Lessons To Be Learned

September 22, 2012

In our lives, we are going to meet people who are different than ourselves. If their presence in our lives is only fleeting, then we may only be able to know about them from what we see on the surface, and it will not be able to tell us a great deal. It is true that something can be garnered by the way a person is dressed, the way they speak, the way they move, the way they present themselves, but these can be deceiving. If we have some time to talk to them in more than a cursory way, we might find out that they are so different from us that we seem to be practically of different species. Our values may differ so dramatically that we think to ourselves, “how could a person think these things, feel these things, and still take themselves seriously? What it is that I consider to be fundamentally human is absent in this person. How did they go so far astray?” If you are thinking these things, it is judgmental on your part. It is not given to us to stand in judgment of others, even though many of us still do so. Whether this is right or wrong I will not speculate upon. What I am more interested in is not the people we meet who are completely different from us. Rather, what interests me are the people we meet that we spend some time with, either in our personal or professional lives, who are similar to us in some ways, but in others they are different. Say that you meet someone who is similar to you in terms of age, or perhaps ethnic background, or religious background, or you come from the same place geographically. I think it becomes human nature, then, to compare yourself to this person almost before you are immediately aware that you are doing it. You think to yourself, “here is a person similar to me in one respect, or in multiple respects.” And then when you see the similarities, if there are differences, it makes them seem more glaring. It makes sense, because if there are these easily identifiable ways we are the same, then if there are other ways that we’re different, they stand out all the more when we put ourselves up against this person for comparison. Perhaps, because of their personality, this person is more cheerful about the world, a “glass half-full” person. Perhaps they are the opposite, more cynical. Perhaps they engage the challenges they are presented, perhaps they shrink from them. Perhaps they make choices that to you seem strange, engage in relationships that you would consider inadvisable. Perhaps they are self-destructive, frivolous with money, engage in drug use, promiscuity; perhaps they are taciturn, perhaps they are withdrawn, perhaps they are delusional, reluctant to see in themselves what to you appears self-evident. What we must remember is that even if we perceive faults in others, they themselves may not view these things as faults, because their values might be different. In those cases, it is important that we try not to be judgmental, even if it is our first instinct to be so. If we live by certain values, by a certain code, this person may not, and that, of course, is their prerogative. Therefore, my point would be that even if we see ourselves as being on a righteous path, the difference between that and self-righteousness is great. It is one thing to think of ourselves as doing the right thing. But what we must remember is that the right thing for us is not the right thing for everyone, even for someone who in some ways resembles us, is similar to us. If our opinions are requested by this person, we may give them, but not before. And even when they are asked for, let us weigh our answers to their questions carefully. There is no need for us to be arrogant; there is no need for us to be haughty, even though it seems sometimes to be in our nature. Humility is a difficult lesson to learn, especially for those of us who feel compulsively driven. We are different for a reason, I think. It is so we can teach each other lessons. We are never going to be able to convince each other we are right, not entirely. But it is good that we have both similarities, and differences. It makes the people we meet interesting. It makes life interesting. It makes it a journey well worth taking, and it brings the trials and tribulations sharply into focus.

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