“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. 

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Ram Dass

Imagine for a moment, a stroll through the serene woods, where the song of life reverberates in the hushed whispers of the wind. Each tree around you holds its own tale—a silent narrative of survival, strength, and adaptability. Picture this: An oak stands tall, its branches gnarled and twisted, each twist a testament to its battle for sunlight. And right beside it, a slender birch, straight as an arrow, caressed more gently by life’s fortunes, with ample light to bask in and rich soil to nourish it. A little farther, an evergreen pine stands unchanging, stoic, a resilient sentinel against the winds of time.

Each tree—with its unique shape and form, its peculiar bends and straight lines—tells a story. Isn’t it striking how we recognize and accept their individuality, their struggle, their beauty? We acknowledge that each one is shaped by the elements it faced, each imperfection, a poetic dance of survival and growth. We do not wish the oak to be more like the birch, nor do we find fault with the pine for its unchanging foliage. We perceive their essence, we respect their journey, and we revel in their innate beauty. We simply allow them to be.

Yet, when we turn our gaze to our own kind, our vision blurs. Our minds, like overactive artists, start painting broad brush strokes of judgment and comparison. The silent acceptance we had for the trees vanishes, replaced with a rush of labels. ‘You are too much of this, too little of that. I should be more like him. She should be less like that.’ Can you see how we strip ourselves and others of the same empathy and acceptance we naturally extend to the trees?

But what if we changed our perspective? What if, instead of casting judgments and comparisons, we embraced each person’s individual journey, much like we do the trees in the forest? What if we celebrated the quirks, the idiosyncrasies, the bends and twists that make us who we are? What if we practiced turning people into trees?

When you look at another person, try to see them as a tree. Understand their bends, appreciate their resilience, and celebrate their unique beauty. Know that their ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ is just a reflection of the light they’ve received and the winds they’ve weathered.

Just as importantly, turn your gaze inward with the same gentle understanding. You, too, are a tree, shaped by the experiences you’ve had, the light you’ve received, the storms you’ve weathered. Extend to yourself the same empathy, patience, and acceptance that you would to a tree. Revel in your own growth, in your unique form, in the beauty of your own journey.

Empathy and kindness are not just fleeting emotions—they are intentional practices that we should weave into the fabric of our lives. Let’s strive for improvement, but not for comparison. Let’s foster acceptance, not expectations. After all, our power lies in doing our best, with what we have, where we are.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand and Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2023 Stephen Boudreau.