During our everyday lives, as we pass by our fellow souls we often give them little more than a passing thought. Such is the way of things. We are far too busy and tied up in our own lives. Our own hopes, and dreams, and worries.
Yet we are all interconnected. In countless ways. If we would only learn to better “read” each other, we would know just how deeply we are.
When I taught young children in Bristol Virginia Public Schools and grown inmates at the Bristol Jail, I taught them all (both big and small) to read better. It is the “heart” of doing well in school in America - being able to read anything well. It remains by far the most important subject taught in public schools.
I always told my students there are three ways to get better at reading. The first way is to read more. The second way is to read more. And the third way is … to read. More.
Nothing beats learning to do something better than doing it (no matter how we may struggle while doing it).
But how does one learn to read “people”? Well, I’ve practiced for a lifetime. Actually, so have you, whether your realize it or not.
Learning to read people is one of the greatest practical skills we can ever learn as human beings; at least as integral to living a happy and meaningful life as being able to read written words. I wish there was a mandatory class entitled “Reading People” in every public high school and university in America.
While hiking this past February, I happened upon a young lady by the trailside, perched on a rock outcrop, gazing out over the river far below.
The initial information I garnered during one quick glance her way told me that this young lady seemed to have the whole world in her hands.
She was beautiful. Physically beautiful people have a card to play that the rest of us don’t. Not to be jealous. (Yes, we are each beautiful in our own way - I’m very much aware of that.) But the reader knows what I mean; physical beauty is an alluring attribute for us humans - and can be played as a huge positive in the world in which we live. Plain and simple.
She was intelligent. On her backpack, which she had laid down on the ground behind her, was a quote from Tolstoy, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” In my long experience in this world, no soul has ever quoted Tolstoy to me unless they were smart. I mean really, really smart.
She was kind. As I passed her by, I spoke to her, giving her my ever-friendly “Hello!” that I strive to give to everyone who comes my way in life.
She turned ever-so-slightly to wave a hand at me and smile. And how could I surmise by this single gesture that she was so immensely and incredibly kind?
Because I saw that she smiled and waved despite feeling absolutely overwhelmed by another immensely powerful and directly competing emotion.
She was sad. Deeply and morosely sad.
In fact, this sudden realization stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn’t take another step.