My boys are both school age and their teachers use a behavior system in the classroom in which kids start the day on a certain color and can move up or are clipped down based on how they move through the day. My boys like this system, mostly because they often experience success, and feel good about how they the end the day. They will sometimes talk with me about challenges that their peers faced on a particular day “Joey (there isn’t a Joey in either class) was clipped down to red today because he kicked the garbage can on purpose” one of my boys will tell me. I take these conversations as an opportunity to learn empathy so my response is usually something like “wow, that’s too bad. It sounds like Joey was having a hard time when he did that.” I then remind my boys that I am proud of them for the good decisions that they make but that they have to remember that following the rules and making good decisions can be very hard for people and that I’m grateful that they are built in a way that allows them to do this more easily and that they choose to follow through on making good choices.
We were all born with some gifts and strengths and our hope is that we use them in a way that serves us. And, let’s be honest, there are certainly strengths in our culture that are more desired than others. My temperament has always been to be very laid back and nice. Those are desirable gifts and they often work well for me. I can be very patient in stressful situations and I think before I say anything, always, so it is very rare that I say something that is reactive and that I regret. I can honor that it is one of my strengths and also acknowledge that it’s not a whole lot of work for me to be patient and kind.
This awareness can be helpful to me when I find myself judging a person who is not built in the same way I am. It is very challenging for some people to think before speaking, and it requires a conscious effort to do what comes naturally for me.
As we all do, there are other areas of my life in which I struggle. I’m not very detail oriented and organized. I have done some work in slowing myself down and being intentional about what I do so that I can work towards getting better in this area, but I am definitely a work in progress. I can look around me, at other people, and feel bad about myself because I do have such a hard time in these areas but ultimately, I’m not comparing apples to apples.
Understanding this is crucial to being empathetic to others and certainly to ourselves. So, ask yourself, what are my strengths and what are my challenges and are there ways to which I can be kinder to myself and to others based on this knowledge.