My mom raised my sisters and me to always say “good morning” to those we knew and to strangers on the street. She raised us to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. She raised us to follow the Golden Rule: to treat people with kindness and compassion. And somewhere down the line, I started to struggle a bit and stray away from these foundations. More recently, I’ve found myself honking my horn a little faster, pressing the elevator buttons more impatiently, and treating others the way they treat me. Have you ever had moments like these?
I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t seen consistent sunlight in weeks and it’s taking a toll on my mood, I’ve been getting poor sleep which makes me more irritable, I’ve started to expect the worst in humanity which hardens me, or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Regardless, the result is the same: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has officially flown out the window. The reason why isn’t nearly as important as recognizing the impact it’s having, but straying away from following the Golden Rule has led me to do some serious self-reflection and made me realize a few things:
1) We can only control ourselves:
I can’t control if someone cuts me off in traffic or if they don’t say “thank you” after I hold the door open for them. All I can control is what I do and how I respond. If I’m going to follow the Golden Rule, then I have to do my best to fully commit without any limitations, conditions, or expectations. And I will fail. We all will, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. There is no fine print or asterisks. It doesn’t say “treat people the way you want to be treated (if they treat you with kindness and respect, first).” We cannot control other people, but we can decide whether or not we allow how they treat us to control us or change who we are. Is this easy? Heck no! The fact of the matter is that we’re human and oftentimes driven by how we feel, but there are things we can do to be less of that human and more…human(e). As a psychotherapist, I’m quite used to introducing my patients and their families to skills and techniques that can help calm them down, but before I’m a therapist, I’m a human first and could use some practice myself. Some effective strategies include:
- Taking deep/paced breaths
- Choosing a shape and counting as many of them as you can find
- Identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste
- Imagining a peaceful place
- Listening to calming/relaxing music
2) We’re all doing our best:
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: 9 times out of 10, how people treat you has very little to do with you. Okay, maybe that’s not a secret, but it’s certainly an important thing to keep in mind. Remember when I started listing off all the reasons why I hadn’t been following the Golden Rule? Well, is my lack of sleep or sunlight someone else’s problem? No. Does it give me the right to be rude to or inconsiderate of others? Absolutely not. We are all facing challenges and fighting battles that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Some days are more difficult than others, but in the end, we are all doing our best to survive each day, each moment, each breath. And sometimes when you’re in survival mode, courtesy, respect, kindness, empathy, and patience go out the window. When we’re engaging with others, try to be kind, gentle, and compassionate with them and with yourself.
3) The little things make the biggest impact:
Sometimes I think we set lofty goals for ourselves around being a good human being. That the expectation is I’m either all good or if I have one moment where I “slip up,” then my character is ruined. That being a good human being means doing big things to make big positive waves for someone else. That maybe it doesn’t count as much if other people don’t know about these acts of kindness. But I don’t think that’s how this works. It makes sense to want to be remembered for the big stuff: the hero who saves a dog from a burning building or raises tens of thousands of dollars to donate to a charitable cause. The reality, however, is that we will likely never be known for these “big-ticket” acts of kindness. We will never be the hero on social media accounts gaining publicity at every turn. And that’s okay, because when we do small acts of kindness with pure intentions, it has a massive impact that reverberates beyond our reach. If you want people to treat each other with more compassion and kindness, then let it start with you. Following the Golden Rule can inspire others to do the same and reignite our faith and hope in humanity. It could also make even the toughest and darkest moments feel just a little easier to manage. You don’t have to be a hero to effect change. A human(e) being will do just fine!
Whether it means you let someone merge in front of you, hold the door open for someone else, or start the day off with saying “good morning,” you never know how you might positively impact someone’s day or even your own. What does following the Golden Rule look like for you? What can you practice or commit to doing to be a little less human and more human(e) this week? Comment below!