“She holds her fork like this,” Annie explained to me as she bear-gripped the fork in her small, almost 9-year-old hand. “And, she pretends to talk like she is a princess.”
We were sitting in a booth at our favorite pub, the Laurelwood. We are in the loud room – the one with families of toddlers. Emmett and Jane are talking with the family a table away from ours. Emmett has discovered the special, sweet hell that comes with making an 18-month-old laugh – that you feel compelled to do that same action that causes the laugh, but, then it gets boring. Jane is assuring the parents that it is normal to not want to be home alone with the kids – until the youngest is about four and a half.
“Tell me again,” I asked Annie, just enthralled with her on that particularly evening.
“Well, she holds her fork like an animal – like she doesn’t have any manners at all – and she talks like she is a princess.”
I imagined Annie, older, adding in some curse words for emphasis.
Deliberately, I picked up my cranberry-seltzer and drank it slowly, to keep myself from talking.
I did that because I wanted desperately to interrupt what she was talking about to tell her one of my favorite quotes of all time.
But, I’m not her rabbi – I’m her dad. So, I kept my gaze on her and listened – because that’s what dads are supposed to do.
And, while listening, I made a mental note about later using that moment as the start of this very article that you are reading. Because there is a moral and lesson that I want to share.
After all, I’m not your dad. I’m your rabbi.
Annie holding the fork reminded me of this simple two-part lesson:
If you dislike someone the way they hold their spoon will offend you. If you like someone, they could drop a plate of food in your lap and you wouldn’t mind.
Our preconceived notions of who we think people are keep us seeing them as we envision them. And, perhaps, our preconceived notions keep us from seeing reality as it is.
If you have decided that everything that your liberal friend does is just stupid, then you will probably see everything they do as stupid. If you have decided that the conservative person you used to be friends with is just an idiot, then you will probably see everything they do as idiotic.
After all, it’s what you’ve decided – and we love to prove ourselves right.
Notice the next thing that someone does that annoys you – whether it is their haircut, the way they hold their cell-phone, or the way they hold their fork and talk like a princess.
Wonder if you would feel the same way if someone you loved did that very thing.
The “offending thing” most probably wouldn’t annoy you if someone you loved did the very same thing.
This realization is sobering: most of what offends us about people is not their actions, but our perception and opinion of them as a person.
Stereotypes and ad hominem attacks – confusing the person with their position – are dehumanizing and dangerous.
I am not saying that you need to agree ideologically with someone with whom you do not. What I am saying is that you need to accept that “they” aren’t all bad.
Making fun of how they hold their fork and talk – things that have nothing to do with their position with which we might disagree – is to engage in childish behavior.
Perhaps, if we were to look for the good in our enemies, then, well, we wouldn’t feel we need to have enemies.
This is not an easy lesson to take in.
And, for that, I’m glad that you like me – otherwise, you might not have listened.