Language is the Ego’s most powerful weapon in its daily pursuit of survival and dominance. This means that what people say may, or may not, be true. Big surprise! In fact, the misrepresentations may not even be intentional – the person may actually believe that what he/she is saying is true….but the Ego through its defense mechanisms may well be protecting its delusional self-image of strength and grandeur. This means that what an individual says may not be a very reliable indicator of his/her true self. A far more reliable indicator is what people do. Now, individuals are pretty good at controlling the big things, e.g. not robbing banks is pretty easy for most people because it carries so much risk. But that’s not much of an indicator of honesty.

On the other hand, people have a much harder time controlling the little things they do…there are just too many to keep track of at any given time. And therein lies the first clue to understanding others: People reveal their true selves through a myriad of little behaviors, every day! For example, what a person does when a cashier mistakenly gives him/her back too much change, is a far more powerful clue to their honesty than the fact they don’t rob banks, or cheat on their taxes! Some of the nastiest people on earth make large charitable contributions for which they gain both publicity and a tax-break. Is this a very good indicator of compassion? Probably not. A much better clue comes from the way they treat beggars on the street. A quite wealthy business associate of mine routinely shouts “get a job” to panhandlers. He had the privilege of growing up in a loving, caring, and supportive family…yet, he lacks the compassion to realize that not everyone grew up in such a nurturing environment. My grandmother used to tell me a story about her father, who was a financially successful “self-made” entrepreneur. She remembered that when she would walk down the street with him and he came upon a beggar, he would immediately look away from the person while simultaneously reaching into his pocket and giving him some coins. She asked him why he did that, to which he replied, “I’m afraid that if I look at him, I might be tempted to judge him”. Cool story! Talk about integrity…matching the walk to the talk!

The second step to understanding others then, is to observe the little behaviors that people engage in all the time, and begin to accumulate the small pieces of the puzzle that tells you about the other person’s real self. Don’t be in a hurry to jump to conclusions though. This is like detective work (hence the title of this series). It means taking your time to collect enough pieces of the puzzle in order to get a good picture.

Next: Part 3 – Understanding your own values