Learning Chinese is Easy... Learning People is What's Difficult - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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Learning Chinese is Easy... Learning People is What's Difficult

Dec 02, 2014


When I was in college I had to learn a second language to graduate in the subject I had chosen, International Relations.

I could have chosen Hindi and passed easily. I could have chosen French or Spanish, which I knew were easy to learn for English speakers.

But I was young and enthusiastic and keen to challenge myself. So I looked at the language difficulty levels and picked Chinese (Manadarin).

I thought it would be one of the hardest things I had ever done - and it certainly was hard. It took me years to differentiate the tones, learn how to recognize the characters they use to write, figure out accent differences in speakers from different places... it really was just so difficult.

And yet, I was a fool to think it would be the hardest thing I would learn.

As I get older I realize there is one thing that I am constantly learning, every day, day in and day out, spending vast amounts of time on, and am nowhere near close to mastering.

And that is: people.

Learning how to deal with people, how to manage people, how to work with people, how to lead and be led by people. People above you on a hierarchy, or below you. People from the same place as you or from far away.

Source: alexsvirid/Shutterstock

People are complex, challenging beyond anything I have ever done, frustrating to the point of driving me to dementia, and yet... rewarding.

Every day and every interaction is new and unpredictable. The minute I start building up an impression about someone they suddenly do or say something that turns my notions to dust.

And as people change around me like drops of mercury dotting my life, I have to become a chameleon myself. Changing myself to align with the world and all its diverse peoples.

As I trudge along life, trying to conquer the one peak that seems to tower beyond reach, here's what I'm learning about people dynamics.

Man is a social animal, we all crave human interaction

I always thought I was an extrovert, so being around people should energise me. But sometimes, it did the opposite, it drained me. And yet, being alone seemed suffocating. On the other hand some people who do very well alone, still get lonely.

I learned that according to the Myers Briggs personality test there are two extremes - Introvert and Extravert (extravert is the spelling used by Carl Jung, the psychologist who originally coined the terms). We fall somewhere along the spectrum... no one is either a perfect one or the other.

Learning this helps in two ways. On the one had you can understand what you are going through better, and find ways to deal with it. You can also accept that your personality type is not set in stone, and although you tend to be a certain way, you can move yourself along the scale, and choose to behave in a different way.

It also helps you understand what kind of interactions work best for you. Are you good with large crowds, small groups, or one-on-one conversations? You can see where you do your best work - in presentations or interviews. This, in turn, helps you focus on the interactions that energise you, while also improving upon your area of weakness to find the best way for you to work with other people.

People are all the same, even if they're different

Differences arise from many areas - upbringing, culture, education, experiences, personality types. But underlying these are the same basic emotions - fear, anger, happiness, sadness...

Usually we are dominated by our own emotions. So much so that we completely miss these emotions in others. Recognising these emotional needs in other helps us to understand where they are coming from.

When we are able to shift our focus from what we are going through to what others are going through, they can help make our interactions with them more fruitful.

They say that to understand others, you should walk a mile in their shoes… to imagine their experiences, and understand their behavior.

But even if you can just understand what you would feel in a situation, and then transfer this understanding to those around you, you will start to see the intent in their actions. This way you can understand someone from halfway around the world in the same way as you would someone who grew up by your side.

In this globalizing world where your work and your personal relationships can bring you face-to-face with all sorts of people from around the world, remembering the basic humanity that connects us can be the bridge that brings worlds closer.

All relationships are a work in progress

Relationships take work - and not just personal relationships such as marriages, but also professional ones.

Relationships need not be stuck in one of two states: we get along/we don't get along. As a relationship progresses the states will change, being mindful of the way the states change is important.

Accepting this helps you see that you never need to dismiss any relationship in your life. You need not love or hate your boss or colleague. You can spend energy and effort to understand, appreciate and bring depth to that relationship.

When there is complexity, you can work on it and smoothen things out. But if you give up on it, there is nowhere to go from there. And there is never a good enough reason to give up on another human being.

