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Seeing the Best and Seeing the Worst

It was my eighth grade school graduation and my father, mother and all of my uncles were in the audience.  When my name was called for my diploma I ascended the short flight of stairs, approached the school principal, shook his hand as he handed me my diploma, left the stage and went back to my seat.

Afterwards, at the party in the back yard of our house, my Uncle Len walked up to me and while waving an Italian sausage sandwich in the air, said, “Ronnie, you were the only student who shook that principal’s hand like a man.  You looked him in the eye and smiled and gave him a good firm hand grip and shook his hand like you meant it.  God damn it, I’m proud of you.”

This happened almost sixty years ago in the spring of 1950.  I still remember the glow I felt when he said those words.  In that moment I saw my self through his eyes and I liked what I saw.  My Uncle Len had a way of doing that and to this day, though he’s long gone, I count him as one of my best friends.

In this same vein, there is a female comic, I can’t remember her name, who tells a story about how she loved to visit her grandmother because she made a fuss over every little thing she did.  “Look at the way she holds that fork!  What poise, how perfectly she uses her fingers.”   “Look at the way she steps into the swimming pool.  How elegant she is.” She concluded her story about her grandmother by saying, “I used to run to her house after school. I could not get there fast enough.” Her grandparents made her feel very special, loved and safe.

This ability to see the special aspects of others and to let them know you see them is one of the secret ingredients of friendship. It comes naturally to some people. They seem to be born with the ability to see and appreciate the unique and admirable qualities in others. The great gift they offer is allowing us to see the very best in ourselves. Since they see only the best we bask in our reflected good qualities.

With some people, the opposite is true. They see only the negative qualities in others and are not shy about pointing them out. Such people are difficult to be around and are often shunned socially because they generate hurt feelings on a regular basis. It is not fun spending time with someone who constantly points out the weaknesses or shortcomings of others.

Negative people often rationalize their critical and negative ways by describing themselves as “honest” or “frank.” They often brag, “You always know where you stand with me.” I describe such behavior differently. I call it “Hostility under the guise of frankness.”

Those folks who see the best in us are those we want to spend time with. Folks who see the worst in us are those we avoid. The question we all have to ask ourselves is, “Where, on the continuum between these two extremes, do I fall?” If you decide you are too critical and uncharitable with your family and friends you might want to begin practicing seeing the best in others rather than the worst.

The way to do this is to ask the following question when you are tempted to be critical of another’s behavior: “What is the most charitable explanation I can come up with to explain this behavior?” You will be surprised how many times you will be able to find such a charitable explanation. Further, you will be amazed at how often your alternative explanation turns out to be true. The fact is, most folks’ motives are good and if you assume the best you are usually correct.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.     



Comment from Alan C.
Time: January 5, 2009, 4:25 pm

I know a few people I would like to send this article to… would be a real game changer for them.

I guess it is done unconsciously and becomes a habit like other behaviors.

Great observations.

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