Asking others what they want

Just for today, get curious about others’ dreams, hopes and needs.  Just for today, if you can, forget your own.  Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

There’s a skill that’s not much talked about, but which really makes a difference.  It’s not much talked about because it goes against the grain of our modern-day hero mentality.  Our films include heroes who, generally, push for what they want.  Have a dream, and make it happen, goes the story.  Be determined.  Decide on your goal, and go for it.  You know all the phrases.

Except that it’s not real life.  Real life includes the need to understand what those around you want out of life.  What are their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations?  What annoys them, upsets them, interests them?  What do they feel needs doing in their lives?  Where do they want to get to?  How confused, or certain, do they feel?


Hollywood-style films don’t help.  The main plot is often the story of a person who knows what they want, is determined, and wins out against all the odds.  The Terminator films perhaps symbolise this – the main character is extremely goal-orientated.  In fact, he is a goal-seeking robot with any emotions resembling doubt eradicated from his mind.  Possibly that’s why many find those films pleasureable to watch.  It is a momentary escape from the agony of uncertainty.

Imagine how such films would look if the hero was overly consultative.  If, in Braveheart, William Wallace was obsessed with taking poll after poll before deciding what to do next.  If he agonised about hurting the feelings of his enemies.  Imagine if the Terminator spent ages working out how to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and forgot where he left his guns because he was busy spending time with focus groups.  Imagine James Bond with a licence to consult and only use violence as a last resort.

Not very sexy as a film plot.  But much closer to the reality we all face day to day.  The fact is, we live in a heavily populated world, where, if we all fight for our individual dream, we may end up creating a mutual nightmare.


Just for today (or for the next hour if a day seems excessive), make it your task to see what other people think about things.  With everyone you meet, be curious about what they might be wishing, what they might be lacking, what they might be needing.

Take a break from your habitual focus on yourself.  Just for a while, assume that you will be looked after reasonably, and can afford to spend some time consulting.  I know that everyone else will fall apart if they don’t have the benefit of your excellent advice.  But, just for a while, assume that you have nothing to offer except your listening ears and helping hands.

While you’re doing this, observe what this exercise does to you.  Do you find yourself getting frustrated, because you are secretly desperate to organise everyone else’s life?  Or is it a relief for you to put down your hero’s guns and listen for a change.


The idea of this exercise is to teach yourself to be more healthy.  Self-interest causes mental illness; in contrast, curiosity about, and care for, others heals mental illness.

The aim is to relieve your mind of the illusion that it is the centre of the universe, and to let it swim a little.

OK, you may not look like a hero.  But, underneath, I think some heroism will form.



Hollywood heroes are often presented as sure of themselves, and determined to fulfil a dream at all costs.  But this isn’t reality.  Just for today, get curious about everyone you meet – what are their wishes, hopes, needs?  It’s a nice exercise because it distracts you from your own selfish obsessions, and gives you peace.