Of all the problems that each person must solve, the complexity of our own temperament is probably the most challenging. Most of us have very little trouble giving other people good advice – we see exactly what is wrong with them – and we tend to develop the attitude that perhaps we have been more fortunate; that through experience or opportunity we are just a little wiser than the others.
And then a little problem comes home to us, and confusion immediately results. The confusion, of course, arises from the important principle operating in nature that impersonal judgment is always best. It is very true and we cannot deny it, that we can advise others in many areas where we cannot solve our own, simply because personal involvement results in loss of perspective.
We spend many years becoming proficient in some art or science but we must also remember to give some time and thought to disciplining and directing our own consciousness.
Any time we have a feeling that the moods that arise within ourselves are inevitable we develop what might be termed as “blind spots in our understanding”. Several factors can lead to this type of “blindness”. One is prejudice.
In any area where we have prejudice, we lose sight of facts. Prejudice is a kind of intensity that drives us past what is reasonable. If we study this problem we would come to one general conclusion, which is that each person has areas of his own understanding that has not been developed.
These areas represent fields of activity with which we are not familiar, patterns of life that we have not experienced, levels of understanding that we personally have not known. We must then depend upon advice, or opinions of those more learned than ourselves, “experts” in various fields.
Sometimes those experts are really helpful, particularly on practical levels but no experts can contribute to us their experience; they can merely apply it to our problems, and sometimes this adds further confusion, inasmuch as they are applying a perspective that belongs peculiarly to themselves. They have not experienced our problems, any more than we have experienced theirs. Practice and familiarity and constant work may give them certain advantages, but these advantages also have their limitations.
So it is important for each of us to experience as wide an area of life as is feasible or practical for us. Our blind spots are nearly always in areas where for one reason or another we may have refused to live, or refused to think through or accept certain ideas that have appeared distasteful or unimportant.
Today it is assumed that we know many things that we actually do not know. It is assumed that in our search for spiritual consolation, we are adequately informed on the principles of religion. This is usually not true. We do not have as much ground work as we might wish. We must develop a greater breadth of thinking in order to meet the challenges of other minds.
The unknown is not or should not be the cause of anxiety. What we do not know should not cause us to be unkind, critical or suspicious. We should assume the unknown is merely an extension of the known. We should realize that the meadows that we have never seen are not different from meadows that we have seen, and that just as surely as the familiar landscape is beautiful so the landscape that we do not know is also beautiful.
Some areas have mountains, and other shave seas; but each has its own beauty. And the same is true of humanity. The people we do not know are not mysterious; they are just like the people we know. Sometimes that is a disturbing thought, but we should accustom ourselves to it. The basic emotions of all people are essentially the same.
That which we do not understand should not cause us to suddenly pause and tighten. We should approach these things with a desire to understand and an expectation that what we find will be natural, reasonable, and proper. It may not be exactly what we want, but then, what we do understand is not always what we want either.
We must not be afraid of growth or change. We must not fear broader vistas. Of course, we have a right to choose what is most suitable to ourselves, but we should also recognize the right of others to choose. We may admit that tastes differ, but it is very hard for us to really accept this. We have lived so long in the concept that there is only our own good taste and everyone else’s bad taste. Yet, to others, we may be among those with bad taste.
We can gradually correct our tendency to make these generalities. They do not hurt the people or the groups against which we direct them as much as they hurt us. The great danger of a generality that covers a vast area without any deep consideration, and arrives at negative conclusion is that it is continually taking us away from learning. It makes us reject the challenge of that group or situation.
We should remember that we learn most by relaxing; we teach best by listening, we help others in many cases just by gradually coming to understand the total pattern of their kind of life. It creates bridges of understanding.
Every day we live, we should not only strengthen our strong points of character, but also redeem our weak points. By simply working, day by day to understand and to share, and refusing to permit prejudice or criticism to limit our search for knowledge.
When we decide that there are things we do not like simply because we know nothing about them, or perhaps because we have mistaken one or two solitary instances for a complete picture, it comes time to review the whole situation.
We know for example that today we are having trouble internationally partly because small groups of visiting tourists from a certain country have behaved miserably. They have gone out as ambassadors and representatives and have betrayed their country as far as maintaining any dignity or prestige as far as the homeland is concerned.
As a result, we will find in some small town in Portugal or somewhere the typical Portuguese who does not like Americans. He may also be in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, England, Scandinavia or any part of Asia or Latin America, because they all feel the same way. To them, we are an extravagant impolite, disagreeable, fault-finding, critical, snobbish group, and they know it. After all, they have met six of us.
The same thing happens here. We do not like a certain religion. We just know it is bad, because we knew two people who belonged to it, and neither one of them was pleasant; therefore, we have all the facts.
Facts about what?
Not about the religion – about two people. But we never seem to be able to keep the points clear. So wherever we have prejudice, we must look a little deeper.
If our prejudice is directed against a religion, for example, we must try to understand why this religion, with perhaps 400 million followers, can survive with our disapproval. Somebody must like it. Some people must find good in it, or they would not believe it. People are not that foolish. Therefore, it is up to us to go a little deeper.
We do not have to join the religion, but we cannot allow it to be a blank area or prejudice in our own consciousness because if we do, it may sometimes cause us to cause a terrible injury upon a perfectly honorable member of that faith. We will not have natural honesty when we come in contact with that person, and this lack of honesty arising from ignorance, will also hurt us because that person might have become a valuable window into a larger world.
It is the same with every field of learning-art, sciences, industry, politics – all these things have to be understood. This does not mean that we take the Pollyanna attitude that everything is right but we should take the attitude that everything is interesting. In everything there are probably values that we should understand, for we are not even entitled to criticize unless we understand. And usually understanding ends criticism. We have a right to choose what is good for us, but we have very little right to condemn.
We must learn to have a certain amount of detachment. One way to do this is to simply look in the mirror. We shall then observe in all probability that we are not marked by Heaven with any particular symbol by which we are superior to other creatures.
Even under ordinary conditions, even if we are slightly sensitive, our haloes do not show in the mirror, and they do not show to other people. As we observe, as we look at ourselves, we have a somewhat reminiscent similarity to a creature called a human being; that we are just like people. We are people with all others, striving to learn. We were born as they were born, we grew as they grew; we suffered as they suffered; we achieved as they achieved; and in due course we will depart as they departed.
Therefore, there is nothing about us that demands that we regard ourselves as a peculiar and sacred creation apart from everyone else. We have a perfect right to learn, and to grow and to share, but there are very few persons in this world who have the right to dominate.
It is not necessary that other people agree with us. It is not necessary that others cater to us, or that they should keep their tempers when we lose ours. The thing that is essentially necessary and right is that we shall grow up in the world together, enjoying our own individuality and enjoying the individuality of others – not trying to create conformity, but trying to help people be themselves.
This is real helping, and it means a larger foundation in our own thinking. In order to help many people we must be many people. We must have in ourselves an availability of general knowledge, understanding and appreciation.
We must grow beyond the tendency to criticize or condemn. We may not agree but we can understand; we can sympathize. We can realize the circumstances and conditions that cause other people to be what they are, because we are gradually learning to appreciate the conditions that made us what we are.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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