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The extraordinary and inspirational Martha Beck came to my rescue again.
Just when I’m at a loss for a hook for my column, she appears.
I was reading an article written by her about spreading sunshine to others and how it’s not very hard to make someone’s day.
My mom’s oft-repeated quote was, “if they don’t have a smile, give them one of yours,” and I try to abide by that, even if the clerk is especially snarky.
After all, none of us knows what’s actually going on in someone else’s life.
That would be Martha’s suggestion to feel good around other people.
But the one that really grabbed me was her advice to pretend people love you. She actually took it from Byron Katie and here’s her quote: “When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me. I just don’t expect them to realize it yet.”
Of course, there are some in this world who already work under this assumption.
Wet dogs, cats and precocious toddlers all operate with this theory.
For the rest of us, we may have to really work at it.
Can you conceive of walking into a football game with your arch rivals, sitting on the opposition’s side wearing your school’s colors and assuming that every fan sitting around you loves you?
Or a being a blue candidate giving a stump speech in a deeply red state?
It boggles the mind.
But meeting someone with the blanket assumption that they love and adore you even if they’ve never laid eyes on you before completely flips the equation, doesn’t it?
I’ve spent the last three days with 21 Sheridan County eighth graders up at YMCA of the Bighorns.
The food, weather, scenery, activities and people have been a terrific hardship but I’ve persevered.
One of the leadership tenets that we’re teaching these soon-to-be-freshmen is assumptions.
What they are, how we all have them, when it’s good to suspend those assumptions and when to reflect on the veracity of those you couldn’t overcome.
We had them sit in a different place in the room and sketch a chair that was sitting in the middle of it.
When they compared their drawings, obviously there were several different perspectives on the chair because they were sitting in different places and could see different parts of it.
Does that make some of the drawings of the chair wrong? No, they all agreed. It was just someone’s perspective of it. So although you may assume that everyone has the same perspective on an issue that you do, when you find out that’s not the case, you leap to even more assumptions about their motivation and reason.
Then we had the kids stand back-to-back in pairs and asked them fairly innocuous questions about the person with whom they were paired.
Did that person like ice cream sodas?
What was their favorite kind of movie?
Did they have a younger sibling?
Many of these eighth graders don’t go to the same school and those who do don’t necessarily know their schoolmates very well.
So it was interesting to see what their assumptions were about each other and how they reached those.
Was it based on reputation? Clothing? Classroom performance? Was it even vaguely accurate and how often had others made incorrect, not to mention hurtful, assumptions about who they were and what they liked?
One of the few assumptions that would be positive for absolutely everyone concerned is the expectation that you are loved by all whom you meet.
That kind of an attitude would dispel any negative assumptions that you had of others out their perception of you — that they thought your haircut was odd, your pants too short, your little sister obnoxious or your music bizarre.
Think of the barriers dropped, the defenses crumbled with this sunshiney worldview.
Instead, everyone would meet everyone else exactly where they are — imperfect, adorable and unique. That’s an assumption we can all embrace.
Amy Albrecht is executive director for Center for a Vital Community.
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