I have often times wondered what kind of person I would be if I grew up in a completely different environment than I did. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if my pondering is conjuring up an accurate picture. There are just far too many factors and possibilities to make this quest of finding my unlived lives achievable. However, this practice has helped me to be more understanding of others and more patient in my dealings with them. By putting myself in their lives, I come not to expect from them what I would do now, but rather what I may have done.
There are a few characteristics I recognize in myself that makes the quest of finding my unlived lives easier, but one characteristic that I know would deeply affect my unlived past is my emotionalism. I am extremely emotional. I have worked very hard the last several years of my life trying to control my emotions. This takes a great deal of effort. I tell myself that I am greater than my hormones; that I can choose to react correctly, not naturally. In an unlived life, I do not know when I would have had these realizations. Maybe I would have had them earlier, or maybe to this day I would still be controlled by my every emotional impulse. I know that if I could go back in time, I would try to teach my younger self that emotions are controllable, not controllers. I wasted way too much time dwelling on thoughts that were fed by my emotionalism.
I thank God that I had parents who did not allow me to run completely rampant with my emotions. They tried to restrain much of my outbursts and attempted to teach me lessons that would temper my wild feelings. While this helped, unfortunately my siblings still took several of my outbursts on the chin. Their assistance was crucial, but I still had much to learn.
But what if I did not have parents who tried to restrain my madness? What if my dad left my mom and us kids? What if my mom did not go to a church that helped in teaching me many important lessons? What if my mom decided the best way to control us kids was to get a boyfriend? What if this boyfriend was abusive? What if I decided to follow life instruction from my peers rather than from wise teachers?
But hey, I do not even need to get that dramatic. What if my dad and mom never got divorced, had great jobs, but they decided my emotionalism was some kind of neurological malfunction and so placed me on medication? Would that medication have helped or would it have negatively impacted the way I respond to life? Or what if I chose to go into the military instead of college?
Asking these questions force me to look at other people’s actions differently. I have realized that I have learned a great number of things that those around me have yet to learn, and vice versa. As I mentioned above, by putting myself in other people’s lives, I can be more patient with them knowing that I may have committed the same mistakes they have made, and quite possibly even worse mistakes.
Nowhere does this practice help me more often than when I am teaching swimming lessons. I teach lessons to all ages, but I mostly teach children. Putting myself in their lives is incredibly helpful. I recognize that they know very little, sometimes nothing about swimming. I recognize that they are only in the pool with me for one half hour of their week. (That is 1/336 of their week. That means they have 335/336 of their week to completely forget everything I just taught them.) I recognize that I was not that great of a student when I was younger. I recognize that as a child I was quite frequently sent to the principal’s office. I recognize that I could be the very terror that I am having to deal with, and quite possibly even more so if I had parents of whom I had no fear of discipline. All these realizations help me to calm down, reign in my emotions, and continue on teaching kids who like nothing more than to splash or cry. These realizations also encourage me to instill important principles outside of swimming into these kids.
This practice has helped me in many other areas of life. I hope you can see how easily this practice can be transferred into your own life. If we all were to imagine our unlived lives in the lives of others, we would be able to better understand each other and be able to have more understandable dialogue.