Simple stories sometimes capture the joy of profound truth and inspiration. My friend Michael M Reuter at Seton Hall University recently shared a story about the deep wisdom of Stephen Covey’s teaching: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
A lovely little girl was holding two apples with both hands. Her mum came in and softly asked her little daughter with a smile: “My sweetie, could you give your mum one of your two apples?”
The girl looked up at her mum for some seconds, then she suddenly took a quick bite on one apple, and then quickly on the other. The mum felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard not to reveal her disappointment.
Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mum, and said: “Mummy, here you are. This is the sweeter one.”
No matter who you are, how experienced you are, and how knowledgeable you think you are, always delay judgement. Give others the privilege to explain themselves. What you see may not be the reality. Never conclude for others. Which is why we should never only focus on the surface and judge others without understanding them first. For example:
Those who like to pay the bill, do so not because they are prosperous, but because they value friendship above money.
Those who take the initiative at work, do so not because they are foolish, but because they understand the concept of responsibility.
Those who apologize first after an argument, do so not because they are wrong, but because they value the people around them.
Those who are willing to help you, do so not because they owe you anything, but because they see you as a true friend.
Those who often text you, do so not because they have nothing better to do, but because you are in their heart.
It is in that beautiful momentary pause – the suspension of judgment – in which genuine caring and a willingness to trust and believe in someone is given. It is the great leaders’ vulnerability to be open to something more that perceived, heard or felt. It is an offering of respect, a moment of listening to stand in the shoes of another.
With business associates, friends, acquaintances and in the intimacy of family, these moments occur. They will capture your attention because they provoke an emotional response. Recognize this, and take that nanosecond of time to stop, listen and seek first to understand. You may just hear and feel like the mum who heard: “Mummy, here you are. This is the sweeter one.” As Leo Buscaglia wrote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” In every interaction, may you choose to turn a life around. That is the stuff of greatness.