At my home workstation, I try to have a place for everything and to have everything in its place. I like knowing that, without lifting my eyes to search, I can reach up to the shelf above my desk with my left hand and retrieve my calculator, my stapler, or my Scotch tape. From the same shelf, I can blindly retrieve my three-hole punch with my right hand.
When I have several places to visit on an outing away from my house, I like structuring my trip so that I don’t have to make many left-hand turns off of the highway. For example, if I need to visit the post office, library, grocery store and gas station, I will organize my stops in a way that requires me to make the fewest possible left-hand turns.
I also like for all of the hangers in my clothes closet to be turned the same direction, and all of my clothes to be organized by type (pants, blouses, sweaters, jackets, etc.) This way of organizing my clothes not only results in a tidy-looking closet but also helps me determine quickly what is and what is not available for me to wear.
I am able to position my stapler at my workstation, choose the route I take when driving, and organize my clothes closet any way I like because those choices do not affect anyone else. I must not, however, expect to enjoy this same luxury when making choices that involve other people. I often need to surrender my preferences, maybe even my rights, in order to accommodate the preferences of someone else.
It was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr’s opinion that “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” I must not insist upon having my own way at the expense of another person.
Thus, when another driver cuts in front of me to take a prime parking space, I will simply look for another space. When four friends and I must crowd into a small booth at a restaurant because a party of two people insisted upon sitting in the only large booth, I will make the best of the situation. When at a luncheon another woman reaches for the one remaining brownie a split second after I reach for it, I will . . . offer to split it with her.
Common courtesy demands that I sometimes choose to allow the other person to have his or her way at my expense. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: No one is too big to be courteous, but some are too little.
I don’t want to be the little person who demands her rights at all costs. I want rather to be the big person whose actions are governed by the Golden Rule.