Putting Yourself in the Other Fellow’s Place
DUE to gross carelessness a great fire broke out on a gigantic United States airplane carrier under construction. That fire cost the government upward of $50 million and took scores of lives. The wife of one of the victims heard with anxiety the news about the fire over the radio. When her husband failed to come home at the usual time, she feared the worst. Then the doorbell rang, and how she hurried to answer it! As she opened it, there stood two policemen. Words failed them, but words were not necessary. The kind expression of sympathy upon their faces spoke plainly enough. Yes, her husband was among those that had lost their lives in that fire.
Those policemen knew full well how that woman felt, for they could well imagine how their own wives would have felt in her place. On such occasions a kind facial expression, a gesture or a few words spoken with warm understanding, may be all that is needed to show that we understand, that we can put ourselves in the other fellow’s place.
The Bible takes note of this need, for it tells us: “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.” It shows that “a singer with songs upon a gloomy heart” is simply out of place and that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to skip about.” If we are able to put ourselves in the other fellow’s place we will know when it is the time to weep and wail and when to laugh and skip about.—Rom. 12:15; Prov. 25:20; Eccl. 3:4.
This matter of putting ourselves in the other fellow’s place applies to all our relations with others. In particular is there need of it in the family circle. How much better parents and children would get along with each other if each were able to put himself in the other’s place! Not that parents are to abdicate their authority, but understanding is vital. And how much friction there is between husbands and wives for lack of such understanding! This principle applies even to such minor items as wanting to watch television or listen to the radio when another needs quiet for rest or study. It also applies to being on time for meals and being ready to go out at an agreed time.
Did you ever borrow money and then neglect to return it when you said you would? Did you view your thoughtlessness as something trivial? But what about the other fellow? He may begin wondering if you have forgotten all about it. If you promised to pay back a sum on a certain date and are unable to do so, could you not at least make an explanation as to why you are unable to keep your promise, instead of ignoring the matter as though you had no obligation? Your creditor doubtless will be only too glad to give you more time, just so long as you do not get the idea that the loan was a gift! It is hardly fair to wheedle out a gift under the pretext of a loan, is it?
How much strife, confusion and needless suffering there are in industry because men do not put themselves in the other fellow’s place! Because either labor or management or both fail to do so, strikes at times stretch out for weeks and months. Why, there would be no racial or religious discrimination whatever if people were able to put themselves in the places of others who are different in these respects.
Whether you have a request to make or a rebuke to administer, you will be far more effective if you are able to put yourself in the other fellow’s place. How well Jesus was able to do this! That is why, after Peter had denied him three times, he did not scold Peter. All that was needed was a look: “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and Peter recalled the utterance of the Lord,” about his betraying him. Then Peter “went outside and wept bitterly.” Yes, at times a reproving look, at times a pleading tone—how often Jehovah God pleaded with his people!—at times just gentle reasoning with an erring one will do more good than landing upon him with all your weight.—Luke 22:60-62; Gal. 6:1.
The apostle Paul imitated his Master in this respect also. He knew that if he were indifferent to the way others thought and felt he would needlessly offend them, for it is very easy to imply that others, whom you believe to be mistaken, are either lacking in sincerity or in intelligence. He made himself, as it were, “the slave to all,” that he might gain the most persons. “And so,” he said, “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; . . . To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.” No question about it, the apostle Paul knew how to put himself in the other fellow’s place.—1 Cor. 9:19-22.
Being able to put yourself in the other fellow’s place not only keeps you from offending others needlessly but also protects you from gross selfishness or sins. One of the chief causes of immorality and crime is covetousness, that is, greedily desiring that which belongs to another. But if you can put yourself in the other fellow’s place you simply will not covet his auto, job, wife or some other possession. You would not want to lose such things yourself, if you had them, would you?—Deut. 5:21.
Of course, putting yourself in the other fellow’s place does not mean you will let yourself be unduly swayed by sentiment when dealing with others who are not deserving. Neither does it mean that you would not give stern reproof at times when it is your duty and it is for the best that you do so. You should be concerned with what is best for the other fellow even as you would want what is the best for yourself, would you not?
In brief, putting yourself in the other fellow’s place can do, oh, so much in making relations friendly with others as well as helping you to do what is right. It is just what Jesus meant when he said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”—Matt. 7:12.