Viewpoint: Try to See World from Others’ Perspective

Contributed By Church News

  • 18 October 2013

While the England family was eating out for dinner, a selfless gesture from a stranger gave them encouragement during a difficult time.

Article Highlights

  • After the England family experienced a particularly trying outing with their handicapped son, they received a note of compassion from a stranger.
  • The stranger not only expressed words of support to the family but also paid for the family’s meal.
  • Seeing the world from another person’s perspective can help us recognize opportunities to lift and strengthen others.

“It is a responsibility divinely laid upon us to bear one another’s burdens, to strengthen one another, to encourage one another, to lift one another, to look for the good in one another, and to emphasize that good.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth President of the Church

Ashley England and her family went to dinner at a pizzeria in China Grove, North Carolina, this September and received what the local television station, WBTV, called an “unexpected” note from a fellow patron.

Mrs. England’s eight-year-old son, Riley, “is non-verbal and has been through three major brain surgeries for a severe form of epilepsy,” according to WBTV. During dinner the boy began to get “a little rowdy.”

“He threw the phone and started screaming,” Mrs. England told WBTV. “The past few weeks have been very hard and trying for us—especially with public outings. Riley was getting loud and hitting the table, and I know it was aggravating to some people.”

Then, just as the family was ready to pack up and leave, a waitress appeared.

“‘I’ll try to do this without crying,’ the waitress told the family. ‘But another customer has paid for your bill tonight and wanted me to give you this note.’

“The note read: ‘God only gives special children to special people.’”

In the weeks following the report, a photograph of the note went viral.

That message, articulated in just one sentence to a frustrated family, has relevance for all of us. It demonstrates compassion and understanding—offered at a time when a family needed both.

“We hear what people say, we see what they do, but being unable to discern what they think or intend, we often judge wrongfully if we try to fathom the meaning and motives behind their actions and place on them our own interpretation,” said President Spencer W. Kimball (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball [2006], 95).

The England family doesn’t know who paid for their meal or left them the note. Maybe it was someone who has also raised a special-needs child or who loves a special-needs child. Maybe it was someone who has been embarrassed by a child in public. Or maybe it was someone who simply took the time to imagine what it would have been like to occupy a chair at the Englands’ table.

In the final pages of the classic novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator, a little girl nicknamed Scout, finds herself on the front porch of her neighbor Boo Radley’s home. As she turns to leave, she discovers she has never seen her neighborhood from this angle before. It looks different. Just seeing the world as Boo sees it helps her understand Boo a little better.

She realizes her father—who urged his children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments—was right.

“One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them,” Scout said in the novel. “Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

Having learned the important lessons of compassion and understanding, Scout concludes there is really nothing else for her to learn—except algebra.

The advice, from a fictional attorney living in the height of the Depression in Maycomb, Alabama, is just as relevant in our own wards, stakes, neighborhoods, and communities; we face problems we would understand better if we saw the world around us from our neighbors’ front porches—or from their tables at the local pizzeria.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said that in our associations we should build and strengthen one another.

“It is a responsibility divinely laid upon us to bear one another’s burdens, to strengthen one another, to encourage one another, to lift one another, to look for the good in one another, and to emphasize that good,” he said (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 45).

President Thomas S. Monson has asked Latter-day Saints to show increased kindness toward one another.

“We have no way of knowing when our privilege to extend a helping hand will unfold before us,” he said during his April 2001 general conference address. “The road to Jericho each of us travels bears no name, and the weary traveler who needs our help may be one unknown.”

That’s the impact a stranger had on the England family, who told a reporter that having one person care about their needs overshadowed the rude and negative comments they often hear.

“To have someone do that small act towards us shows that some people absolutely understand what we are going through and how hard it is to face the public sometimes,” Mrs. England told WBTV.

“They made me cry, blessed me more than they know. … Little did he know what struggles we had been facing lately, and this was surely needed at that moment.”

We could all follow the stranger’s example and take time to imagine what it would be like to sit at another person’s table.

President Monson has extended to each of us the same invitation:

“May we ever be mindful of the needs of those around us and be ready to extend a helping hand and a loving heart” (“Until We Meet Again,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 107).