Everybody has a story. Not all of us are willing to hear it. No, that’s unfair—maybe we aren’t always willing to take the time to listen. We’re not stopping long enough to see people. We’re not taking the time to ask the right questions, or to stick around for the answers. Often, we’ve already made up our minds about what we think someone’s story might be.
But how many times have you had a first impression of someone that was wrong? How many times have you had a tenth impression of someone that was wrong? I certainly have.
The lady who’d gone to the office gym at the same time as me every day for the last three years, I assumed was a certain way—and in fairness, I judged this based on hundreds of overheard locker room conversations which I was convinced made me an excellent judge of character.
Then, one day I find myself in a one-on-one conversation, and at first, I’m not thrilled to be stuck in it. I don’t have a way out, because she knows I’ll be on the treadmill next to her for at least 20 minutes. And in that 20 minutes, I am blown away to find out that no, she isn’t single because she’s insufferable and no half-intelligent person would want to be with her (I can’t even remember why I thought something so awful now). She’s actually in a very fulfilling marriage to John from the mailroom, and they are as deeply in love today as when they met 40 years ago.
No, she doesn’t have 15 cats. She has three sons, two of which live abroad, and she misses them like crazy, but they always fly back to visit at least twice a year. The third son passed away a few years ago, tragically. Her strength and character amaze me. We both love used bookstores, which makes her my new best friend.
Her voice is slightly less annoying now that I know her story, which makes me feel ashamed. She isn’t loud because she’s obnoxious; she’s loud because she’s full of zeal and energy. I feel elated—and awful because I so poorly misjudged her.
Find common ground
We don’t have to enjoy the company of every person we meet. We don’t have to agree with all their beliefs, and we certainly don’t have to love the sound of their voice. Far from preaching that we should befriend everyone who initially rubs us the wrong way, I would just challenge anyone to dig a little deeper with those they are quick to dismiss.
Ask questions. Find the common ground that makes them relatable, that makes them human, that makes them lovable. And maybe don’t wait until the day you’re stuck on the treadmill next to them, because that day might not come.
My husband is like this. Whenever we have someone over to open the pool or deliver a piece of furniture, he engages with them from the first hello. My introverted tendencies urge me to hide in the bedroom whenever a stranger is around, so I’ve always been thankful he is so open and comfortable in these situations. But I’ve found that I’m also thankful, because I get to listen in on some extraordinary conversations.
Those who appear boring rarely are. Those who appear unfriendly can be the most helpful. Those who seem predictable can surprise you. But you only get the surprise if you’re there to receive it.
We can be so quick to shut people out of the exclusive clubs we’ve built on immature insecurities, instead of highlighting all the beautiful ways that we are connected. No matter how different two people are from each other, I’ve learned that everyone can find common ground somewhere. And how lovely a world we’d have if we’d just be willing to look.
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