Think that somebody who you really don’t like, but you need to spend an awful lot of time with that person. Is there any way possible to get to actually like him or her?
Or maybe there’s somebody in your life who you used to love her very much but that love is faded and that saddens you. Do you wonder if there’s any way to reconstruct the love and build a new edifice?
I was thinking about these questions last week while teaching humanistic psychology and the concepts taught by Carl Rogers as part of his client centered psychotherapy. It disturbs me to think that although the tools that Carl Rogers taught and made available to the counseling or psychotherapeutic community are really very efficient tools, are they available and/or appropriate for the average person? Somehow I knew that they had to be, but I didn’t get an answer until Saturday afternoon when I read the words written 2000 years ago by the sages of the Mishnah. I will explain that later.
There are three conditions necessary for building a really good relationship. The first one is called, “unconditional positive regard.” This means that you will accept the other person as a human being with unique values and unique goals. As professionals we are taught not to impose our own world views, perspectives, or values on the people we are working with. Ken lay people do that? I certainly believe so. The big question is: what practical steps are needed to achieve it?
The second condition is called, “empathy.” I think it goes without saying that any human being can cultivate empathy. The challenge for most people is to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. If a person shares with you his or her hard times or difficult feelings that may make you feel bad. You will then be sympathetic. That sympathy comes because you feel bad about what that other person has gone through. It derives from your own feelings and not from the feelings of the other person. So let’s say, for instance, you see a young woman with two-year-old twins and an infant all eligible stroller struggling to get her children into her car just as it is starting to rain and she has bags of groceries along with her. You look at her and you feel bad for her. You feel sympathy for her. You go over to her and tell her how big you feel for her predicament. Is it your feelings or her feelings you’re feeling? She turns to you tells you that she doesn’t feel bad at all, on the contrary, she is quite overjoyed. She says that she had a long and hard struggle to have children and it is times like these when she realizes how small the effort really is compared to the struggle it was for to actually have the children. Empathy means that you share the feelings that the other person has. In order to cultivate empathy one must first cultivate the ability to get to know other people. Is this possible for the ordinary layperson to achieve? I certainly believe so. The big question is: what practical steps are needed to achieve it?
The third condition is called, “genuineness.” This means that the person can be open and honest with the other person in the relationship. At first glance this might seem much more basic than the previous two conditions. But in reality I think that this is much more difficult to achieve. But it is far from impossible. In my experience I have seen many nonprofessional people cultivate the quality of genuineness. The big question is: what practical steps are needed in order to achieve it?
There is an ancient book written by the Jewish sages of about 2000 years ago called, “Ethics of the Fathers.” This is a collection of moral statements brought together to teach proper ethical behavior. In the first chapter there is a statement by one of the sages which seems so obvious that one would think it’s completely unnecessary and superfluous to be included in this collection. He says, “and judge every person favorably.” When you look at this statement in its original language, Hebrew, something very curious becomes apparent. The word for “every person” does not actually mean every person but it means, “all of the person.” What this sage is telling us is that if you are able to judge all of the person, you would certainly judge that person favorably. Aha! This gave me the insight into the practical steps one needs to take in order to achieve the ability to absolutely accept and possibly love any particular person.
As you strive to get to know another person on a deeper and deeper level you get to appreciate that person to a greater and greater extent. When you ask your friend, lover, or acquaintance why he or she did something or how they were feeling about something you get to know the person on a level that was not previously experienced. The more you learn about your friends’ reasons, feelings, and motivations the more you will appreciate that person for who he or she is.
Be genuinely concerned and curious about your friends’ reasons, feelings, then motivations and your relationship will surely be able to get to that level that can make everybody feel good.