“People are people so why should it be? That you and I should get along so awfully?”
In a way, this is an intensely personal article. Why? Because, for years, I struggled to see people as people: that is, human beings with their own hopes and fears, good and bad emotions, people whose feelings and values I should consider if I wanted to succeed.
This is not to say I could not do it. I understood that understanding others was vital to success. I could follow the techniques, gather the information and use it. It made me a successful coach and I did want the best for my clients.
The problem was that deep down, I did not really care – because my heart was frozen. A childhood of being treated and abused like an inconvenient object had left me suspicious of allowing others opinions a hearing in my head. So, when it came to the crunch I didn’t care. I did what I wanted to do. I treated some people, in my mind, as objects.
Martin B., the philosopher, noted that in social relationships we can treat people in one of two ways: I-Object, and I-Thou (you). When we treat people as I-Thou you are seeing an equal human being in front of you.
We’re going to deal with how to understand – then break out of the I-object mentality to develop one where I – and you – are equals with equal rights. This is an utterly essential world-view, especially if you want success in the global economy and even more so if you just want to be a decent human being. You do, don’t you?
We shall see that society is hell bent against this mentality – so for your own humanity and decency – you need to fight to create this mindset.
Unfortunately, there are many other places in the world where people don’t need to find an excuse to treat you as an inferior as it is built into their culture. If you live in one of these places, you know what I mean.
Do you ‘object’?
For object, read stereotype. A prejudice, racism, sexism, age-ism etc. can all turn a person into an ‘object’ in your mind.
When you refuse to consider that there is a REAL person in front of us it is easy, even automatic, to make them into an object. And that object can become an obstacle in your mind.
Once THAT happens it’s a small step to dehumanizing them, and getting angry at your idea of this object frustrating your goals. You then feel justified at treating them badly without realizing – it all happened in your head! Your view of someone becomes smaller and smaller until… well, until what?
In the worst case scenario you justify killing them. Too extreme? The Serbo-Croatian war anyone? Rwanda? Anti-Jewish propaganda portrayed the Jews as lecherous parasites living off the goodness of honest German people, and as rats swarming in filthy gutters. But we’re all too sophisticated for that, right…?
Just the other day a reality TV star was complaining in the papers that people decided whether or not he was scum (actually the word was worse!) based on headlines in the (tabloid) paper. Obviously, thinking is too much hard work for many people. As Henry Ford said: ‘There are no lengths to which a man will not go to avoid thinking – because it is hard work’.
In London, where I live, there are more and more stabbings between teenagers because the ‘object’ in a rival gang disrespected them.
To someone, you are an OBJECT, not a human with intentions and feelings. Not so nice to know, is it?
You can’t help what they think but you can, as Andy Shaw says, decide to become present and conscious yourself of the way you previously thought and behaved.
You will then start to see their ‘unconscious’ behavior for what it is and be grateful you’re transcending it, and more patient in dealing with them. Or at least more effective because they are living in an illusion which they are believing about you.
Why is the process of I-OBJECT so easy?
Many reasons but here’s a few. Your culture may have a class system you have bought into. Recently, a friend said he was in an airport that shall remain nameless and fumed whilst the native security guards waved forward natives of that country in preference to him. ‘It was because they believed they were superior to us’, he said.
Your religion may have a ‘class’ system which you bought into. And even when it doesn’t, we can still invent one! I am a Christian and although we are taught every man is equal before God there are still Christians who look down on those who are not.
Jesus Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. According to the literal Greek, neighbor means ‘close associate’, anyone with whom we have close contact. That’s a lot of people. So, fellow Christians, take note. All equal! All REAL people! Even the ones you don’t like!
Yes, I’m going to blame the media culture, specifically, our consumer culture. Often ads are based on the idea that you’ll outshine others – if you have their product. You’ll somehow be better than others.
No, they may not directly say that – unless the ads were made by people in the Danny Devito film Crazy People. Plus we are encouraged to have a me-centred focus:
- You got it!
- Because you’re worth it!
- Driven by YOU!
- The customer (you) is king?
We are assured that we (from those who want our money) are the most important people in the world. It’s like a disease that makes us forget that others exist.
You see it at bus-stops in London. Who is bringing up these people who see everyone waiting at the stop and step in front of us all anyway? I don’t know who I should tell off – the people – or their parents?!
