It’s About Life – And The Role You Play Today
“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
I remember this from when I was a kid. Along with some admonition to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. So the seeds of this piece of wisdom were planted a long time ago. Sometimes, seeds take a long time to germinate. And even longer to ultimately bear fruit.
I’m a little less clear on when it was I first noticed something else of this nature. But I’m sure there was a distinct feeling of deja vu, because it’s been there every time it’s happened since then. And it’s led me to believe that some mystical and unseen part of the universe must be at work. That, or the plot for a television sitcom.
The Role You Play
What I’m talking about is the role I and you play in the dramas of our lives. Kind of like those silly plays back in school, in which someone got to play the hero or heroine and someone got to play the villain. You played your part, and when the play was over, that was it. Except in real life, the play isn’t over. Not until you’ve played both roles.
I suspect that Ms. Lee, and others before and after her, may have noticed the same thing.
It’s A Good Thing
When I was in college, I worked for a successful contractor. I started out doing menial tasks, and ended up as his personal assistant. I guess he liked me. But his attitude towards those he employed was universal. Although comfortably well-off, he was unusually generous. While he expected a lot, he gave a lot.
I remember the first Christmas I was there. Things were tight financially, trying to go to school, work, and raise a young family. Christmas was looking to be pretty meager. Shortly before Christmas, he called me and another girl who also worked for him into his office. He said he had some frustrations with income taxes, and of course we’re immediately thinking “uh oh.” But in his next breath he told us that rather than give it to the IRS he’d rather give it to us, and handed us both an envelope. As we opened them and peeked in, our mouths dropped open. A $2,000 Christmas bonus!
As the years have passed, I’ve tried to follow his example in my dealings with those I work with. While it’s not a perfect science, I’ve played the other role. I’ve seen the world through both sets of eyes.
But Sometimes, It Breaks Your Heart
We’ve all had our heartbreaks. It sucks. Those feelings of being hurt are unforgettable. And we usually say to ourselves or even those around us, “I could never do that to anyone.” Or, if we’re on the other end, we act in ways that deliver immense hurt to someone else and maybe don’t even fully recognize it.
I walked out on my first marriage. Sure, I had plenty of my own justifications. And, technically at least, I didn’t cheat. But I went well into the gray area. And I know it was an emotional blow to my ex. I regret the way it all unfolded.
The other side of that little drama? Just a couple years later, I serendipitously found my new flame in a motel room. For no reason, I’d taken a route home that I never took, and as I passed by a motel my eye caught a glimpse of a car that shouldn’t have been there. As I knocked on the door of the room, I was fully immersed in the same kind of pain I’d delivered to someone by my actions. Check. Both roles played. Empathy and lessons learned.
Choose. But Choose Wisely.
As the Indiana Jones Grail Knight said, “you must choose, but choose wisely.” The good news is that while the story may be written in the annals of life, the script isn’t written in stone. As the image above suggests, living consciously allows you to edit the lines, and hopefully make the lessons a little easier to learn. And sometimes, the lessons are the greatest value that come from our experiences.
If you like to read stories about how people unwittingly, and unexpectedly, ending up playing both roles, Pauline Robertson has written an engaging book called “I Have Worn Both Pairs of Shoes.” It’s a good reminder that our lives unfold in surprising and unplanned ways. And to be careful about using that well-worn phrase – “Oh, I could never do that.”