One of my writing students recently learned I am a Realtor in San Francisco.
“How,” he asked, “do you reconcile your gentle, supportive, Zen-like teaching persona with your evil real estate persona?”
He didn’t mean it as an insult. He was genuinely surprised. He’d always heard that real estate agents are scumbags* and I didn’t seem to fit that mold.
Similarly, another acquaintance asked to “pick my brain” about getting started in the real estate business. I explained that newly licensed agents often begin by working for their friend.
“Oh, no,” she said, “I could never take advantage of my friends that way.”
Again. Not meant as an insult. But she, too, thinks she knows that agents are leeches.
These two encounters – and plenty of others like them – made me go “ouch” for a nanosecond. Those words can’t help but hurt. Yet I’m not sharing this because I’m complaining, or because I feel misunderstood or unappreciated.
You see, I believe it’s GOOD to be misunderstood. For at least two reasons.
First, it makes me stop and do a self-assessment. Am I, indeed, a parasite? Am I a malefactor? And if not, am I doing or have I done anything specific to invite this judgment?
Second, and more importantly, it reminds me to practice not misunderstanding others.
I practice calling bullshit on my own assumptions. For example, if I hear the label “tech,” I try to notice my tendency to translate that as “lucky to be in the right place at the right time.” Or if I hear “trust fund,” I strive not to automatically think “rich.” Other examples might be not associating “developer” with “greedy.” Or “protected tenant” with “taking advantage.” Or “low-income housing” with “crime-ridden.” Or “foreign investor” with “cash.”
At times I guiltily believe I am the only person on the planet who rushes to judgment. But I know better. It’s impossible to block our biases from popping up like gophers on the greens at Bushwood Country Club.
As Anonymous famously said, “When you assume things you make an ass out of you and me.”
We are asses because we are human, and there’s always a push-pull between our donkey-like conduct and our higher capacities. The practice is to learn from our errors, even as we forgive others’ missteps.
Day by day, encounter by encounter, we can strengthen our ability to see people as whole, multifaceted and unique. Our lives become richer as a result.
*In direct contrast to what would be expected of a scumbag, I offered him some information about San Francisco rent-control law that benefits him directly and for which he was grateful.
Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com.