It's easy to say it from the pulpit or counselling session or the hippy filled field at the festival. That we should treat people with love and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1956). Its certainly easier to say it than actually doing it all the time, not just when we have enough energy or opportunity or resources and don't feel threatened or under pressure of time or lacking in confidence.
It's an ideal I try to live up to and constantly fail at, but in my trial and error I'm at least marking my place in the book of the person. Sometimes getting through a few lines, othertimes a few pages and eventually whole chapters are read. Those people nearest to me have the best read books. Those futher away are sometimes only acknowleged by a review from someone else or I just get to read the blurb. Many many people, don't even exist in my library. They are in far away libraries, in foreign languages and may never see the light of my day.
The people's books that I do come across, have covers I judge them from. I do sometimes decide I like them on first impressions, by just a few lines. Some books I don't get past the first chapter.
Most people's books are full of short stories which compile into a series, and a chronological life narrative. I can be part of one or more of their stories and they can be part of mine. But we never see the whole book. And how can you tell if you love a book until you get to the end? You can't - the end might change everything. But with people, you can never know the end. With books, you can however, not necessarily like a particular book or chapter or plot point or line but you can still love reading. I love reading. I love people. That's where I start. At least it gives them a chance.
A man came to the door of our centre, asking for money or food. He didn't want to have to steal, he said. I gave him food. I felt a twinge of concern that he might be manipulating me by mentioning stealing. I was waiting for him to go futher. To ask for money again. He didn't. He then asked if I could help him with another thing. I thought, here goes, what's he going to ask for now? He shuffled his feet and searched the inside pocket of his jacket. What's he looking for, I wondered, is he going to try to con me? He continued to search. It's in here somewhere, he said. He pulled out bits of paper. I have a picture, he said. It's my dog. I have a picture here somewhere. He found it. It was a folded battered picture of a dog. His dog. His missing dog. He was desperately looking for his lost dog. After food, it was his next priority. He was lost without his dog.
I didn't see this plot twist. I wasn't ready for his story. I hadn't expected this character development. There was a lump in my throat. I was glad that I had behaved in a loving manner even if my mind wasn't quite there, that I had a chance to catch up. To read a little more. And not just judge him by other books I'd read like his.
I took the photo and made 10 x A4 photocopies with space to write a message, to put up around the area he'd lost his dog. He was delighted. Thank you, he said, Bless you. For the food, he said, but especially for the help to find my dog. He was choked, I was choked, for a brief moment in time we were both on the same page.
It's not always easy to think of and treat people with love and unconditional positive regard but its probably how our stories get to have happy endings.
Rogers, C. (1956). Client-Centered Therapy (3 ed.). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.