Several recent conversations have given me to think - always dangerous - about the way we respond to other people, how we see them and how we 'see' ourselves. Each of us is unique, we may be siblings, we may share cultural, economic and even intellectual experiences, but we remain unique. In part this is probably genetic in that it impacts on the chemistry on which we operate, but to a very much larger extent it is because each us, through childhood, had different interactions with parents, relatives, neighbours and other children. Where one person may find criticism a challenge to improve, another may find the same sort of comment so discouraging they become convinced they can never master something.
The old saying that one should not criticise another unless you can walk a mile in their shoes is very perceptive. The trouble is that we cannot 'walk a mile in another's shoes' since we can never fully experience the world as they have been conditioned to do so. What we can do is take account of someone else's family background, their self-perception and their reactions to the world, and try to be understanding when faced with what we may consider to be a poor response to something. All too often though we find that it is easier to shun someone we label as 'awkward' or even as 'stupid' than to deal with trying to adjust our own prejudices, fears or responses. We tend to shun behaviours that we see as 'negatives' in ourselves.
Part of the 'growing up' experience we all go through teaches us to self-analyse and to be self-critical. Once we develop a certain 'image' of our abilities, we can either excel or, where the 'image' is a negative one, fail to develop at all. Naturally we also develop the 'image' we present to the world, which may be very different to that we have of ourselves. That can lead us to making an effort to 'hide' what we see as our inadequacies by overplaying behaviour that we think shows the opposite. People who suffer from an image of themselves which reinforces their insecurities, often try to present themselves as confident and 'in control' which can make them seem aggressive and over assertive. Of course, the response this gets from many of the people they meet tends to reinforce their 'inadequacy' self-image and it becomes a bit of a vicious circle.
In my own case, I learnt quite early to consider myself as not particularly bright, and that being noticed usually got me into a lot of trouble. The most damaging 'praise' I got constantly was the statement, "Well done, you did OK, but you could have ..." That "but you" always stung and it always meant that whatever I'd done was never going to be good enough. On the other hand, my attempts to please often resulted in attracting the wrong response. So I learnt to be invisible. Fortunately, I still got noticed by people who encouraged me and tried to reverse the negatives. Thankfully, in part, they succeeded, but it was a long and very uphill battle to eventually build up the confidence to tackle taking responsibility for myself, my career, a family and eventually emigration to a new world and a new life and career.
It came as something of a shock, ten years ago, to meet some old school acquaintances who told me they'd 'envied' me at school. There was a double shock here, first in their perception of my home and family life, and secondly that theirs might have been tougher than my own. Even more surprising was the discovery that many of those who'd had far better and more economically stable homes, had not achieved even a third of what I had since leaving school. All the assumptions I'd cherished about their 'advantages' over me were blown out of the window and it made me realise how dangerous it is to allow yourself to think in this way.
We are unique. Each of us has strengths and each of us has weaknesses. We each choose whether to build on the strengths, or reinforce our weaknesses. The latter is self-destructive, the former is much harder work, but infinitely rewarding, but even more so is the realisation that each and every person we meet faces the same choices, though their choice of development may be influenced by experiences we can never share. That is when one realises that it is important to be grateful for the rewards you reap, and, at the same time, to be tolerant of the failures you see in others. None of us is every 'perfect' and we are certainly never 'right' a 100% of the time. We all have our own failures, or 'skeletons in the closet', but equally we have our triumphs. We should celebrate those more, but we should also celebrate others triumphs as well.
Above all else we need to avoid judging others against our own self-criticisms. We need to understand why someone else behaves or responds the way they do. We need to 'walk a mile in their shoes'. Probably we need to make peace with ourselves as well. Often those who throw dirt at others do so out of a sense of their own inadequacy and are attempting to make themselves feel superior in doing it. In fact, as one of my mentors once told me, what you take from another, you take twice from yourself. The saying "Judge not, lest you be judged" reveals an enormous truth, for, when we 'judge' someone else, we are exposing some of our own inadequacies and prejudices. Never a good thing to do.
We are not all the same, though we may be 'equal in the eyes of God' we do not have the same experiences, the same world view, or the same abilities. It behoves us to remember that, and to make allowances. A lot of conflict can be resolved simply by trying to understand someone elses point of view and, in today's 'polarised' world, that may be a good starting point.
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