Outside Looking In

“There are two sorts of curiosity – the momentary and the permanent. The momentary is concerned with the odd appearance on the surface of things. The permanent is attracted by the amazing and consecutive life that flows on beneath the surface of things.” ~ Robert Lynd

We all, I believe, have invaluable human encounters during our lives. One of mine happened in June, 2011. I was traveling cross-country and her name was Rose. She was considerably my senior and I, her captive audience for a while. I’ll share the full story of Rose in a later this spring post. Suffice it to say, Rose stunningly grounded my belief in the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” a quote attributed to author George Elliot in 1860 and that became popular in the 1920’s.

Perhaps you have had the experience of encountering someone whose life seems so completely different from yours that you can almost imagine having nothing in common. However, if you go deeper into observing, you see that we all have the same things going on in our lives. It is as if our different lives are oddly, interconnected. We all experience a range of emotions. Many of us can have money, relationship and/or employment issues, and everyone struggles with different choices.

Your life and my life show up differently for us because we learn in different ways. One person may need to learn the value of money by having too little of it, while another may need to learn by having more than enough. We each learn about work and love, with experiences that are customized to our perspectives. Though it may seem some people have it easy while others are always struggling, the truth is that we are all learning and it is difficult to tell, when looking only at the exterior of a person, what is going on inside.

From Rose, I learned how this is true with people from all walks of life. As we get to know those who seem different from us, we get to see how much of life’s challenges and joys are common. We begin to look beyond one’s skin color, clothing preferences, social class differences, and what we drive – to the heart of the human experience. It is important to honor what is inside each of us, and the fact that, regardless of how different we appear to be, what is on the inside is often the same.

For those interested in further exploring this, here are three suggested actions:

  • Listen to the people around you. People crave for attention. People feel loved when given attention. Give love. Listening is an act of love.
  • Talk to someone you think might be in distress. You don’t always need an invitation. You may make a difference of a lifetime.
  • Live without limits. Some limits are positive and necessary (like speed limits), but a lot of the limits we place on ourselves inhibit us from experiencing all of what we have to offer. Limits like fearing to reach out to a homeless person or talk to strangers, restrict the flow of kindness in our lives.

39 thoughts on “Outside Looking In

  1. Great reminders Eric. I hope to follow your good example. Sometimes I’ve been surprised by the depth of people I would have judged from the exterior. And we all definitely crave being listened to and ‘heard’.. Bravo to breaking our self imposed limits!

    • All kinds of positive/constructive adjectives come to mind when I think about what we are capable of doing when we commit to using our gifts to lift and encourage others, regardless of what we “see” on the outside. Appreciate your thoughtful comment, Brad.

  2. We are all much more alike than we are different…sometimes we focus on the wrong aspects. Some of the best advice and deepest conversations have occurred with complete strangers, not to mention profound wisdom shared once by a homeless man.
    Thank you for this post.

    • I believe if we remain open, and invite/allow others to freely enter our lives, we will then see how we are so alike and wanting to do for one another what we can. We do focus on the wrong aspects, too frequently. A bit more awareness can easily shift those views. 🙂 Thanks, Suzi.

  3. I have learned this lesson many times over. And I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair amount of snap judgments myself, as I’m sure most of us have. We should all have learned better by now. A great reminder, Eric.

  4. Eric, a perfect post to start the new year. While I always believe I should not make quick judgements, I cannot help it…and looking back I am amazed at how wrong I can be. Your three suggestions are perfect, as you mention ~ we really are so common to each other underneath. Allowing time and interest to dig through the superficial stuff, there is a lot to be learned.
    Thank you, and wish you a great ’14.

    • And we on the “how wrong I can be” boat would, collectively, capsize the poor vessel. I neither know nor can name a single person who hasn’t rendered an initial impression (judgement) only to later be humbled by the acknowledgment.

      I love when we create time to reflect on and appreciate how common we truly are. Therein lies some substantial beauty; the kind that bonds and nurtures relationships beyond anticipation. I’m with you – we all need to create more time “to dig.” I believe the interest (and desire) is already present.

      Thanks, Randall. New year well wishes returned!

  5. I guess people have limits because somewhere inside something they see outside causes an “uneasy” feeling or even a “threat” to their personal comfort. To shed limits it’s important to look into ourselves and see that what’s outside can only hurt us if we let it – so yes, it’s best to let our guards down and reach out to others, listen to what they have to say, to what they’re about… that is I agree truly liberating, as we become pleasantly surprised …

    • Beautiful, Ina. Thank you for your simple yet spot on observation and comments. So many wonderful outcomes can unfold/present when we reach out and listen to or help others. At our core, most of us are givers and enjoy opportunities to be and contribute to the betterment of others. Here’s to more of us shedding our self-imposed limits and, as you advocate, looking into ourselves. 🙂

  6. oh my, what’s wrong! First I type the right words, then I type the wrong words to correct them 😛 Looks like I am too restless to get my comment read 😛

    ‘We are so restless to listen to others’ – Yeah, this is the right one.

  7. I too warm to your last point about limits Eric.They can become so constrictive especially when we limit people within our own limited perception of them. Great post.

    • And we often don’t even realize that/how we are indirectly limiting others – because of our own shortcomings. A little more intentional kindness, caring, and giving would surely serve as an antidote, you think, Don? 🙂

  8. I agree with what you say. I had a friend who used to say “X has everything!” with some regret. I used to say “Don’t say that because we never really know what’s going on in one’s life”.

  9. This is a big one for me! As a young woman in business (who’s 5’1″ and looks even younger) it means a great deal to me to receive feedback like, “thanks for that document, it was really helpful” instead of “aw, thanks for that document, you’re so sweet!” It’s important to me that I’m judged on my work – not how I look while I’m doing it – and I try to do the same for others. It can be easy to make assumptions though, so thanks for the reminder!

    • Of course it can be easy, Amb, that’s why many lapse into doing so. Good on you for being aware of it in yourself as I suspect that helps to align your perspectives with what is truly meaningful – to you and others. Thank you for adding to the conversation thread.

  10. Eric, in my childhood I was taught / trained to embrace a paradigm of conformity. What came with that, for me, was quite a bit of pressure … self contempt … anger … and jealousy. I was not able to grab those observations / lessons until much later in life. This post tapped some of that for me. I really like the way you presented it. I’d like to reblog this on my Other Side of the Trees. I hope that is okay. Peace, T

    • I suspect most of us were taught to conform. What came with it varies from one to another. Isn’t is amazing (and often, wonderful) what comes with time and age? 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and of course you may reblog the post. I appreciate your choosing to share the message with others. Stay warm and well, Tim.

  11. I never judge. I hate it when perception becomes reality.

    Having travelled to so many places, I really find that it really is a small world. I’ve experienced and embraced many cultures, and differences. But in the end, we really are tiny. If we find the time, even just a little moment, it’s guaranteed that you will find at least one thing in common with another person. You can work that connection and turn it into something bigger.

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