Editor’s note:  This is an excerpt from the book The Soft-Spoken Parent:  The Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath.

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soft spoken parentdsfMost of us are like writers of fiction. We take life experience and form it into stories. But the stories are never objective. We write to make a point. We color every story with our point of view. Each of us is like a child viewing the world through a paper towel tube – or through a drinking straw.

Social psychologists have observed that we humans are not very objective – even at our best: “Instead of a nave scientist entering the environment in search of the truth, we find the rather unflattering picture of a charlatan trying to make the data come out in a manner most advantageous to his or her already-held theories.” [1]

We humans don’t see very well or see very much. This seems to be Jesus’ point when he talks about our inability to remove the splinter from anyone else’s eyes because our vision is impaired by the thick beams in our own eyes (Matthew 7, Luke 6, 3 Nephi 14). What a graphic image! In our time, Jesus might have talked about us trying to remove an eyelash from a family member’s eye while we wear a football helmet – backwards.

Jesus is not being subtle. He is making it clear: You simply cannot sort out someone else’s life. The only way you can hope to make sense of someone else’s experience is by removing that beam – or helmet. Unless we set aside our own assumptions, interpretations, and judgments, we cannot help a struggling child with the eyelash that troubles his vision.

If we remove our beams, and just observe, we may learn a lot. We may find that the children who have drawn our ire are just little strugglers doing the best they know how. They may feel confused, lonely, and sad. They may not know how to do any better.

How many times have all of us looked on friends and children and filtered their stories through our own values and expectations?

Carol Lynn Pearson shared the following experience:

I can remember many occasions when my perception has crumbled and a glimpse inside has wiped away judgment. During my college years I looked at a fellow student, whom I will call Roy, in amazement. Where did he get such a gigantic ego? His need to be recognized and praised was never ending. Every conversation he had with anyone always centered on his recent triumphs and the projects he was now involved in that would ensure his fame. He was underappreciated and let everyone know it. His name became a joke. We had him pegged as an obnoxious egomaniac who blew his own horn from morning until night.

One day I learned that one of my friends knew his family. She began to tell me some things.

“Roy’s father was an alcoholic. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Oh, yes. He made their life just miserable. He was a crazy man. Once, when Roy was about five he walked in the kitchen and saw his father attempting to kill his mother. It was a terrible scene and Roy was there to watch it all.”

The tremor was instant. All my perceptions, all my judgment shattered, and I saw past the facade in the reality. I saw past the obnoxious adult to the traumatized little boy that I wanted to take in my arms and comfort. I never looked at Roy the same again. I knew his secret, or of his secrets, and I understood. [2]

Having spent a lifetime learning how to interpret what we see and hear, we now are invited to turn off the interpretation. Instead of re-writing others’ stories with our interpretations, we listen carefully to hear their stories, their hearts, their hopes. This isn’t easy.

Some years ago I found sage counsel for all of us in Parade magazine: “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” [3]

Stay tuned for another strategy next week. Or purchase the book, The Soft-Spoken Parent: More than 50 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath by visiting your local LDS bookseller or purchase online by click here.

[1] S. T. Fiske and S. E. Taylor, Social Cognition (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1984), 88.

[2] Carol Lynn Pearson, “Secrets,” New Era, March 1984, 17.

[3] (Parade Magazine, NY 1987).