I had a lovely afternoon coffee meeting with a friend who was a colleague up until relatively recently when she left our team for a life of books and other good things. I will qualify this post with the thought that my friend is something of an introverted-type person and I am…well, I’m not. Like most extroverts, I get my energy from social contact. I think of my ideas while I’m having a conversation and I love anything which involves public speaking or performance. I have happily been standing up in front of audiences and telling them anything from a mildly rude poem (church prize-giving, age 8), to a poem I wrote about nuclear war (school assembly, age 13) or a TEDx talk about while resilience is a good thing for people with Autism and everyone else for that matter (Canberra Theatre Centre, age 39). My friend on the other hand, would probably be somewhat adverse to standing on stage and is much better at listening to others and quietly considering things.
Our conversation this afternoon took many enjoyable turns. We discussed books and risk management and parenting. Just as we were about to go and board our respective buses, we got onto the topic of social interaction. I mentioned that a natural human trait is to see other people as different versions of ourselves. So if we like cats, we are surprised when another person doesn’t like cats and may even be critical or dismissive of them. My friend responded by saying that the old adage ‘do unto others as you would like done to you’ could instead be changed to ‘do unto others as they would like you to do.’ I think this is fantastic advice. Instead of being self-focused and seeing others as a little extension of ourselves, we should maybe think about the other person as just that – another person, not us.
In practice, this might mean that I, as an extrovert, do not press my more introverted friends to give me their phone numbers or call them but rather to communicate with them in the way that they prefer. It’s really about being thoughtful and considerate. I think it’s OK to ask people what their preferences are too. Just imagine if everyone in the world thought like this. Instead of trying to force people to accept one way of thinking (think of extremists from whichever shade of extremism is doing the rounds at the moment), but to consider the needs of others who don’t share their views. Instead of feeling threatened and angry at difference, people could try to understand ideas and experiences from another’s perspective.
OK, so my friend and I have just fixed the world. Whats next??