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In love, prefer one another


I recently joined a flood relief team from my church to help some elderly residents and groups in Rochester, Victoria, with clean-up work, mug labour, gardening, labouring and rudimentary landscaping, etc. This well-intentioned outing cheered up some members of a hard-pressed community. We got a bit done. I was, however, struck by the number of our people clashing in minor ways, over the best way to achieve our collective goals.

We all wanted the good stuff to happen; there was no shortage of willingness, enthusiasm or good will. But it seemed at least half of the worthy souls gathered held different views on how to get there and, more to the point, who should do what and when. Some confusion and grumpiness ensued.

You know the scenario; you have doubtless lived it yourselves many times. In the absence of clear agreement or identification of leaders, with no communication or agreed strategy, our confusion led to some energy being lost in squabbles and tasks done repeatedly or out of sequence.

We are frail critters, we homo sapiens. For all of our advantages compared to our fellow forms of life, we are quick to judge and assume realities based on appearances and surface impressions. What we see and hear, what we experience on a personal level, impacts our thoughts and actions. If it is right for us, then surely it is right for others. No? Beyond base levels of culture, nurture and nature, beyond our responses of fight, flight or freeze, we are the same yet different; wired differently from person to person.

There are innumerable thought-provoking exemplars of personality types in the marketplace of ideas, from the respectable such as Myers and Briggs profiles and DISC research, through to the Enneagram and the wacky offerings of astrology and various cults, etc. The intriguingly named Arbinger Institute (surely ‘harbinger’ would have rung out, in terms of marketing) posits that in our relationships ‘at work, at home, and in your community, you likely run into conflict with people or ideas. Your worldview inevitably rubs up against someone else’s opposing worldview which breeds a conflict of some sort.’

This business of assuming isn’t attributable to ill will, or a lack of intellectual capital; it’s not some unhappy accident but a cognitive reality. We are wired that way, to rely on past experience and personal biases as a mental energy-saving strategy. George Bernard Shaw wisely noted, ‘No conflict, no drama’ – we are also wired to enjoy the contesting of ideas and tactics. It’s part of the fabric of human interaction to contest and to vie for our view to be recognised and embraced.


'If we can focus on how others work, what they need and how they view situations, we are overwhelmingly better off than blithely assuming they just want what we want, or need what we need.'


It is also incredibly easy to misinterpret the verbal and non-verbal data that we all send out to each other. I’ve been told off in various work meetings and formal occasions because I look ‘too amused’, too sceptical, disrespectful, or too ready to laugh. Guilty as charged. My significant other gets teased by our kids for what they dub her ‘resting teacher face’. (It is my wife’s ‘teacher voice’, however, that gets results in terms of behavioural modification.)

With the dispensing of grace, the exercising of patience, the necessary discretion that forgives our colleagues and comrades of ego, smartarsery and hubris, we progress. And by honing shared wisdom we near and sometimes even achieve communal agreement, advancing the outcomes we hope will help us all.

Hence I humbly proffer some pithy axioms gleaned from a lifetime’s browsing through the scattered wisdom of psychologists, counsellors, pundits, gurus, prophets, self-helpers, pastors, therapists, preachers, teachers and their sagacious ilk. None of us are telepaths, as much as we like to think we can read people. Yet these thoughts, if brought to bear, may help us refrain from assuming intent or motivations of others:

Seek common ground. Look for the positive. Share your toys.  In love, give someone else a go. Ask what’s what. Carry someone else’s load. Respond, rather than react.

Readers will note these are derivations of moral and ethical teaching such as Christ’s golden rule (itself stemming from the Jewish axiom to love your neighbour). Every major religion and many schools of philosophy cover the same ground, calling for a similar stance of a sensitive worldview and compassionate responses. If we can focus on how others work, what they need and how they view situations, we are overwhelmingly better off than blithely assuming they just want what we want, or need what we need.

What makes others tick? Curiosity, the Arbinger Institute suggests, will help us ‘stay open to the possibility that our truth isn’t the only truth.’ There is some research to suggest that curiosity both leads us towards empathy and inoculates us from polarisation. One 2016 study reported in the Washington Post revealed how intellectual curiosity can free people’s minds from reinforcing biases. 

That scintilla of hope comes with the cautionary note that ‘wondering why’, again, comes down to how a person thinks and feels. ‘Curiosity is not something that we generally think we can impart to people through training or education; rather, it’s something we tend to see as more part of their core cognitive architecture,’ the Post reported.

Being genuinely interested and curious about the thoughts and needs of others is probably a great way to avoid unnecessary fussing and fighting. It’s certainly a great way to live. 




Barry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Two people walking in different circles overlap with each other as symbol of consensus of opinions (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Love, Curiosity, Personality, Conflict



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Existing comments

Thank you- much to digest here.

Pamela | 31 March 2023  

As you cite, Barry: " . . . our truth isn't the only truth."
But his followers have it on good word and action: the fullness of truth resides in Christ, the image of the invisible God - whether they live it out is another question.

Johhn RD | 31 March 2023  

Gottit, Barry! It's about 'What makes others tick?' instead of my usual critical focus on 'ick'.

(BTW, what's NOT 'respectable' about the Enneagram or is it that I nit-pick?)

Eureka! Emphasising the 'why' rather than the 'how' kinda makes it all a bit sick.

Michael Furtado | 31 March 2023  

Barry, thank you for your perceptive and excellent pointers for our participation in life. Almost all the advice needed to counter our human habit of “seeing things the way we are, not the way they are”.
Do unto others… Love one another… thank you.

Maureen | 01 April 2023  

Thank you Barry! Some of the best counselling I've heard for ages. Curiosity does seem to be a hard-wired feature of all young animals, including Homo sapiens, who find the world 'so new and all'. Encouraged, such curiosity leads to all sorts of growth and capability; suppressed, it is replaced by soul-destroying bias and prejudice.

Ginger Meggs | 02 April 2023  

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