A dear friend of mine said to me the other day “we expect people to think like we do.” After I thought about it, I realized what a profound statement that was. I also realized that almost every time I had friction or a disagreement with someone, it was usually because they didn’t agree with me or think like I did.
We create our own vision of reality from inside our own minds. Our minds interpret what life reflects back to us. Our minds and our thoughts are the sum and total of all of our life experiences including our families of origin, our income level past and present, our educational level, our aptitude for sports, science music, art, parenting, cooking, and on and on. Also our minds and thoughts are driven by how much we value ourselves and have self-love and self esteem. This is not ego-based self-love but honest value that we give ourselves and our lives.
Since no two people in the world have the same life experiences and interests and talents, it’s no wonder that we all think somewhat differently and approach life in different ways. Since we view life from inside our own heads, however, we sometimes forget that.
Groups of people may have similar thoughts about certain issues. For instance, they may have a meeting of the minds about working for world peace or working for animal rights, so their minds and thoughts are similar around these issues. This is how movements and organizations evolve. However, these people may think alike regarding world peace but may have totally different thoughts on how to raise children, what constitutes a perfect marriage, or how to manage money.
How are we ever to all get along when we are coming from such different life experiences?
First, we need to realize that not everyone thinks as we do, so we shouldn’t expect them to. Second, we should try not to judge others unless, as the saying goes, “you have walked a mile in their shoes.” We can never know everything others have gone through, but we can honor their journey by utilizing the golden rule to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Third, we should remember there are many paths up the mountain, and it’s not important how we get there—only that we get there.
When there is a difference of opinion in a situation, there is almost always a win-win situation if we can just find it. Everyone has free will to make choices in life, and the universe (or God, if you prefer) gave all of us the same free will. As long as we do not impinge on anyone else’s free will and as long as we do not harm another, free will should always be honored. We always have choices. We may choose to leave a situation we do not agree with, for instance. And if we can’t physically leave a bad situation right away, we still have the free will to think the thoughts we choose.
I admit that in the past I often expected others to think like me and became annoyed when they didn’t. Now that I recognize that others do not always think like me, this knowledge will bring me more peace in my life.
We can never truly know what others have been through, the many things that shape their thoughts and actions. We have never had the life experience of others, so how can we judge them? One survivor of the concentration camps in WWII said that the only way he survived was that he was able to choose his own thoughts, and no one else could choose his thoughts for him or invade his mind. He was free to think as he chose and that made all the difference to him. As long as he controlled his thoughts and focused on forgiveness and peace, he was able to control the fear and hatred that caused such pain in some of the other prisoners. Something in this man enabled him to control his thoughts in this manner; however, others had the freedom to think differently as they chose.
Everywhere in life you find people who think differently about the same situation, and this is the freedom that we are born with. Sometimes thoughts change as we gain more information or mature into different thought patterns. But through it all, it behooves us all to honor each other and give each other the freedom to think differently than we do, including those who are perhaps the closest to us.