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How often do you treat people as what they ought to be?

Today is December 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you treat people as who they ought to be?” Such a question may be far from your consciousness, but it is worthy of reflection as you encounter people while navigating the chaos today.

For those who have a familiar existence in your world, and you see on a frequent basis, it is important to consider today’s question as it concerns their potential. This is especially important for those who have children, manage people, or work as part of a team. For those children, people, and team members, how often do you ask yourself ‘if you are treating them as they ought to be?’

The 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship in 1796 and wrote the following passage concerning the ideal of helping others to achieve their potential: “If you treat people as they are, they will become worse. If you treat them as they could be, they will become better. If we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Three decades later the influential Scottish essayist and translator Thomas Carlyle rendered Goethe’s novel into English in 1824 with a slight twist on the interpretation from the original German: “When we take people merely as they are, we make them worse; when we treat them as if they were what they should be, we improve them as far as they can be improved.”

This concept of treating people as ‘they ought to be’ or ‘as if they were what they should be’ helps us better understand not only how we treat ourselves, but also how we treat others.

Are you treating yourself as you ought to be? Moreover, how often do you treat people as if they were what they should be? Do you even think about others in this fashion? Joseph Campbell did.

Campbell believed that everyone was extraordinary and wrote that he never met any ordinary people. Campbell was an American Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College and wrote extensively on comparative mythology and comparative religion. In 1988 journalist Bill Moyers broadcast six one-hour conversations with Campbell for public television. Those conversations would eventually be published in a book The Power of Myth.

In The Power of Myth Campbell noted “I don't think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.”

To further support the strategy of treating people as who they ought to be, consider recent research that has found many examples of how doing good, in ways big or small, not only feels good, but also does us good.

In her Psychology Today article "In Helping Others, You Help Yourself," published May 30, 2018, Marianna Pogosyan wrote “the well-being-boosting and depression-lowering benefits of volunteering have been repeatedly documented. As has the sense of meaning and purpose that often accompanies altruistic behavior. Even when it comes to money, spending it on others predicts increases in happiness compared to spending it on ourselves. Moreover, research suggests yet another way our well-being can benefit from practicing pro-social behavior: helping others regulate their emotions helps us regulate our own emotions, decreases symptoms of depression and ultimately, improves our emotional well-being.”

As you navigate the chaos you will encounter many people who are doing the same. The next time you encounter someone as you travel your path, consider treating them as the person they ought to be, or could become. Doing so just may change the course of their life.

  • Do you see that others have the capacity to be more than they are?

  • so, what are you doing to help them translate into that new existence? If not, why do you think that is?

  • Has anyone helped you be more than you once were?

  • Have you even spent the time to reflect upon those that may have helped you become who you are today?

  • As you commit to the daily grind today ask yourself if you want to spend a few minutes thinking about how you are helping others become who they ought to be.

  • How often do you treat people as who they ought to be?


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