Love thy neighbor..

During a leadership development course I attended last week, I came across a thought that was said in passing, but stuck with me and got me thinking. The thought was that we need to drop this whole concept of “treating others as we wish to be treated”, and instead treat others the way THEY wish to be treated. The idea took me by surprise simply because I grew up being taught that that is the right way to behave, with friends, with family, with teachers, with colleagues and with anyone we meet. To be asked to simply drop this deeply ingrained belief is not an easy task. The more I thought about it though, the more sense it started to make. So much so, that I now wonder why we were ever taught otherwise. Yes, I know it is meant to teach us to be kind and thoughtful and to treat others with compassion and empathy. I am not questioning these fundamental aspects of human relationships and I do strongly believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. My argument goes a little deeper and relates to another layer of interaction.

People are different. We learn differently. We observe differently. We analyse differently. We think differently. To think that the way I learn is the same way my child learns is presumptuous and will often lead to frustration for both of us. What if I am a visual learner, while she is more interested in words and numbers? What if I prefer to take notes while she prefers to draw? People are different during sickness. Some prefer to be fussed over and being taken care of while others prefer to be left alone. So if you are the first type and you treat your wife (second type) the way you like to be treated when sick, she could get irritated and feel a little suffocated. At work, some people like to brainstorm in groups as soon as a project is assigned to them, while others like to take time on their own to think about the project before diving into a loud meeting room with ideas thrown around on whiteboards and sticky post it notes. As the boss, do you then ask and expect everyone on your team to do the work the same way?

To get to the point where we are able to treat others the way they wish to be treated, we first need to get to know them. When we open ourselves up to understand and to be understood, we enter a whole new level of relationships, both personally and professionally. Without knowing someone, we are left with guesses and assumptions, providing the perfect environment for the roots of misunderstanding to grow and shadow our perception. I would even go as far as saying that blindly following the “treat others as you wish to be treated” rule is the cause of many break-ups, divorces, resignations and even wars. Taking this step requires us to become more understanding, tolerant and loving with one another. It means asking ourselves “would he like to be treated this way?” instead of “how would I like to be treated in this situation?” It’s a place where we become more exposed but more understood, and a place where we are more vulnerable yet more safe. It takes effort and often means we need to step out of our comfort zones, but that’s exactly where we grow and learn, not only about others, but also about ourselves.

“Teach others the way you wish to be taught”, “love others the way you wish to be loved”, “talk to others the way you wish to be talked to”… isn’t this the same as “treat others the way you wish to be treated”? it just doesn’t always work that way. Maybe it’s time to rethink this old adage and step out of the shadow of “me” into the light of “you”.