Once upon a time, a couple came to a new town. On the road they met a man. They asked him, “How are the people in this town?” He replied, “Where are you coming from?” They told him.
He then asked, “And how were the people in that town?” The couple replied, “They were selfish and mean.” The man then said, “And so you will find the people here selfish and mean.”
A few minutes later another couple walked toward the town. They saw the same man. They asked him, “How are the people in this town?”
He then asked them about the people where they came from. The couple replied, “They were wonderful and kind.” The man then said, “And so you will find the people here wonderful and kind.”
What we see is what we get. When we look for the good in people, we will discover it. When we look for the bad, we will find that, too. Which would we rather see?
Am I Naive?
No, I am not asking us to ignore the bad and live with rose-colored lens. Denial is not a solution to life’s problems. Rather, I am suggesting we try to give people the benefit of the doubt.
At a recent funeral I conducted for a beloved family matriarch, her children noted constantly that their mother “always looked for the best in people.” They saw this trait as part of the reason so many loved and cherished her over her 92 years.
Looking for the best in people can take work. Here are some steps to guide us.
1. Check your instincts: Are you the type of person that naturally looks for the negative in others? If so, try to check yourself. When you see your mind immediately looking for what’s wrong, stop and think about what might be right. The power of focus is extraordinary. Use it to shape where you place your attention.
2. Greet people with a smile: A smile not only puts others at ease. It affects our own brains. Smiling releases hormones and endorphins that can put us in a better mood, and naturally make us think better of others.
3. Become more self-accepting: Are we criticizing in others what we do not like in ourselves? This tendency is all too common. We may feel embarrassed about something we do, and when we see it in others, we enact our anger at ourselves. Rather than redirect our frustration, we can name and accept it. We will feel better about ourselves and others.
4. Prepare your mind: I used to dread going to meetings. On some level, I still do. But now, before most meetings, I tell myself I am going to learn something new and move closer to completing an important project. We can apply the same technique to people.
We may notice an annoying trait about another person we are going to see. But if we tell ourselves ahead of time that we are going to look for the positive, we will be more likely to notice it. This one technique–preparing to look for the positive–can help make the dull interesting and boring exciting.
5. Be interested in others: One of my favorite verses from the Talmud is “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” What better way is there to find goodness in another than to learn from them? Life glows brighter when we have an open mind and open heart.
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