There is a historical fallacy you may have heard that you should treat everyone the same way. The intention of the statement is to teach people to treat everyone with kindness and understanding, to see everyone as equally important in this world – and we absolutely should. This is a vital message and one that we need to keep teaching, but treating everyone “the same way” is not actually the same message. We may want to treat others as we want to be treated, but because everyone is different, you have to treat everyone differently.
My friend Matt is a paramedic. He works in an ambulance and delivers life saving service to people on a daily basis. And while he is proud and honored to do his job, his experiences have lead him to treat everyone differently. Different needs arise with different emergencies. Different sensitivities need to be respected from one call to the next. Different requirements need to be met and different personal attentions paid. He has to weigh the moment and then respond with the best course of action.
Years ago, Matt met a boy named Michael. Michael was a 10 year-old paraplegic and needed medical assistance traveling from home to the hospital. Michael wasn’t born paraplegic; he had become so in his youth. When Michael was little, he was playing with his siblings when he began complaining that his back hurt. His parents took him to the doctor, where they found a tumor. He had surgery to remove the tumor, but left that surgery without the use of the vast majority of his body. That said, there were things he could feel, like his cheeks. And so it became about the little things.
Matt and Michael bonded over a few years. Every time Michael needed to be transported to the hospital, his parents would request that Matt and his partner be their responders. Even when he wasn’t on shift, Matt would agree to transport him. This wasn’t a job, this relationship was a calling.
There were games that Matt and Michael could play during these drives and in the hospital. Developing a close relationship with Michael and the family, Matt would touch his cheeks and say “gotcha, gotcha gotcha!” earning a smile from Michael. They told stories and greatly appreciated each others company. They spent time together.
A few years later, Michael passed away from complications. Matt was at the funeral and mourned with the family. He says that Michael was one of the great lessons of his life. Michael taught him that people take so many little things for granted. We don’t appreciate it when someone strokes our cheek or tells a story. We are often thinking about the next thing that has to be done, and that makes us miss the moments. They pass right by us when they could mean everything. People tell us stories and we forget them. We smile and laugh, but we aren’t really listening. It’s time to take a breath and really see the little things. In someone else’s life, they could truly be the big things.
You can’t treat everyone the same way, because everyone is different. Some people need tough love and others need a big hug. Some people need to learn to mind their manners while others need to learn to stick up for themselves. The way we approach people doesn’t have to be where we are at; we can approach them from where they are at. Don’t treat everyone the same way – treat them the way that they will truly value being treated.