By Not Dale Carnegie
Well pretty much the exact opposite of Dale Carnegie.
By an 18 year old kid travelling the world about as gracefully as a fish climbs a mountain – bravely (stupidly) venturing where no fish, or any species this low in the course of evolution for that matter, has gone before. I’m probably learning some things a fish shouldn’t, like how to tie a bowline knot with my dorsal fin and flop up a boulder. I’m also probably missing some things going on back in the ocean.
So why did I decide to climb this mountain, you ask? Well, for the halibut.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Quincy – I swear to God…*
Discontinuing the fish-mountain metaphor from here on out (you’re welcome) my point is that I’m doing a strange thing at a very vulnerable time in my life – and I’m not exactly in my element.
But I’m killing it.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not bragging. Like I said, I’m graceless: I’m a clumsy goofball and I’m always screwing up travel logistic and very common sense things like failing to bring sun-screen on a desert trek. But I am doing really well at traversing these strange lands with all these strange people and that’s because I’ve learned this one important thing – these people aren’t really that strange.
I’ve been from the Outer Banks up to New York through the mountains of Virginia and the farmlands of Carolina – I’ve been to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar of East Africa – I’ve been to Delhi and Rajasthan and Mumbai and Kerala – all in the past 9 months. I’ve seen a lot of things in the past little while, but you know what I haven’t seen?
I haven’t seen someone that doesn’t get sad sometimes. I haven’t seen someone that was completely not understandable.
So what does this mean?
I had a revelation by way of public transport.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: C’MON*
One late night of travelling I chose to grab a discount sleeper bus going from Tirupati to Bangaluru. I hopped up the steps of the 11:00 bus at 10:58 grinning at something or another while every other passenger of the bus grimaced.
As I walked down the aisle my head grazed the ceiling of the darkened bus interior and an observable dread seized everyone with an open seat near them. I chose a seat near the middle of the bus beside a decently pleasant man just as the bus bounded out of the station.
It was about 11:20 p.m. when the lights turned out, consequentially plucking the passengers from consciousness, one by one. Then the man directly in front of me attempted to recline his seat and thus the revelation began.
I knew it was going to happen. It couldn’t not happen. Inevitable, really.
His chair his my legs with a bang. BANG. He tried again. And again, and once more. BANG BANG BANG.
Each time more forcibly than the last, his frustration obviously building. At this point I was just sort of announcing the word ‘Ouch,’ each time the seat down and nervously laughing in hopes that this man would realize the futility of his attempts and stop.
By propping his feet up on the chair in front of him and squat thrusting my poor knees into a twisting, gruesome submission, he managed to recline comfortably. I let out a small yelp of anguish before tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “Hey,”
“do you mind moving your seat up a bit? I’m pretty tall.”
Like a snake ready to strike he turned around and spat, “So, what!?”
For a moment we looked at each other in the darkness.
All I could think of at first was how much I wanted to put my fist through his head. So, what?! I thought. So I can feel my bones cracking right now.
But then the bus passed a string of street lamps on the highway. The dull yellow light blasted in through the window like strobes for just a couple fleeting seconds – but in those seconds is when it happened.
I saw his face. Really saw it.
He wasn’t handsome; his curved nose protruded from a short curtain of salt and pepper hair like a grandiose actor that loved the spotlight a little too much. His features were grim, angular. Sharp lines and stubble interrupted his brown skin which hung especially loose beneath his dark eyes. He was tired.
For all of a second I understood completely. I glanced at his shabby briefcase, at his stained dress shirt. I saw his thin frame, just a few hours before, working in an unfamiliar office with unfamiliar people, walking down unfamiliar streets – not having had a conversation all day long. I remembered back to my loneliest moments between Delhi and Mumbai, how raw I felt all the time. I think I’d be pretty rattled, too, if something had gotten between me and the precious sleep I was counting on on the sleeper bus back home.
He seemed to say with his eyes, one soul to another, “It’s been a very long day. I need to sleep”
“Okay,” was what I said before I turned to the shorter man next to me in the aisle seat and asked him politely if he’d change seats with me.
Having noticed my splintering femurs he said, “Sure.”
I slept happily that night with my feet out in the aisle. Just before I fell off into dreamy oblivion I looked over at the guy, he was sleeping like a rock.
When I woke up for the fifth time that morning, (the four previous times a result of roller suitcases of early stop passengers flattening my feet in the aisle) I watched Tired Guy, now Rested Guy, get up, grab his case, and hop off the bust to embrace his waiting wife and children under a street light in the outskirts of Bangaluru.
It didn’t really register, what I saw, until I got off the bus myself about an hour later. He had picked up his child with as much love as when my grandfather used to pick me up after I got off the bus from school. Just a couple hours before that I wanted to punch that guy. Why, again?
This guy is just an example. It could be your mom telling you what to do; a professor failing your essay; a child asking questions; a friend lying to you. Ask yourself a question – why do these people do the things they do?
Now the hard part, what would you do in their situation?
Not just the immediate situation – think deeper. The entire situation. With all of their context, and all their background. If you were born like them, brought up like them, and treated like them, wouldn’t you be pretty much the same as them? Wouldn’t you be doing and thinking pretty much the same that they’re doing and thinking?
The reason I referenced Dale Carnegie in the title of this post is because I get this idea from an Abraham Lincoln quote and another piece called Father Forgets that I found in his very famous book.
Father Forgets is a story about a father who – get this – forgets that his child is a child. He treats him like an adult that should know better than to do these childish actions. When he realizes he’s wrong he states, “I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”
The yardstick that we measure people by is always our own, even when dimensions differ. Even if a person is obviously a glass of water, we will try to measure them with our yardstick. I don’t think myself a genius but I know that this does not work. If you’re a hundred meters, could someone measure you with a thermometer?
I think of it this way: humans are all the same machine. Sort of like Model-T’s, if you will. We all have different jobs, however, different handlers, different loads. If a Model-T carrying bricks through the mountains has a lower gas mileage or worse performance than you – leisurely putting through the countryside – are you going to judge it harshly?
If a person born in the slums, working 3 jobs, struggles to feed their children – are you going to judge them or blame them for asking for help? That’s a radical example, but the point is made.
Here’s the Abraham Lincoln quote – my favorite quote of all time, and the theme of my gap year:
“Don’t criticize them: they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
We’re all the same thing. We’re all just flesh and bones and minds that work very similar to each other. We’re all thinking the same things. We all have fears and anxieties that play on repeat in our heads – we get caught up in them, we get lost and forget this one truth – we’re all of a kind.
I’ve learned to see things from people’s point-of-views, in their contexts. Doing that dissolves any judgement I may have on their intentions, on their motivations, on why they do the things they do.
We’re all fighting battles. Let’s be allies.