“…I am not what you supposed, but far different…” ~ Walt Whitman
I was quite surprised when I learned that the poet Walt Whitman was a nurse. During the Civil War he bandaged the wounded and held the hands of the dying. It was a time when it was deemed to be inappropriate for women to care for people other than their immediate family, so male nurses were not uncommon. It took time and a strong woman called Florence Nightingale (among others) to change that fact, and give birth to the profession of nursing.
But what struck me this week is how often we make assumptions about others based on a snap judgment. We use a person’s appearance, their accent or country of origin, the car they drive or their job to tell us all we need to know about them. But if we take time to get to know them we may be quite surprised. This country is a place of new beginnings, so it is not unusual for someone who was a professor in their own country to be working as a janitor in this one. A physician could be working as a nanny until she gets more familiar with the language. When you think you know someone without digging deeper than the superficial, you may be missing the full picture.
As a nurse I have had to learn the importance of not judging my patients. When I worked in the Emergency Room it was easy to label people based on first impressions. But the man you labeled non-compliant for not taking his anti-hypertensive meds may have lost his insurance. The girl who was projecting an arrogant attitude might be scared and in an abusive relationship. When you jump to conclusions about people you are missing out on a chance to make a difference in their life.
In the classroom we have to be careful too. It is a challenge to pull the introverted students out, to get them to let you know what they don’t know. Going back to school as an adult can be a scary thing, and it often means exposing yourself to others. The teacher has to create an environment where students are comfortable to ask questions. It is only by listening that I can become a better teacher. When you know something, it is very difficult to go back to that time of not knowing, of remembering how difficult it was to grasp a basic concept. The teacher has to be able to walk a mile in their shoes.
We like people to conform to our expectations of them. Then when they act in a way that is different from our idea, we are disappointed. This is especially true in relationships. When you are in love, you are responding to chemistry and fantasy, in your mind you may have created an ideal love, a person who isn’t anything like the man standing in front of you. When the love potion wears off, you are angry first at the person you fell in love with. He has changed, or he is not living up to the prince charming you thought he was. Yet the person you should be angry at is yourself, for not seeing the man he truly is. And it may be that if instead of looking for the man you want him to be, you look at his actual attributes and accept them, he may be worth a second look.
Have you ever been surprised by someone in your own family? It could be a younger sibling you grew up with but you moved away. In your mind they are still the flighty teenager you left behind. They may have matured into a completely different adult; take the chance to get to know them and forge a new relationship, you may have found a new best friend.
There are times when it is good not to reveal too much about yourself all at once, and you hold back. In the work place there are often people who are threatened by your personality if it is too strong, and you reveal yourself only once you understand who the power players are. Sometimes it is good to have people underestimate you, to let them make assumptions about you. But be careful, someone else may be doing the same thing to you!
This Friday morning I hope you will stop for a moment and see if there are any assumptions you need to challenge. It may be time to stop and stare at your own reflection, perhaps the person you need to reevaluate is you. What is it you have told yourself you can’t do? What challenge are you avoiding because you think you don’t have the talent? Have you taken the time recently to get to know yourself? When we live to our fullest potential we find out interesting and amazing things about ourselves. When we allow the people in our lives to be who they are, we give them room to grow. When we stop making generalizations about the people in our community we develop compassion and make the world a better place.
Challenge your assumptions! Try to get to know someone better! And if you have a chance, read some poetry, it can open up your mind.
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” ~ Walt Whitman.
Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend Family!
Namaste! (The light that is within me greets the light that is within you).