Ideally, as we grow up we learn to balance consideration for others with consideration for ourselves. We see the adults around us treating others and themselves with care. We experience being treated with care. We are directly taught to lift our attention from our immediate concerns to include the concerns of the people around us.
Some kids (more likely for those raised as girls) are taught to be considerate of others to the exclusion of their own well-being. They are told their value comes from making others comfortable. They learn the emotional labor skills of paying attention to subtle signals and imagining how others might feel. Making themselves a priority in any way is called “selfish” and “bad.”
Some kids (more likely for those raised as boys) are taught that prioritizing themselves is the way to win. They are told their value comes from getting ahead and getting what they want. They can succeed despite or perhaps because of their obliviousness. They take consideration from others for granted.
In abusive households, children learn a terrified attentiveness to the abuser’s moods and movements. They strain to sense any information that might help them stay unnoticed and unhurt. They learn to placate others and conceal their needs. Abuse itself is a profound lack of consideration for the victim’s well-being.
Equality and respect
As adults, we might find ourselves in any or all of those roles at different times: erasing ourselves, erasing others, placating someone with more power, or hurting someone with less power. In contrast, consideration comes from a place of equality and respect. We are all humans together and we can make each other’s lives a little easier by being mindful of more than our own priorities. When we have more power and privilege, it is our job to be more considerate of those who have less, which includes practicing kind language.
Consideration starts with compassion for ourselves. If we are contemptuous toward our own weaknesses and needs, we are likely to bring the same attitude toward others. When we help someone while looking down on them, the recipient is likely to feel uncomfortable even if they are not sure why.
Anchored in our story
To be considerate of ourselves, we anchor ourselves in our own story. We believe our present experience, including when we feel confusion and doubt. We believe our memories, allowing them to be solid or hazy, coherent or fragmentary. We believe our sensitivities and take action to meet our body’s needs. We bring patience and understanding to our imperfections and mistakes and after-effects of trauma. We care for ourselves as best we can with the knowledge and resources we have.
We turn toward ourselves with kindness, including all our conflicting opinions and impulses and wants. We hear the overall truth of our experience, and allow additional truths to emerge. Perhaps we have always hated exercise and movement, and at the same time something in us is curious about aqua aerobics. Perhaps we have always yielded our time to care for others, and now we are determined to take that art class. Perhaps we have always moved forward into each challenge, and something inside longs to pause, retreat, and rest.
To be considerate of other people, we remember that they are just that: separate people, each with their own story and perspective. They are not backdrops or props for our unfolding story. We turn toward them with the same respect we bring toward ourselves.
What we know and what others know only partly overlaps. No matter how well-informed we are, there are whole areas of knowledge and experience that we have never imagined. We stay curious about the truth of other people’s experiences, and listen with care. We hold both the knowledge that they are human just as we are, and that we do not know their internal truths unless they tell us.
Share our truths
Sometimes we can ease the way for others by sharing our truths. So much is uncertain and stressful in everyone’s lives. We can bridge the gaps of not-knowing and alleviate uncertainty, sometimes in small practical ways by texting when we are running late or by offering a timely response when someone has shared a vulnerable truth, sometimes by sharing our own vulnerable truths or expertise.
At the same time, we stay aware of whether our sharing is wanted. One of the most considerate things we can do is assume that these independent beings around us can competently manage their lives as they see fit. People do not need or want unsolicited advice or assistance.
In particular, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have skillfully adapted to their circumstances. Ask before “helping,” and listen to the response. For example, people using wheelchairs definitely do not want a surprise push, and sometimes do not want a door held either. Consideration can be about stepping back rather than fulfilling our own need to feel useful.
In general, we can be more considerate by keeping our minds and our senses open to input. The more we sense into our present environment and the people around us with caring, the less we impose our world view on others. We can directly ask what others need when the signals are not clear.
It is draining to move through the world in a considerate way without receiving consideration in return. It takes energy to decide when and how to speak up after being erased, and it is demoralizing to have to remind people, “Hey, I’m a person!” It is even worse when others respond angrily to being reminded.
It can be a form of gaslighting to have our point of view so thoroughly ignored that we wonder if it exists at all. The antidote is affirmation. “I see you. That makes sense. Of course you feel that way!” Children build up the skill of self-affirmation by receiving abundant affirmation from the adults around them. People who missed out on that will be more strongly affected by having our point of view erased in the present.
Return to consideration
We can all be oblivious sometimes, caught up in our own story and not realizing how we affect others. When we remember to bring a little more consideration to our own truths and those of the people around us, we bring more ease and healing to the world.
- Running on Empty by Jonice Webb, PhD describes the effects of emotionally neglectful parenting, including lack of affirmation.
- Dave Hingsburger uses a wheelchair and often blogs about people’s unhelpful “help.”