I often give a lot of thought to the qualities of my relationships and interactions with the people in my life, and ponder what makes the quality of some relationships better than others. The Arbinger workshop was able to define and organize a lot of the ideas and thoughts that have been left undefined and floating around inside my head. I am grateful for the perspectives and insights it gave me, and I believe it can improve and strengthen my relationships and help my heart to be at peace in every aspect of my life.
During the workshop I was able to wrap my mind around the idea that we either see others as people or as objects. Upon first hearing this concept, I was quick to defend myself. Of course I see everyone as people! Of course the people I come in contact with, interact with, and spend my time with are more relevant and important to me than inanimate objects! But the term “object” can be elaborated upon...
An object might be a tool or a vehicle- in other words, a means of achieving or accomplishing something. An object may also be an obstacle- anything standing in our way of something we want or need. What’s more, many objects are completely irrelevant to us, and go absolutely unnoticed and unrecognized in our daily lives. This perspective opened my eyes to the harsh reality that, as inhumane as it may seem, I actually do tend to see people as objects in some situations. In fact, in that moment I was able to easily identify different instances in my life when people have been nothing more than tools/vehicles to me… like last week when I called my parents to tell them I love them, only to later ask for money. I was able to remember times when people have stood as obstacles in my way… like the other night when I was hoping to kiss the boy I had over, but my roommates never left the room. I was even able to think of times where others have been completely irrelevant to me… like the last time I visited my hometown and avoided a girl I went to high school with like the plague when I saw her perusing the produce aisle at the grocery store. This realization brought a sickening reality to me- the reality that I see people for less than what they are; I see them as objects. When this reality hit me, it was something that I desperately wanted to change. Because even though on (hopefully very rare) occasions I may behave on the contrary, I believe with my whole heart that ALL people are people. Despite race, religion, age, social class, gender, personal pursuits and interests, level of success or failure, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political opinion, height, weight, skin color, and even attitude and behavior (however harmful, rude, or negative)- we are all human beings simply trying to fight our way through this difficult, beautiful life. Everyone has a story and a family, hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is relevant and important. We may not all see eye to eye, but differences don’t take away from significance.
I have always been one of those people who believes that there is something good in absolutely everyone. And I would hope that everyone, given time to contemplate and ponder, would realize that too. But it is not always easy to remember when you find yourself in conflict. Arbinger suggests that the way to establish and secure peace in our relationships and interactions is by ceasing to see others as objects, and I whole-heartedly agree. However, this is so much easier said than done! After the workshop, I found myself pondering this dilemma, and I made a list of all the people who I have never viewed as objects. My intention with making this list was to find a common theme among these people, so that I could hopefully apply whatever it was to the people of my next list- those who I tend to always view as objects. I was surprised at how evident and obvious my common theme was. All the people and groups of people on my first list were those with whom my relationship was based on selfless, compassionate service. They were people I had the opportunity to serve and serve with on my LDS mission in Denmark. The orphans and teachers and caregivers and volunteers I had the opportunity to serve and serve with while serving in orphanages and schools in Tanzania. The young children I had the opportunity to teach during my years as a preschool teacher, dance teacher, art teacher and swim teacher. The troubled teenagers I had the opportunity to lead and serve while working as a Youth Mentor at a mental and behavioral health clinic. It was very powerful to me to realize that acts of service and sacrifice help me to see and treat others as the important and relevant human beings that they are.
Over the last several years it has become my personal philosophy that the best way to help yourself is to help others. After attending the Arbinger workshop and studying The Anatomy of Peace, I am even more certain that service is a pathway to peace because it can be a means of helping us to see others for all that they are. While it may be difficult to constantly treat those around us with such an open, loving, and accepting heart, I am convinced that by adopting an attitude of charity and seeking ways to serve those we interact with- even in the simplest ways- we will be sooner able to achieve this “heart at peace” that Arbinger teaches.