making sure those who cross our paths feel seen, heard, valued, supported, and loved. First, do no harm. It’s about leaving people better than we found them, or at least no worse. This idea involves focusing on the development of a few key areas that directly contribute to being positively impactful.
When we’re hurting, we want others to comprehend the “why” behind our anguish. Understanding how others feel helps us offer an appropriate response. It’s when we dismiss the way a person feels that we say the wrong thing. We react in a manner that disregards their experience.
Believing our feelings matter ties into self-perception, which relates to everything else — behavior, aspirations, and how we view the world, including its inhabitants. A person who feels forgotten will struggle to see the glass half-full.
As psychiatrist and researcher Helen Riess says,
The ability to connect empathically with others — to feel with them, to care about their well-being, and to act with compassion — is critical to our lives, helping us to get along, work more effectively, and thrive as a society.
Empathy is the key to it all — crucial to being a good human. Also, empathy doesn’t require agreement. Don’t let a different perspective cause you to invalidate someone’s pain.
Something else we want when we’re hurting is for people to take the time to listen. But in general, we don’t want anyone to judge or come into our situation believing they already know everything. We need someone with active ears and an open mind.
Active listening is more likely to happen when we adopt an empathetic approach. When our mission is to connect, understand, and care, we’ll be more interested in hearing what the other person has to say. If we just wait for our turn to talk, regurgitate established views, or focus on being right, it conveys selfish motive.
Without a commitment to listening, discussions are futile. Nothing gets accomplished. No one feels heard.
Do nice things for no reason. Do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. No more looking the other way when we see a person in need. Let’s try to give people the benefit of the doubt and not publicly humiliate those who make a mistake or do something we don’t like.
We never know what the next person is going through, but one thing is certain — we’re all fighting personal battles. Let’s err on the side of kindness. Doing so can make someone believe things aren’t so horrible, after all.
Kindness requires courage. It’s easy to pretend people are invisible and mind our own business. Extending ourselves for the benefit of another, gaining nothing from them in return, can take strength.
Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid. — Bernard Meltzer
Empathy, listening, and kindness are especially important when a person is upset, but critical at all times in helping people feel valued. It all comes back around. As you pour into others, others pour into you.
This list isn’t exhaustive. The term “better” is relative. It may look different for you. Some of us may have further to go, but we all have road ahead of us to travel.
Ultimately, support other humans along their journeys. Be a help, not a hindrance to progress. Practice the Golden Rule and treat other people how you want to be treated. It’s cliché, but sometimes we need a reminder.
* * *
I don’t know what’s going to happen with humanity — if we’ll learn to live as one and inherently respect each other as equals, or if we’ll destroy ourselves. The result of our current societal unrest is yet to be determined.
The way to ensure a favorable outcome is to control what we can control, personal evolution. We have input in elections, the passage of laws, and some of the decisions made on behalf of our country — but the only entity we have absolute authority over is ourselves.
If each of us works individually to be better than we were yesterday, every day, the world around us has no choice but to improve — because we are the world. As we get better, it will too.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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