Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Look Them Straight in the Eyes

Growing up, everyone gets the lessons or the lectures from the parents. Comparably, I would say I received very little advice from my parents than most kids. It seemed to me that their philosophy was to raise children with the right principles and then let them lead their own lives and make their own decisions. Recently one of the principles that I've been reflecting on, and finding so true...is something my Dad used to tell me.

He said, "Always look people straight in the eyes." Never look down, and never look up. It seems like a simple lesson: People are people, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. The first half is that he taught me to never look down on other people for economic, racial, education, nationality or any other reason. Everyone has just as much value as a human being as I do. So the application of that lesson was to smile at everyone, greet everyone, and generally treat them with respect. And the result? You are well-received and liked wherever you go. The service you receive is better, the conversations you have are more genuine, etc. Valuing other human beings is invaluable.

The flip side of the lesson: Never look up at someone like they are unreachable, or better than you, or have the right to treat you like they are. Don't fear a person's power or money so much that you feel they are better than you, you can't be yourself, or can't see them as human. Who knows, it could be just a matter of time before you are in the same place. And the result? Confidence. To say what you think and be who you are, no matter who you are talking to.

I see this lesson at work in my life in China all the time. I can constantly cross boundaries up and down that my Chinese counterparts can't or won't cross. Why do my housekeeper, door guard and waitress all greet me and smile every time I pass, but fall silent when anyone else passes? My Chinese coworkers don't know how I got into the inner circle of 40-something male shareholders of the company. Compared to the coworkers, I wasn't afraid of the hierarchy, the money, or the job. I would joke or chat with them, and always say my opinion on the business whether it was pleasant or not. You can call it American...or Southern...but I call it Brown, because I know it came from my Dad. I might not have noticed it previously in the the U.S., where it is a more common life philosophy, but recently it has been so evident that I was raised differently from most of the people around me in China. And I'm thankful for not knowing those limits when it comes to people.


NandaAnn said...

i wanna see the new apartment!!! :-)

Jessica Campbell said...

Such a good post! I'm so glad I didn't get an opportunity to read this until I came back from China. I got to physically see this in action: the guards greeting you, the big-wigs at work seeking your wisdom...I see exactly what you mean about looking people straight in the eyes.

I need to learn to be more like that. I have, to my shame, seen myself look up and down on people. I desperately want to learn to "maintain eye contact" with everyone. :) I have a feeling this particular blog post you wrote is going to stick with me for a lifetime.