My Dear Ivy,
I wrote yesterday of hoping that you grow up to be a woman who is comfortable making big decisions for yourself. The thing is: There are lots of possible criteria you can use to make those decisions, and some of them are better than others. Throughout these letters, you’ll see several examples of my own criteria for making decisions. My goal, though, is not to impose my criteria on you, but to share them with you in the hopes that they will be useful to you as you cultivate your own.
Today I want to share about one of the most important of those decision-making criteria: People.
What does it mean, that “people” are one of the most important factors in my own decision-making processes? There are several answers to that question:
1) People are more important than things.
If you’re anything like your brother and sister, by the time you’re reading this, we will have had this conversation many, many times. You will have a variety of things throughout your life – some more important than others. There are certain things I consider irreplaceable, and therefore very, very valuable. But none of those things is as valuable as the people who will come into your life – even temporarily. People are more important than things. Always. Treat them accordingly.
That’s not to say that all things are unimportant, or that everybody sees the relationship between certain people and things the same way. In fact, there are times when certain things can be an important means of caring for people. If you’re anything like me, there will be times throughout your life where you will be misunderstood and accused of putting things ahead of people – often by people who want some of your things, or who want you to be ok with it when they help themselves to someone else’s. As I said, people are more important – always, every time – but that doesn’t mean you always have to do exactly as they want you to do! I want you to become familiar with the concept of boundaries. We’ll talk more about that in future letters, but in the context of this letter, know that only you can be sure of what’s in your heart as you make decisions. If you know that you’re putting people above things (whether others see it that way or not), then it doesn’t really matter all that much what they think.
2) People are more important than words.
Look, I work with words every day. The way I’ve described my job to you and your brother and sister is that I “help people with their words.” Some words are incredibly valuable; others, not so much. I hope you will find the words I’m writing to you now among the valuable ones.
But again, none of them are more important than people.
Nearly everyone you know, if you spend enough time with them, will at some point say something disagreeable, or hurtful, or outrageous, or misguided, or even offensive. I’m sure I will, too. When that happens, just remember that people are more important than words, and treat them accordingly. There may be times when it becomes necessary to remove yourself from being around certain people because of their words (that “boundaries” thing again), but it is never worth intentionally hurting people solely because of their words.
3) People are more important than ideas.
There are lots of ideas in our universe. Some of them are truly amazing ideas. Some are truly terrible ideas. And some – the vast majority of them – are just kind of . . . there. You won’t always agree with anybody on which ideas are which. There will be times when people in your life disagree with your ideas. I probably will myself, at times. There will be times when people in your life discount or demean your ideas. And that’s ok, too. Even if you’re right, and they’re wrong. Because people are more important than even the best of your ideas.
Again, there are certain ideas that are so repulsive that they may necessitate removing yourself from being around certain people who hold them. There may be times when people’s hurtful ideas prompt them to actions against which you must protect yourself or others. But again, it is never worth intentionally harming people solely because they have bad ideas.
There are better ways. We’ll discuss some of them throughout these letters, and more throughout your life. For now, though, just know that if you’re putting people ahead of things, words, or ideas – even really important, really valuable ones – then you can usually be sure that you’re doing it right.
Throughout your life you will, no doubt, meet lots of people. I want you to keep something in mind as you do: Each and every person you meet is a potential travel ticket into another universe.
What on earth does that mean?
Think of it this way: Each person you meet stands, at a particular time, on a particular spot on the globe. From our own unique spots, each one of us can see a limited distance, as far as our field of vision allows.
There is no other person who has the exact same field of vision, at the exact same time, as you do. Each of us has a finite, human mind, incapable of grasping everything all at once. We need each other in order to be more than we can each be on our own.
Yes. All of us – even the very worst of us. Because even the very worst person you will ever meet has something to teach you. Maybe it’s something as simple as “make different choices so you don’t end up like that.” Or maybe it’s something much more profound. You won’t know what it is until you meet them, and you can’t ever know what it is, if you’re too busy worrying about things, words, or ideas to see the people behind them.In a sense, you exist at the center of your own universe. And so do I. And so does every single person you will ever meet. And by being attached to people first . . . more than to things, words, or ideas . . . you hold the key that unlocks their universes, opening worlds of discovery you can never hope to find on your own.
People . . . can be annoying sometimes. They can be harmful sometimes. But there are entire universes out there to discover if you just take the time to get to know the people at the center of those universes.