Be on your best behavior! Whether you are a leader in an organization or a parent with kids or someone else altogether, who we are is on display for the world to see and take in, In the minds of others, internal notes and understandings about your character and demeanor are constantly being logged, revised, erased, rewritten, tweaked. In case any of you are wondering, yes I am doing this with some or many of you on a semi-regular basis and reflect on who you are and how you became the person you are today and who you may become in the future. Call me curious about the human condition.
No matter how “on your game” you are or how much of a face you think you’re putting on, that real “you” from underneath the surface which makes you who you are finds ways to reveal itself to others. If they’re paying enough attention, someone will notice those details. And if you’re lucky enough, once in awhile someone will dig deeper and find ways to understand better who you are beyond the surface. Occasionally, those methods don’t even require words or direct interaction with you.
Recently, while some of us were at Portillo’s for lunch, a friend’s nine-year-old son (who affectionately calls me “Uncle Greg”) decided to sit by himself at one of their counter/bar height seating instead of at one of the tables we were able to grab. Nobody initially thought much of the moment as we could see where he was sitting and maybe he was “trying to be cool” by sitting at counter height as his brother so eloquently had assumed.
His mom went over to him and asked why he was sitting off by himself instead of with his dad or brothers. His (paraphrased) reason? “I want to see what’s it’s like for Uncle Greg when he’s out at places by himself.”
My initial reaction was laughter. What nine year says that, right? Then I thought to myself, “what nine-year-old says that?”
There’s a level of empathy of desire in his action and statement that still moves me so many days later. It is a rare trait to find a soul who doesn’t merely brush off what he doesn’t understand and chalks it up to “well, I guess he’s weird.” It is becoming even more rare to find someone who is willing to step outside of their world to walk in someone else’s shoes to see things from another perspective. I wish that I took more opportunities on a daily basis to step back and understand others better.
Empathy and understanding are not quick or simple tasks, especially when done well. I do not think they are often executed well. Too many people fail to put their needs and wants aside for the sake of others, even it means eating one meal sitting alone at a countertop inside Portillo’s.
Stephen Fry’s quote at the top of this post is accurate. However, you are who you are when everyone’s watching too. Sometimes our actions and presence speak as loudly into others lives as our spoken words and leave stronger impressions than we’ll ever know..