"Accepting others for who they are fosters goodwill and empowers relationships." — Jonas Cain
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Have you ever felt the pangs of rejection? Rejected just for being you? It can be at best disheartening and at worst devastating.
A number of years ago I had an opportunity to visit the saloon where my parents had first met. It's a mighty small establishment and though located in my hometown I had never before visited.
One evening while on my way home after a full of day presentations I passed by the bar. I had always wanted to check it out as a way of retracing my origins, so I thought "Why not?" I parked the car, got out, and sauntered up to the building, excited about what I might experience on this make-shift "pilgrimage."
But before could even make it inside I was nearly punched in the face by a disgruntled patron standing outside who just didn't like the "look" of me.
"Who do you think you are coming in here with that tie?!" he barked.
He must have had a prejudice against people in suits because he was demanding that I take off the tie before stepping inside. As a child I grew up being made fun of because of the clothes I chose to wear. I've always felt most comfortable in formal wear and can recall an early memory when I must have been no older than five or so, asking my parents if I could wear my Sunday clothes. This choice in clothing made me an easy target for careless judgements from peers who were simply too young to know any better, but this disgruntled man standing outside the bar was old enough to know better and still chose to pass careless judgement.
And he wasn't alone. His pals began ganging up on me too and I was getting ready to hightail it out of there if I could! But there was one person who had the good sense to quell the negativity, and before long rather than being beaten up and left on the curb I was invited in as a welcome guest and people were buying me drinks, laughing, and having a good time. That was quite a quell!
How did this person turn the destructive situation into a constructive experience?
There's a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that explains what happened: "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
When I first approached the saloon I was a stranger in a strange land (even though it was my hometown!) and human nature is such that we are prepared to fear and dislike whatever it is that we don't understand. Their guards were up and were quick to hate me simply by the way I looked. But the person who turned the situation around decided to delay judgement by first getting to know me. And all it took were a few questions:
"What's your name?"
"Where are you from?"
"Why are you here?"
After learning who I was and why I was there everyone got excited. One guy even yelled, "You're Johnny's son?! We go way back!" Another said, "Gretchen is your mom? I went to school with her!"
By getting to know me these people who just moments earlier were ready to kick me to the curb instead discovered a meaningful connection.
Passing careless judgement on others is a destructive habit that closes us off to genuine human connection; yet by accepting others for who they are—by seeking to understand them—we engage in a constructive practice that can build goodwill and friendship.
How might you be more accepting of those different from you?
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Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.