I hate messing up on life’s lessons that I think I’ve already learned.  The universe sure has a way of knocking cockiness out of you when you’re not looking.

Once again I got a 2 x 4 reminder as I popped in to my local library last week.  Outside the entrance is where a lot of those people with petitions like to try to catch you.  They’ve got their hook down to a nice sound bite that sounds reasonable.  Something along the lines of “would you like to sign a petition that ensures you continue to have the right to drive your car?”  Obviously, that’s not exactly what they were asking everyone the other day… but it’s always something that on the surface you agree.  You think to yourself “sure, that sounds reasonable” and you sign the petition and you’re on your way.

Of course after their short question designed to break my stride, I had to stop and ask a follow-up question.  I never sign a petition without making sure I know what it’s about.  Now there’s at least two ways you can ask your inquiry — one way is without judgment where you simply want to understand — the other way is where you are ready are in judgment about what they’ve said and your question is more about “proving them wrong”.  Unfortunately, I slipped right into judgment asking something along the lines of “why do we need a law to allow us to do something we can already do?”  Can’t you just hear my moral superiority dripping through those words?

After a few more back-and-forth comments that did nothing to connect us as human beings, I went on my way inside steaming over the encounter.  Immediately I regretted my approach to the interaction.

Do you ever bump into somebody who believes something different from you?  Duh.  Don’t we all?  How do you treat them?  Do you truly care to understand why they believe what they believe?  Or do you rush to judgment and immediately go into pushing your viewpoint?

Seems all too often these days we bypass seeking to understand the other person’s position.  Yes, we may be familiar with the debate around the subject at hand and think we’ve heard all the unconvincing reasons for their opinion.  Armed with this prior knowledge and our minds made up, we seek to save time by jumping over asking this person in front of us their reasoning and go right to espousing our wisdom.

Sure, Stephen Covey told us that one of the seven habits of highly effective people is to seek first to understand, then to be understood.  It sure seems like many of us (myself included) like to take a shortcut around this habit.

Yes, people believe differently from you.  Yes, you may already formed have an opinion on the issue at hand.  Yes, you may be a very busy person in this fast-paced world with no time to waste.  Yes, you may not be called to engage in a lengthy dialogue with every person who has a different viewpoint.

All of that may be true… but here are the lessons I learned once again even though I thought I knew them:

Always see the person in front of you who believes differently as someone worthy of your respect.

Always seek first to understand the other person and their reasoning.

And, if someone seeks to understand you first, still come back and seek to understand them too.

Humanity is always better served by each of us honoring and respecting one another and understanding our differences over our confronting one another in attempting to make ourselves “right” and the other person “wrong”.

Mark Gilbert


Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!