When my kids were younger, we loved the I Spy series of picture books. They’re pages and pages of incredibly detailed and intricately designed still-life photographs of miniature objects. The challenge is to find particular items hidden in plain sight throughout the scene. It’s a fun challenge!
As I glanced over at my bookshelves this week, I noticed they look a little like an I Spy book. Look carefully. What do you spy?
Over the years, I’ve collected books that have formed my thinking and held on to little keepsakes that remind me of meaningful ideas and memories. And from time to time, I glance over to remind myself of what’s important in life.
I suppose that the things I’ve displayed say something about who I am, but they don’t tell the whole story, and the small parts of my story they do tell have backstories and require some interpretation to make sense. And I have other shelves with other books and other objects in other places. This is a picture that says something about me, not all the pictures that say everything about me.
That’s true for most people, right? What we think we see in others may tell us some small part of their story. But we can never assume that what’s visible on the outside is ever the full reality. There’s always a backstory we don’t know, and we can only form incomplete interpretations from the limited pictures we observe. And people have other shelves with other books and other objects in other places.
Forming conclusions about people by what we think we know is almost always a mistake. Start, instead, with compassion, loving-kindness, and curiosity. Our world is filled with too much misunderstanding, judgment, and anger precisely because we too often rely on inevitably incomplete views.
Look carefully. Look compassionately. And remember there’s always more behind and beyond what you see in anyone.