The trouble with everyone wanting to be first all the time is that we can’t all be. So those who stand in our way – become obstacles…then objects… sound familiar…?
The role of hurt
Hurt makes us want to objectify people. I know this. If others have hurt me because I trusted them and let them have input in my life, then I might not want to give their feelings the time of day the next time.
This feels natural but is actually rank stupidity. This is how conflicts at a personal level escalate into wars at national levels. We need to move forward from this: so how can we do it?
Well, we can start by equaling the playing field – we tend to judge ourselves by our own good intentions and others by their behavior! I read somewhere that ‘love always thinks the best of people’ and even if you don’t love the person in your way, if you can stay conscious enough to make up a reason why they might be acting that way, you can often keep calm.
- I guess he must be having a bad day
- She ignored me in the corridor because there must have been something on her mind.
- He’s not normally so forgetful, let me ask him if there’s something I can help with.
On a related note – forgiveness is an essential key to keeping people equal in your mind – and it makes you powerful. I believe forgiveness is both a practical and a spiritual issue – we can forgive because we were forgiven (spiritual) and forgive because we choose to let go of the issue (and there are some NLP patterns that can help you forgive.)
You need to accept yourself, warts and all. We tend to throw back at others what we don’t accept in ourselves, let alone them. So accept that you have passions, positives, prejudices and imperfections. Accept the lot – as a starting point – because the more you accept yourself the more you can accept others. My Personal Powerpack will help with this and will teach you how to esteem yourself as valuable, thus reducing the chances of you feeling un-esteemed by others.
Morty Lefoke has pointed out at his awesome blog that meaning does not exist out there in the world. In other words, you may think that you can see someone treating you like scum but all you can actually see hear and experience is their behavior. The meaning is generated inside you, and you never tripped over it as you ran away from being insulted! Therefore, we can actually realize events have no inherent meaning and defuse their impact in our minds. Read his blog posts to understand this. Alternatively, the longer route is to study something like Mind-Lines by Michael Hall so you can help others change their meanings too. The point being – if you come to understand that you are making meanings then you can stop taking the ‘bad’ ones as gospel truth.
If you ‘care too much’ what others think then you should get some help with that. You may have some beliefs about the importance of others opinions over your own. Sometimes other peoples’ opinions ARE more valid than yours. I would trust a plane engineer’s opinion of his engine over that of the local policeman. But if your life is driven by what others think, get some help. I did. I still do. Otherwise you letting them control you can lead you to resenting them – and turning them into objects. Then you can justify treating them badly – and just stay stuck.
Life IS Negotiation
Remember I said we were a global economy? Now, more than ever we have to learn to get along with others of different cultures (I don’t believe in ‘race’) and find ways of honoring each others’ values where possible.
All of life is essentially negotiation. For successful negotiation you have to actually find out what the other side wants and work to help them get it, whilst working to get what you want to!
This will involve getting out of our own bubble of reality (you mean everyone ISN’T like me!) and actually getting interested in what other people think and feel. They are no longer objects over there. They are people who can and will be clients and friends – with feelings!
The world does not revolve around you. Until you realize this you’ll objectify the people that disagree and get in your way. And you won’t be successful in negotiating life to get what you want. Because as a famous personal development speakers said:
To get what I want I have to help you get what you want.
In the book Presence: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation by Patsy Rodenburg the author talks about different circles of energy: In the first, we direct all our energy back to ourselves – we are me centred – and in the third circle we direct too much energy out to others and consider their needs above ours.
But in the second circle, there is a sense of balance – a sense of give and take, an ability to receive and give out – to be seen without shutting off to to accept others being seen in the same way.
This seems ideal to me.
One of the main reasons for doing all this work (it has taken me 20 years but perhaps I just went slow… or was really messed up J is that you get to ENJOY people again.
I remember the first day I really got it again that other people were REAL people with REAL hopes, dreams and feelings. I would look at the people at the bus-stop and laugh with joy (I probably looked like a nut!) because there were my fellow human beings with problems and hopes and dreams. It was wonderful. I felt connected again. John Donne said the death of any one man diminishes me.
Well, when even one man becomes alive to you again, it enhances you and everyone you come into contact with.
The book that got me thinking about this was Leadership and Self Deception. Check it out here.