Once upon a time, when I wore a plaid skirt, knee-high white socks, and a white polo every day to my all-girl Catholic high school, I read the book "Where'd Ya Go, Bernadette?" by Maria Semple for extra credit. Even though I was a dedicated student, I needed those extra points.
The book is about an eccentric mother named Bernadette, but her story is told from second-hand sources (from her daughter and her neighbors). It is a wonderfully creative book. If you like reading about families going through a transformation process, this is a book you might like.
A section of the book was about one of the characters' rules for herself to live a happier life. I couldn't tear my eyes away from that section of the book. I was startled by how intelligent and rational the rules were.
The rules were so worthy of a "Duh, this makes sense, treat people this way instead of that way" that I decided to live by them.
I saw a positive difference in how I talked to my classmates for the couple of weeks I lived by those rules. But unfortunately, I lost my drive to be intentional and the rules faded into the dusty areas of my soul... until a recent mistake helped me remember the grandeur of having rules like these. It's never too late to try again, and today is that day for me.
I cannot remember any of the book's rules except one (which is the first rule below). My point in bringing up "Where'd Ya Go, Bernadette?" is it helped me realize something important. Reflecting on common pitfalls I make in relationships and creating rules to avoid them is a wonderful practice. These rules help me avoid opportunities for my common mistakes to become problems. All I do is read the rules each morning to remind me of their simple brilliance.
These rules also encourage me to be intentional with my relationships. Without intentionality, I fall into my old habits easier. My old habits of treating people... not always good. Below are my rules on how to treat people better. Please check it out.
1. Don't assume anything.
The word "assume" (pardon my language, children - look away) has the word ASS in it. Assuming stuff about people makes an ass out of me. I try to avoid it by asking a bunch of clarifying question to people, but I still fall into this trap every once in a while. I ask questions so I understand what is actually going on. So if I'm ever annoying you with all my questions, I have a reason for it.
2. Experience is experience, and it shapes people's lives.
It is great to share stories, but your audience won't get the experience like you did since they were not there. However, if you are a good story-teller, you can help people get close to experiencing what you did in that moment.
For example, I could give a good explanation of one of the sunsets I saw in Jamaica, but my words won't help you experience the actual warmth of the sun on my skin during that moment. I could gush about the electricity the approaching rain clouds brought to the air, but you won't hear the snap of twigs in the forest around me.
I could accurately describe the sunset's pink glow, but you didn't stand on that hilltop surrounded by friends (and smelly ferns) like I did. I wish you had. At least now, you can kind of imagine what that was like for me.
This rule is about more than story-telling. It's about accepting there are things I will never understand about someone else. I can imagine and empathize, but I was not attacked by bullies like you were. I was not in that canoe when it flipped over, and I didn't get that hypothermia and almost die afterward –– you experienced all of that.
I didn't land a perfect backflip that helped me win that gymnastics meet - you did. This rule helps me remember that someone's experiences have positively and/or negatively shaped someone's life, and I need to remember his/her experiences to know where that person is coming from. And they need to know mine. Therefore, sharing is caring. Keep sharing.
3. You can't change people.
I fall into this trap a lot.
I just want to use my critical thinking skills and persuasion techniques to convince friends and family I AM RIGHT when I am passionate about something (like homemade vanilla ice-cream being the best, Made in America items being more ethical than Chinese products, poetry being fun to read), but forcing your opinion on someone is SO NOT COOL.
Notice how I chose the words "passionate about something" instead of "right about something" up above. I'm not always right about stuff (lol).
You have an undeniable right to have your own opinions. I also hope we can agree it is your honor to be a part of someone's life, no matter how different the two of you are. Don't ruin the relationship by shutting down or ridiculing his/her opinions. Doing that closes yourself off from a relationship that challenges you to think differently (and maybe more critically) about your opinions.
One of my male buddies says a non-negotiable for a girl he will date is that they both have to like the same political party. It is great that he knows what is important for him to have in a romantic relationship, but he could be closing himself off to a wonderful relationship with a girl who doesn't like the same political party as him.
Also, what do I know about how deeply he cares about politics? It's his choice what he thinks is non-negotiable. But my suggestion to remain open-minded is food for thought.
4. Don't brag about your relationship status, whatever it is.
People might not even care if you're dating, single, or married.
You might be happy, but rubbing that in someone's face is inconsiderate. Consider this. You know your guy friend has been eating pints of cookie dough ice-cream for days after his breakup with his high school sweetheart.
I'm assuming you care about his feelings of pain and loneliness when I ask the following question: Why are you talking for more than an hour about how loved you feel in your new relationship right now? Not cool.
Here are my ideas on this rule. If someone asks about your love life, share it. If someone asks for more details, share some (if you want to). Until then, I suggest being humble and discreet.
5. Listen to hear, not to respond.
*standing ovation for this one*
Listening to respond is bad news bears. Listening to respond means you don't care about what is being discussed. It means your mind is intentionally on what you had for lunch, your English homework, or your fun park date. You might even be planning how you are going to bring that up next in the conversation instead of listening attentively.
While you were thinking of all the things you were going to say, you missed what the other person was saying. Stay focused in conversation. Give them your full attention or none at all.
When I don't follow these rules, I hurt people. These rules have helped me identify the mistakes I make on repeat and how to avoid them. I like these rules because they help me love others better.
But Here is the Kicker
The only way to love others authentically is by believing in God and letting Him transform your heart to be more like His. God is the only one who shows us the truth about love, because, let's face it, the world likes to change its mind about love every day. I cannot be joyful, forgiving, or compassionate if I forget to love God, the Author of Love. Therefore, before each day starts, I apply my personal rule, which is the following:
I thank God for giving me the opportunity to succeed and/or fail at loving others. This opportunity is the day itself. The opportunity to live another day is not a given. I think we would be kind more intentionally if we remembered this could be our last day to do so.
How could you apply these rules to your life? What rules could help you interact with others better? Consider these questions because we all need a little help being kind people, and these rules are helpful.