New year offers time to remeasure others

Thirteen gather for a  Painted Palette party

Thirteen gather for a Painted Palette party

It was a seasonal favorite, a George Bernard Shaw quote my father used often, especially this time of year. “My tailor is the wisest man I know. He’s the only person who measures me every time I go in.”

Most of us do not extend such wise courtesy to other people nor do we receive it. We tend to see people in the same light year in and year out, never suspecting the person has grown or matured.

We categorize people by our experiences with them, the choices they’ve made, and form opinions based on shared time together, layering those experiences to create a concrete image that’s hard to change. After all, labels save time. Plus, it’s hard work to reassess a person, especially if there is no pressing need. We have to stop long enough to take in new information, analyze it, compare it to our previous perspective, and then decide whether or not to apply it.

Ironically, the temptation to label people by the same size — mentally, emotionally, spiritually — is perhaps greatest in the family, among the people we’ve lived with the longest and have the greatest opportunity to remeasure. Labels like, the “baby,” the “smart one,” the “competitive one,” the “shy one,” the “risk-taking one,” the “never-achieved-their-potential one” — all are difficult roles to change.

But people do grow, change, and embrace new perspectives — even within our families.

No well-managed business ever operates within such a rigid structure that fails to be aware of changes in the marketplace. “Trending” is almost a national pastime now, where businesses engage in a perpetual “re-measuring” to ensure their products and services stay relevant.

Families are also in a business, the business of growing, maturing and figuring out how to stay “family” while adapting to changing life circumstances.

Holidays offer a prime time to re-measure. The evidence of change can be as simple as wish lists and gift reactions or as complex as trying to schedule a family dinner that takes into consideration each family member’s physical location, work schedule, significant others, travel plans and food preferences.

Trends move through our families, too — some stick; others don’t. As I sat watching our family, ages 17 to 60, play Candy Crush Saga on the couch in front of the fire and a football game, I wondered if that trend would last — and what that said about re-measuring family activities. Does that count for quality time?

But beyond business, and even our families, perhaps now is a good time to re-measure ourselves. What parts of our life should we tighten up with discipline to accomplish something new or to show off a hidden strength or talent? What parts should we loosen up to allow for growth — and creativity? And, what measurements have we used for ourselves in the past that simply no longer matter?

Maybe, like the tailor, we wise up and re-measure as an ongoing courteous pursuit, taking stock of others, our families and ourselves and remain open to what we may discover.

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at