When regarding a political opponent, Lincoln once famously remarked, “I don’t like this man. I must get to know him better.”
Lately, whenever I find myself feeling irritated by someone and potentially disliking them, I immediately force myself to get to know them. And this has done wonders for my growth and maturity as a person. We usually dislike someone when they represent something that is at odds with who we are and what we believe in. This escalates quite quickly when we start perceiving that person to be a threat to our sense of well-being or security. It’s human nature.
But very often what happens when I allow myself to understand where they come from, is I find all my negativity fades away. I start gaining insight into the other party’s views and in many cases, my own. It also offers me the opportunity to challenge my own pre-conceived notions and judgements.
Two cases in point. One, flirty 19-year-old H who was always making moves on other girls’ boyfriends while we were not around and constantly telling everybody who would listen how many guys hit on her. Naturally, she’s not the most well-liked person, especially among the girls. But one day she came up to me to say hi while I was having coffee and I invited her to join me. Then, it came pouring out. Her broken family, being raised without any approval from parents, no strong father figure and having been bullied extensively in school. This girl had no self-esteem to speak of and I started to understand why she needed so much male attention and affirmation. She never had any growing up. It doesn’t make her the most trustworthy person to be around, but I stopped disliking her. I started feeling protective of her. I’d give her the validation she craved so much. I’d tell her that she was a smart girl and had a lot going for her. She started asking me out more often and coming to me for advice.
Second, 25-year-old J who comes across as slightly arrogant, loud and had a foreign accent despite being Singaporean. I didn’t have a good impression of her because of our initial encounter where she was characteristically bossy and talked to me like I was 12. She also didn’t quite fit in with the rest of my local colleagues. But one day while we were on a break, we happened to grab lunch from the same food joint and she suggested we have our sandwiches together somewhere breezy and quiet. And you know what? I’m so glad I got to know her better. She turned out to be lovely. I broke the ice by telling her I’ve seen her work and think she has a lot of talent and potential. She instantly opened up and we traded stories about life, our families etc. And then I learnt she had never even lived in the country. Hence the trouble adjusting and fitting in. First impressions really tell you only one side of the story.
I truly believe that girls compete, but women empower each other. Everybody wins if we look beyond our differences. And it all starts with a simple conversation. A chance to see the world through the other person’s eyes. We don’t lose much. But the most important thing we walk away with is perspective. And that’s something no amount of money or books can offer.