James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, is a collection of letters written to him by other writers, artists, and creative people whom Harmon Admired. William T. Vollmann is one of the writers who submitted a letter for Harmon’s book, and in his letter he lists 21 pieces of advice. Number three on his list reads, “Try to love as many people as you can (i.e., be proud of who they are—don’t transgress their boundaries.” Advice like this is helpful for me to hear every day because it reminds me to be open minded to those around me, and to think of others first.
When we are meeting someone for the first time it is easy to connect with them and be friendly and inviting. However, as we get to know the other person we start to see things we do or do not like about them, and the judgemental thoughts begin. It may start out small, but over time our judgments and opinions shift, and in our mind we develop shortcuts for thinking about the other person. This can be positive or negative, but either way our shortcuts do not encourage us to truly understand and think about the other. Rather than caring about them and taking the time to have meaningful interactions we skip past them assuming they have not changed since we got to know them and assuming that we understand them.
This can often times be harmless for us and others, but it can also be hurtful for both of us. Once we have fixated on how our relationship with another can benefit us or if we only focus on what we dislike about the other, then we are not willing to truly assist them and listen to what they have to say. In this sense we miss a chance to bring the other person up, and we also miss out on times when the other person could help us. Nuggets of advice that encourage meaningful relationships and friendships can help us avoid these pitfalls. I am drawn to Vollmann’s advice because he encourages us to seek true connections with others, and to see the world through their eyes. In order to adopt the perspective of others we must understand their background and their relationship with us. This takes a lot of self reflection and self awareness for us to be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and truly reflect on how our relationship impacts both of us.
The ultimate goal of this type of exercise and self reflection is not to find a secret way to benefit ourselves by being nice to others. Vollmann would argue that the importance is in building relationships that will strengthen both parties. By connecting with and understanding others we will help them feel more valued and build a stronger sense of community. Looking only for our own gains in relationships will ultimately leave us lonely, and will damage the overall sense of community and family within our lives. The ideas of Vollmann in this section return to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s quote from a previous post of mine, “The meaning of life is inherent in the connections we make to others through honor and obligation.”