For me, the secret to working harmoniously with others is recognizing that although outwardly each individual may express differently their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations, what lies inside each of us is a common goodness. I can also say that there have been two “jewels” of wisdom that were imparted to me at different stages of my life that have helped me work more harmoniously with others.
Do Unto Others as You Would Have Done Unto You
Typical of most grade school classrooms, our fourth grade class tended to be quite disrespectful of substitute teachers when Sister Mary was not able to teach our class. One substitute teacher was particularly soft and kind and was therefore an obvious target of our mischief. This substitute teacher gave an exercise that, to a group of mischievous fourth-graders, seemed quite silly. She requested that we go back through our school notebook and on every spare line or space around our assignments write, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
After writing this two or three dozen times, it was as if the words on the page began speaking to me. From that moment on, whenever I was faced with a decision that directly, or even indirectly, involved others, my own voice would echo back to me, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The exercise of writing these words over and over again in the fourth grade changed my life forever.
We Each Have Our Own Cross to Bear
Having grown up in an environment where English was not the main language spoken at home, there were sayings over the years that were not part of my upbringing. Many everyday expressions in the American English language did not come up in my school, nor with my circle of friends, nor in my religious studies at church: “A bird in the hand … Nothing ventured … Many a true word … ”, etc.
One of my best friends in my adult life, whom I met about 20 years ago, was a lot more conscious than I was, at the time, of the social ills of life. Although I was the product of a family that emigrated from a third-world country, life was good. My parents were quite detached from their home country, and so I was removed from the abject poverty and social problems that plagued my family’s homeland.
My friend and her circle of friends also had roots from a poor country. Rather than just hearing about childhood stories of difficult upbringings, they had witnessed first-hand extreme poverty and the results of ineffective interventions to deal with poverty. Consequently, out of desperation, people had to make choices that would allow them to survive.
During one conversation, an acquaintance of ours jokingly commented on the “career” choice of someone else who was down and out. My good friend turned very sternly and said, “You can’t judge others. We each have our own cross to bear!”
I had never really heard someone use that expression before. I had to stop, ponder the meaning, then digest what it meant to me. It dawned on me what my good friend meant: people come from different life experiences, some of which may be out of their control, but no matter what, everyone deserves respect and understanding.
Why Is It So Difficult?
The problem, psychologists say, is that we are wired to take a selfish view–we look at the world only from our perspective and this limits our interactions with others ((Formica, M. (2010). Gaining Perspective from Someone Else’s Perspective. From www.psychologytoday.com)). When we are able to expand our perspective, our world view, we come to a better understanding of others. This in turn brings us more personal satisfaction. Because we “each have our own cross to bear,” when we “do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves” we find that we naturally begin to treat each other with respect and understanding.