By Leo Babauta
I was having a talk with my son yesterday, sitting him down and talking about consideration — how to think of others, and not just yourself. It’s a key concept that makes such a difference in life that it’s one of the few things I really want to teach my children.
It’s so sad because I see so many inconsiderate people around me every day — people who only care about what they want and don’t think of others, don’t see things from the perspective of other people. People who cut you off in traffic, who cut in front of you in line, who say rude things, who take your parking spot, who hurt your feelings. I try to brush these things off, but it’s unfortunate that so many people are so inconsiderate.
Thing is, they aren’t trying to be mean or rude … they just aren’t thinking of others. And I don’t think they’re aware of this. I think they think they’re being perfectly fine, and don’t think of themselves as inconsiderate.
I’m a good example — I think I’m fairly considerate, but there are plenty of times when I’m inconsiderate without realizing it. I realized, when I was having that talk with my son, that I had been rude to someone yesterday. Then I started to think of all the ways I’d been selfish recently. And I realized that I’m not as perfect as I think.
You probably aren’t either. While you might not be the “jerk” I called you in the title of this post, there are very few of us who are considerate without fail. I have an uncle who is the most considerate person I know — he’s one of my role models — and he can skip this post. The rest of us need it, I think.
What are the consequences of being more considerate? To start with, I think it feels good — we like being kind to others, doing nice things for others, making others happier. Second, it makes our lives better in so many other ways — people will treat you with more respect and kindness, will like you better, will be more likely to want to work with you and be with you. Third, it makes society better — when we all treat each other with consideration, we live better together, we work better together, we cooperate. Sure, there will always be jerks, but if we can make them a minority, society will be better overall.
At the very least, you can say with surety that you’re not one of those jerks. And that’s a good thing, right?
1. Admit you’re not perfect. I’ll be the first to say it: I’m far from perfect. I’m a jerk sometimes. I’m inconsiderate and selfish sometimes. And I don’t usually realize it until later. If you think you’re not a jerk, at least admit that you are inconsiderate at times. Try to recall those times. Think of how you could have acted differently. This is the first step, and it’s an important one.
2. Place yourself in the shoes of others. This is the key to consideration — to consider the feelings and needs and wants of others, to see things from their perspective. Try to think of what others are going through, what you’d want if you were in their situation. This isn’t always easy, but it gets easier with practice. And even if you’re not correct in your assumptions about what another person wants or feels or is going through … the important thing is that you’re making the effort, and it’s a transformative one.
3. Act with compassion and kindness. If someone else is suffering, even a little, try to ease their suffering in some way. Treat others with kindness, respect, love. Do it in little ways — a smile, a kind word, a thank you, a hug, doing something to ease their burden, going out of your way to be courteous, holding open a door, letting another person in front of you in traffic. Little tiny acts will make a huge difference.
4. Practice, practice. Old habits die hard, especially ones like this where we rarely think about it. Keep it in the forefront of your consciousness by making every interaction with another person a chance to practice being considerate. Every time you talk to someone, email someone, see someone on the street … make this an opportunity to practice consideration. Practice, and practice some more. That’s the only way you get good at anything.
5. Do 5 little things. As a way to practice, make it a goal to do 5 little things each day that are kind and considerate. It doesn’t matter what those things are — cooking something for a family member, tidying up a bit, sending a nice thank-you email to a co-worker, lending a hand to a friend, being there to listen to someone’s problems … I’m sure you could think of a thousand little things. Do this every day, and you’ll soon be a pro.