The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant had a Formula of Humanity:

'Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end'

People are not a means to get to something else - a better bottom line or an efficient workplace, but the person is the end in itself. If you understand the value of each person and work on your relationship for the sake of people, then you will create the possibility of a positive interaction for both you and them.

'Everyone you meet knows something you don't'

Remembering these words of Bill Nye can help you erase any whisper of arrogance that might crop up in a relationship. 'That guy is just so stupid, do I really have to deal with him? I should just forget it!'

Instead, by acknowledging that his life being different from yours, his experiences and perspective can bring to you an understanding of something you might not have, you will remember to put away your ego and open yourself up to a positive interaction.

Mankind is meant to be diverse. We can learn from this diversity... not shun it, not abhor it, but embrace it to enrich our lives.

Most importantly, every person is here on purpose

A 14th century Persian poet, Hafez, asks us to ponder...

If God invited you to a party and said,
'Everyone in the ballroom tonight will be my special guest...'
How would you then treat them when you arrived?

Everyone in this world is a guest on God's 'jeweled dance floor', Hafez said. And that's how we should treat them, like we all belong here.

In Indian culture we use the act of Namaste - a gesture that says 'my soul recognizes yours'. It says I don't see what you are, what you look like, where you are from... I see humanity within you and I salute it.

Can you look past hurt and anger, hate and insecurity, faith and nation... to see the human in everyone?

Because if you can you have a special skill, a special role to play in the world. To be impartial and learn to embrace diversity, that is a challenge, a seemingly insurmountable one, but an endlessly rewarding one. If you can conquer it, the world and everyone in it is yours.

I'm still struggling, still learning... if your experiences have taught you ways to deal with people, please share them with me.


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9 Responses to "Learning Chinese is Easy... Learning People is What's Difficult"

Josanne Salvaleon

17 Feb, 2016

In learning a language, one really needs social interaction to actually learn the language. I'm on an easy Chinese learning course at Preply.com  and my tutor keeps reiterating that practice is very important, especially with native speakers.  This way, you hear how it is spoken in everyday conversations. You will sound more "natural" if you learn practicing with a native speaker. 


03 Dec, 2014

Very nicely written and very true saying that its very difficult to learn people than to learn chinese. Following para touched me a lot: "When there is complexity, you can work on it and smoothen things out. But if you give up on it, there is nowhere to go from there. And there is never a good enough reason to give up on another human being." Please continue such writing...


03 Dec, 2014

very good article.

Sumant Daftary

03 Dec, 2014

A very thought provoking article. Most of us know these things too well but for some reason fail to put them in practice!!. A brief comment on Dr. Puri"s comment. It is amply proven that humans are not the only one with what is called spirituality. Everyone will affirm that the so called "animals" often have much more spirituality" than humans do. Possibly since we have more spirituality - we also have more meaness and greed than any animal. An animal "kills" for his immediate physical need unline "animals" who "kill" to provie for unborn generations!!!

dr ashok puri

02 Dec, 2014

Inspiring article .What we human beings need to learn is to being human .We are humans and we differ from animals .What is life ,who we are ,where we come from and where we will go are the questions we need to ask and try answering . . Spiritualism ...the ideal way to live ...gives right answers to these questions . and once we understand this and start our life afresh ...people no longer remain an issue .being with them gives joy and happiness ...being with problems & sufferings also starts giving joy ....as we start seeing life as a joyful journey ...a new perspective .


02 Dec, 2014

This is a great article. I think if we put the other person's interest before ours it works fine. So much so that once he/she understands that we are looking to help him he/she tempers his/her interest and would like to help us intern. Of course, there will always be the exception. But it mostly works, I think.

Mahmood Merchant

02 Dec, 2014

"I'm still struggling, still learning"! ... Join the Club!


02 Dec, 2014

Great Topic and good points. Can appreciate after experience of 20 years but would recommend all believe and learn this earlier in their life to be successful.


02 Dec, 2014

Experiences tell us that ways to deal with people are NONE but ways to deal with ourselves are many. Once we start dealing with ourselves better the same people around us will start looking more human.


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