A few days ago I was standing with a friend at a dead-end looking at the sun go down when a couple with a dog emerged from a car.
The man threw an empty one-litre water bottle down on the beach below as the woman gingerly proceeded down a very steep and almost dangerous embankment into the water.
The little dog she was carrying didn’t seem to enjoy the prospect of the dunking he was to receive and from his frantic paddling when she released him in the water below it seemed he did not appreciate this apparent ritual sea bath.
My friend and I observed this, and I wondered if he was as upset as I was at the man tossing garbage on the beach.
He was standing too close for us to say anything without him over-hearing, but in my head I had made this man into the poster child for everything that was wrong with our education system, the deterioration of our social structures, and humanity itself.
I decided that I was not in the mood for a confrontation and continued talking with my friend when the woman climbed up the other side of the embankment with the same discarded water bottle now filled with sea-water.
Boy was I thankful that I had not said anything.
What appeared to me to be a callous act of disrespect to nature and country was just a well-worn practice for ensuring that sandy feet did not enter their nice clean car.
Are you quick to judge?
It was a great reminder for me about how quickly we can jump to a conclusion and hold on to it as if it were the truth.
I wonder how many times incidents like this are mis-interpreted?
And how much damage results?
When we react to situations like these without even trying to consider alternative explanations we can do unnecessary damage to a relationship and even risk violent and deadly confrontation.
People don’t react well to being unjustly accused. Most likely, the man who threw the empty water bottle down to the beach would have been upset if I had confronted him about polluting the beach.
Understandbly, because he wasn’t.
He would not have given me the benefit of the doubt about why I was confronting him, and that I had simply mis-interpreted what he had done. If I had confronted him about polluting the beach do you think he would have said to himself,
Oh, this guy just saw me throw an empty water bottle on the beach and of course he would think I was polluting the beach. Especially since there was already trash on the beach.
Possible—if he was a saint like me (ha)—but not likely.
More likely he would have reacted badly and a completely unnecessary and avoidable confrontation might have occurred.
It’s all so avoidable
If we taught children how to create and shift perspective we would live in a much kinder and gentler society and enjoy longer and deeper relationships. And it can so simply be taught and practiced. All a parent or teacher would have to do is ask a child,
What other explanations can you think of for someone to do (observed behaviour)?
Unfortunately we don’t teach or practice shifting perspective and that’s part of my battle. To help change the emphasis of our children’s education from facts and figures to the skills they will need to nurture relationships, and create and fulfil ambition.
In the meantime, resist the urge to tell someone off at the first sign of them doing or saying something that upsets you. Instead step back and look for different perspective; one that may give you more compassion.
An exercise in compassion
There is a compassion exercise from Harry Palmer’s Resurfacing—Techniques for Exploring Consciousness that might help.
When you see someone in your daily travels, e.g in a waiting room or if you’re stuck in traffic, say to yourself:
Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness for his/her life. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life. Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair. Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfil his/her needs. Just like me, this person is learning about life.
And this one is from me,
Just like me, this person is the sum of his education, his experiences and the family and friends in his/her life and can act no other way than s/he is doing now.