We live quite routine lives, most of us. If we analysed what we do, we would find that we follow a fairly similar routine, getting up in the same way, spending our weeks in the same way, and going to bed in the same way.
We are built for homeostasis – in other words, our bodies have evolved with many systems for keeping us on a habitual track. We seek familiarity; we prefer friends; we spurn difference.
While this is good in principle, it also leaves us vulnerable to unfair prejudice, against ourselves and others. We get so used to our habits that we unconsciously limit our options. We get so use to seeing ourselves a certain way, that we fail to see our possibilities. Worse, we divide our fellow humans into categories based on familiar stories. We decide we like certain types and dislike others.
In order to provide more variety, interest and wisdom in our lives, we can try to ask ourselves more often the question ‘what if’?
Many religions have variations on a certain parable, that of the ‘angel in disguise’. We are asked to consider a particuar ‘what if?’: what if the person we are dealing with turns out, surprisingly, to be very special indeed. This thought stops us from dismissing others as of little or no value. Many Buddhists like to live under the assumption that everyone they meet is very special, and possibly a Buddha. It stops them from devaluing others, and makes them attentive to what others are saying. It also trains them to look at the best in others, and is a fundamentally optimistic view.
Just for today, maybe assume that everyone you meet is an angel in disguise. The disguise is that you are ignorant of their true identity. Try to listen to them and see what you can learn. Look for signs of heroism, and persistence, and inspiration. This prevents us from considering ourselves the centre of the universe, and missing out on what everyone around us has to offer.
We live routine lives, and to an extent thrive on habit.
While this is good and sensible, it also leaves us vulnerable to prejudice and lack of imagination.
Sometimes it is good to allow for the possibility that we are missing the best in others – that there is something in everyone we meet that can enlighten us – that everyone is an angel of a sort.
A great exercise is to learn to treat everyone you meet as though they were an angel, with something to teach you, if you just looked hard enough and appreciated them enough.