“Instead of putting others in their place, try putting yourself in their place.” (Amish Proverb) – a recent post on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
This little saying may sound like good advice, but it is only good advice for a reason that makes sense when you really think about it. There is an old saying that may make more sense – “Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” The Walk a Mile in His Moccasins quote is often contributed to various Indian tribes, but it actually comes from a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895.
So, why does the advice in that poem ring truer that the Amish Proverb? The main reason is actually very logical. We cannot put ourselves in anyone else’s place. We cannot know how they got to where they are, what they have experienced in their lives or even what just proceeded the current moment. If we try to put ourselves in their place the first thing that happens is that one is overwhelmed by a bunch of questions for which we have no answers. What happened to make them angry or fearful or remorseful or sad? What was it that we might have done or said that they reacted to and why? What were they on their way to do when this incident happened? What happened before this to put them in the frame of mind to react as they did? You just can’t answer those questions; and, because you can’t, you can’t put yourself in their place.
The other little piece of advice actually invites one to spend some time experiencing the things that this person has experienced, gaining the knowledge and insights that this person has and trying to come closer to the frame of mind that they might have been in before passing any judgement. Those are all good things and overall that is good advice; albeit also hard, if not impossible to implement inour daily lives.
Perhaps the best thig that can come out of the Amish Proverb is the realization and admission that you cannot put yourself in the other person’s place. If you cannot understand why he/she may have reacted the way they did to something that you said or did, then why would you feel justified to render some judgement or to take some action. The act of “putting someone in their place” is really an attempt to put them into a place that you define, based upon your values and your reaction to the events leading up to your decision to act; to criticize or to correct. Perhaps
instead of rushing to put someone else in their place you need to examine the place that you are currently occupying. You may not like what you see there.
My favorite Pope Francis quote is the one that he made in response to a question about his view of gay clergy – “Who am I to judge.” Indeed the same can be said about most of life’s situations in which we rush to judge others, their behavior, their looks or their lifestyle. Most of us are not willing to take the time to walk a mile in their moccasins just to try to gain insight into their lives; so, we should also reserve judgement and criticism. After all, who are we to judge? Remember Mathew 7:1 – “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
At the end of the day, we may make better use of our energy making sure that we are in control of our own behavior, rather than worrying about trying to control the behavior of others. Have a great weekend.