Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Tip of the iceberg.

Published: 14 Nov 2012

The other night my wife and I were at a great dinner party. It was upbeat, lots of laughing from funny stories going around. My wife was in a different circle and I strained to hear what was going on. It was a very different group. It was serious and somber. I worried they were even going to talk about politics. I promptly reverted my attention back to my group.

Later, the couple that was talking with my wife came to talk with me. The levity and joy I had vanished and was replaced with an awkward seriousness. This rapidity of the change took me by surprise. When we finally left to head home, the negative feeling stuck with me. I share this with my wife and she was not surprised.

How can people who go out of their way to go to social events be so negative? Why would they be that way? I doubt they knew, but it has to be such a deeply ingrained habit. Anything this vast I have no hope to really understand. Maybe if I got to know them very well and could empathize and understand them I would be able to. But wait, why would I want to get to know them? They’re no fun!

Instead I took these thoughts and applied it to people I do enjoy visiting with. Why are they fun? What gives them joy? What can I do to help them have more fun and be happier? Then realized something. The depth in which I understand most people is strikingly shallow.

My level of involvement stops at what I see. Sure, I know this guy. He has 2 children, but I don’t know those children. I never think of this guy as a father. The joy I see him have every day may come from the love his daughters have for him. Maybe he just loves his job. I honestly don’t know, and until today I never even thought about it. He was merely a face, he was happy and I enjoyed visiting with him. His life was hidden from my thoughts.

We can’t possible connect with everybody. Sometimes only that shallow connection is what we have. That means it’s better to treat everybody with innate value, even when we can’t see it. We should strive to connect effectively, not efficiently. There is depth behind the scenes we can’t hope to understand, except to acknowledge it’s there.

I need to practice acknowledging this.