Meeting people where they are — what does that mean? It means you take your own ideas and feelings about how someone else is behaving out of the equation, and you factor in how they might be feeling when they take a certain action. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it gives you a lot more clarity when interacting with them. It also gives you the ability to respond rather than react.
As a real-life example, and because we tend to empathize better with animals or children than we do with adult humans, I took my cat to the vet this week. She had a UTI. The doctor gave her a shot of antibiotics. My cat hates going to the vet, as most of them do. I paid her bill while feeling grateful that the problem could be resolved, that the bill was less than I had expected it to be. When I got home with my cat, she gave me the cold shoulder for a while. She was not her usual affectionate self and seemed to want me to leave her alone. If I treated her as we sometimes treat fellow adults, I might have felt annoyed that I went to the trouble and paid money to help her when she didn’t appreciate it. I might have told her she was an ingrate and given her the cold shoulder back. Instead, I gave her extra love and attention, and I told her that I was sorry for putting her through that stress, but I just wanted her to feel better. (For those of you who think I am nuts, I know she understands when I talk to her.)
I could imagine going to the vet from her perspective. I took her to a place that smelled funny, where there were lots of barking dogs and other cats. She had to sit on a cold table while strangers touched and prodded her and said things she didn’t understand. Even worse, they poked her with a sharp needle! That hurt. She just wanted to go home. She wasn’t feeling 100%, but anything was better than what she went through on that table with strange people and animals everywhere. I understood what was probably going through her mind, and I met her on that level with compassion, as I would have wanted to be met if I were in her place.
It’s not as easy to do this with humans. We do not always have visibility into the lives of others. All of us possess the ability to empathize, but for some, that ability is not well-developed. Not all of us can hear the subtext behind what people say. Many of us are too short-sighted or self-focused to see things from different perspectives. The thing to keep in mind is, we never know for certain the inner world of another. We tend to jump to the worst conclusion possible when someone annoys us: they’re lazy, they’re stupid, they’re careless, etc. It is important to break out of that knee-jerk, worst-case response. When someone does something that bothers you, try to imagine the best possible version of that person, and what that version of the person’s reasoning might be. Whether or not this “best version” scenario is true, if you imagine it, you may find a person’s behavior less triggering and formulate a much better, more patient response to them.
We tend to jump to the worst conclusion possible when someone annoys us. It is important to break out of that knee-jerk, worst-case response.
As another example, after my mom passed away, I somehow got it in my head that no one understood my grief and they didn’t care to. That their apparent lack of visible compassion was because they lacked sensitivity and didn’t bother to think about how I was feeling. As a result, I was angry with most people I interacted with. I wanted them to go away and leave me alone, but they didn’t, which only made me angrier. As the months went on, I realized that yes, people can be insensitive, but it is not because they are doing it on purpose or don’t care. They usually have their own stuff going on, or empathy is not their strength. They forgot that I was struggling or just weren’t thinking about that. We all have different spiritual abilities; not everyone needs to be a healer or be able to understand how others feel. That is just how I am, and I am a blessing, as others are blessings with their own unique gifts. No one’s ability should be taken for granted or assumed to be present for everyone.
Now take this example and apply it to the people who piss you off the most. Maybe it’s someone with vastly different political views. Maybe it’s a parent, a friend, a significant other. Take a behavior of theirs that drives you crazy, and notice your knee-jerk explanation for why they act that way. “He doesn’t care.” “She doesn’t listen.” “He’s a terrible person.” “She’s a bitch.” Think back to a time when that person acted loving or generous toward you, or if you can’t recall a time like that, imagine that person as an innocent child. Sometimes children say things and don’t know any better — adults can be the same. People may lack maturity or sensitivity, and while you should still set boundaries with those people, it is not necessary to react to or emotionally invest in everything they say or do. This isn’t so much for their sake as it is for preserving your energy and vibration as you go about your day.
A funny thing happens, too, when you can start seeing all the good potential in a person, even if it feels like you are imagining it at first. If you can come to genuinely see that potential and believe in it, the external reality tends to line up with that. People start showing up for you as these better versions of themselves.
Give it a try! See what happens. I hope this post has been insightful and helpful to you.