Seeing Oneself in Others

I once knew someone who saw it as a non-issue being late for an appointment. They would keep others waiting for as long as they needed until they were ready. I always wondered at how someone can feel comfortable while knowing that you are keeping others waiting. But that wasn’t the end of this issue. It soon became obvious that when they wanted to do something and others were not ready, they would fly into a fury in trying to get everyone to get up and get going with them.

These polar opposites in the person were as clear as night and day to me. From the outside it was very clear. But it wasn’t obvious to this person. The point of mentioning this is that we are often most intolerant to those aspects of others that we have in ourselves.

Dr. Roger Birkman, the founder of “The Birkman Method”, the personality assessment for improving people skills, said that we are the least tolerant in those negative traits in others that we ourselves possess. Therefore, might it be that we are irritated at their behavior because we ourselves exhibit that kind of behavior? Logically speaking, why would we dislike something in others that we ourselves do? Actually I don’t know the answer, but I find the logic intriguing.

What things about others bother you?

Doctor Birkman also said “we are as we tend to see others." How we see others and the world is a reflection of who we are. When we are suspicious of the intention of others, it is often because our own intentions are not altogether noble. If you trust other people you are a trustworthy person, if you love others, you are a lovable person. If we are hard on others, we are probably hard on ourselves, too. In the song “The Fly” the band U2 sang, “It’s no secret that a liar won’t believe anyone else.” We create others in our own image. It can be said that our confidence and doubt about people is indelibly related to our self confidence and our self doubt.

The philosopher Kierkegaard said that the majority of men are subjective towards themselves and objective towards others. To be objective means to look at things with an unbiased eye; the perception not being influenced by the person’s experiences or tastes. Subjective is a point of view that is colored by opinion and experience. The real task is to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards others, it is said.

But is that possible? According to Buddhism, try as we might, we cannot be completely objective. We will always see ourselves with biased eyes, in a favorable light, because we want to see ourselves as better than others. This characteristic of human beings is succinctly listed in the Seven Conceits, as taught in Buddhism:

  1. Pride over Inferiors: Looking down on those who have a lower position, ability, intelligence, possessions and so on.

  2. Pride over Equals: Even among equals, we look for something to put us higher.

  3. Pride over Superiors: Finding a weakness in those who are clearly above us.

  4. Stubborn Pride: We can’t admit it even when we know we are in the wrong.

  5. Pride in thinking one knows the truth: Self proclaimed “enlightened teachers”; those who say they are a Buddha; those who tell followers they will go to heaven if they kill non believers.

  6. Pride in one’s humility: Taking pride in the depth of one’s humility.

  7. Pride in the wrong: Taking pride in bad behavior.

Haven’t you had the experience where you don’t like someone and you don’t even know why? A friend once told me that when he had started taking a new class in college, he had, for some unexplained reason, taken a dislike to another pupil in the class. There was something about this guy that he didn’t like. But what bothered my friend the most about this was the bad emotion it created in him. So he decided to do something about it: he went over to the guy, introduced himself and began chatting, and getting to know him. “The guy was a pretty nice person after all,” he said to me one day with all sincerity.

It was my friend’s imagination or perception that was creating the negative impression. But by making the effort to get to know the other he was able to overcome this negative image and his time in the classroom was a better experience. The point is that the feeling of dislike might not be actually be based on truth, just something from our imagination. But of course we see life through our own tinted, subjective glasses; and unconsciously accept it as true without questioning it, I believe. But as the saying goes, “don’t believe everything you think,” and once we realize that just because what we are thinking doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true, maybe we will reach out more often, and who knows, encounter a pleasant surprise, or make a new friend!

by Frank Costelloe, USA

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #54 | 2015, Seeing Oneself in Others

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