Seeing People

The other day a student at the university where I teach said, “I’ll bet you’re extremely confrontive with your clients. You tell it like it is.” Frankly I was surprised by this perception. His reply to my question about it was that I come across as no-nonsense, bold, and business-like.

But he’s right. I do. And he’s also right about my clients. I have no fear. I’m courageous — maybe even outrageous. I’ll say or do anything. I’ll even call them names and insult them. But sooner or later my wife tires of these tirades and I must actually talk to my clients personally.

Humor aside, despite what I may say or think or feel about any given person in the theoretical abstraction of conversation, my perspective changes drastically when I am confronted with real flesh and blood. The truth is that I am mystified by human nature and never stray for long from the central reality of my life. I love human beings. I have never met one that I didn’t find fascinating and have met very few whom I did not find at least somewhat lovable. My capacity to find good in people is boundless, and I find it nearly impossible to consider in an argument that perhaps the other party was at least partially wrong. The more wrong others believe the other party to be, the more I am convinced it was probably all my fault. Something in me rushes to the side of the underdog, even when the underdog is opposing me furiously. I might find this rather noble did it not seem so codependent.

Ultimately, even this seemingly virtuous characteristic is just the way I am. I did not work to cultivate it, it’s just there. I deserve no credit for whatever good is to be found in it. And if that is true, perhaps others deserve no blame for the vices with which they struggle. Certainly there is a difference between dispositions/temperaments and actions/behaviors, but as long as we are comparing positive dispositions to negative ones, the analogy holds. I see good in people, even when there is little to be seen. Others find bad in people when bad is hard to find. Both are temperaments.

This way of seeing things is largely responsible for the essentially non-judgmental posture I take towards others. It truly doesn’t occur to me to believe that occasionally people behave badly because they are evil. I can always find a better explanation. The problem, of course, is that evil is real, and sometimes I fail to see it. And there is no good explanation other than the one that gets to the cause of something. My desire to believe in all people and see the best in them has at times kept me from being as decisive as I needed to be.