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There is much you can learn from the people you meet

This morning I found myself thinking about the spectacular novel by Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

The title might have you think it is about life after death, but it is actually so much more.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a celebration of the people who appear at pivotal moments in our lives to teach us something about ourselves and to show us the way forward.

Sometimes we love or revere these people, sometimes we find ourselves repulsed by them. This does not make them good or bad – our view of them hinges upon the point that we are at in our own personal journey at the moment we encounter them, and what they have to show us. In other words, if we like the message we are likely to conclude that we “like” the messenger and vice versa regardless of what the true nature of the individual happens to be.

This means that it would be as valuable to encounter a reserved person who had been harassed to the point that they yelled at someone as it would be to encounter a miser moved to a rare moment of generosity – not for how they were behaving, but for what we can learn by observing their behaviour and our own reaction to it.

The interesting thing is that if you accept the plausibility of this line of thinking, it also means that we ourselves may well be serving all of the people that we interact with in the course of our lives in a variety of capacities.

Granted, much of the time we might simply serve as “extras”, barely noticed as we walk by in the street, as we go about our daily business. But it would also explain why, on occasion and sometimes under the most unlikely of circumstances, we find ourselves playing a pivotal role for someone else – like the hand that instinctively grabs your elbow just in time to stop you falling into the street.

The narcissists among us might find this an unpalatable notion, but that does not make it any less true. Even they cannot help but demonstrate the effects of failing to consider their fellow man to everyone they encounter.

If this is true, what does it mean?

That’s a good question and one that will most likely be answered differently by just about everyone who reads this, and perhaps differently again as they progress through their own journey.

But ultimately, it might simply mean that while we can’t control what happens to us we can control our reactions to situations and learn from our experiences with the help of others. What that means, in this world at least, is that perhaps the only real difference between heaven and hell is awareness.

Robin Trimingham is the chief operating officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a virtual presenter, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://bit.ly/3nSMlvc or robin@olderhood.com

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a celebration of people who appear at pivotal moments in our lives to teach us something about ourselves and to show us the way forward

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Published June 01, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated May 31, 2021 at 11:26 am)

There is much you can learn from the people you meet

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