Be careful who you despise

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 23, 2008
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling

My friend Jackie hated having Nancy as her manager. She thought her to be cold, insensitive and overbearing and had, in the past, tried twice to get transferred to another department, but to no avail. Nancy was apparently a favorite with her employers, and since Jackie was both new to the area and the job, she felt she had no strings to pull. This only served to irritate her more.

Then one evening while she was working late to finish up a quarterly report, Jackie felt suddenly sick to her stomach and was on her way to the restroom when she collapsed in the hall. The next thing she knew she was being placed on a gurney and wheeled out to a waiting ambulance. In the sea of faces hovering over her, the only one she recognized was Nancy’s, and in the blur of activity, she could feel Nancy squeeze her hand and hear her say, “Don’t worry, Jackie, I’m here. I won’t leave you.”

It was a promise Nancy kept. Over the next few days as Jackie, a newly divorced mother of two, lay in a hospital bed, coming to terms with the damage done by the stroke she had suffered. Nancy not only stopped by to see her two and three times a day, offering never-ending words of encouragement and bringing mail and get-well messages from co-workers, but also stepped in to see that Jackie’s two daughters were cared for and that every aspect of Jackie’s life was kept running as smoothly as possible in her absence.

When it was necessary for Jackie to leave the hospital and be placed in a rehabilitation facility, Nancy again made all of the arrangements and visited daily, and when Jackie was finally allowed to go home, it was Nancy who made it possible for her to travel to and from physical therapy each day until she was, at last, fully recovered and able to return to work.

By the time I met the two women, over a decade had passed. They still worked for the same company, though Nancy was about to retire, and Jackie was now the manager of her own department, a promotion she had earned the year following her life-changing stroke. It was obvious to everyone that the two women were the best of friends. I was a new hire for the company and learned about their history together when they invited me to lunch.

At Nancy’s retirement party a couple of weeks later, I was standing next to Jackie as her dear friend was receiving accolades from the rest of her co-workers. Jackie looked at her and then whispered to me, “Can you believe I used to hate that woman? And if it wasn’t for her, I’d probably be dead. Goes to show we never know who among us is an angel, doesn’t it?”

None of us really knows about the people we decide to hate. We label them wrong and ourselves right and in so doing never realize that we are building a wall of separation that only grows stronger with time. We truly do block the angels from our midst. It is not until circumstance throws us together, as it did Jackie and Nancy, that we realize how very much we need one another and how very alike we truly are.

As a young girl living with my grandmother, any time I criticized another person in her presence, she would ask to see whose shoes I was wearing, a blunt reminder that unless I’d walked in that person’s shoes, I had no right to judge. It was also a signal that I should stop talking and start thinking differently.

Even today, I sometimes catch myself looking down at my feet when I feel tempted to criticize. “Who am I to judge?” I’ll ask myself in the next breath, realizing as I do that I have no idea what the target of my critical focus is really going through.

Of course, that doesn’t always stop me, and sometimes the judgment tumbles into my thoughts or words and takes up residence before I even notice. But through my own self-experimenting, I have noticed that when I succeed in suspending judgment and allowing myself to look at others from another perspective, my joy increases. Judging others, I have discovered, does not let joy in. Stepping away from judgment does.

In the long run, all judging others really does is bring pain and block us from our ability to offer love. We were born to give, to bless, and to be a blessing, but when we are sitting in judgment, we can’t. As Mother Teresa pointed out, when we are judging others, we have no time to love them. It is only in suspending judgment that we open our hearts to unconditional love and empower ourselves and each other to be the best that we can be.

An Excerpt from “May You Be Blessed”” by Kate Nowak

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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