“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ~Pema Chodron
Every person you meet has something special to give you—that is, if you are open to receiving it.
Each encounter offers you the gift of greater self-awareness by illustrating what you do and don’t accept about yourself. An honest look will show you that the reactions you have to others give you more information about yourself than about them.
You can never know for sure what motivates other people, but you can learn what you are accepting or judging in yourself.
For instance, if someone makes a remark about you and it’s something you also judge in yourself, it will most likely hurt. However, if they make the same remark and you don’t have that judgment about yourself, it probably won’t bother you at all.
I once visited a new friend’s house and everyone in the family was shorter than me. Since I’m the shortest person in my family, I never felt too tall.
When my friend’s mother met me at the door and said with a slightly disappointed tone, “Oh, you are so tall,” it didn’t affect me. I was aware that she had some discomfort with my height, but I didn’t take it personally.
However, had she been tall and said, “Oh, you are so short,” it probably would have pushed my buttons, since I do feel somewhat short.
This point is valid for almost any interaction imaginable: Reactions always have to do with our own self-judgments and feelings of inadequacy or strength, not the other person.
Most judgments of others stem from one of three basic causes:
1. You wouldn’t tolerate the same behavior or characteristic in yourself.
For instance, you might be shy and encounter a very gregarious person. Your judgment might go something like this: What a show-off. They are so loud and obnoxious. Because you would be embarrassed to act this way, you resent somebody else doing it.
This type of judgment might reveal that you are not fully expressing yourself, hence you feel resentful or put off by others doing so, even if they do it clumsily.
Becoming aware of the truth of this reaction and working on expressing yourself more fully and authentically would result in a valuable gift of freer self-expression.
2. You display the same behavior and aren’t aware of it, so you project your disowned behavior onto others and dislike it “out there.”
Everyone has encountered the second cause at some point. Someone is complaining about a friend or acquaintance and you think to yourself, “That’s funny, they do the same thing they are finding wrong!”
Taking an honest look within to see if you share some of the characteristics you dislike in others. You may be surprised to learn that you do, and it is likely to offer insight into gaining greater self-acceptance and compassion for others.
3. You are envious and resent the feelings that come up so you find something wrong with those who have what you want and end up judging them.
Someone who has attained recognition may remind you of your own lack of success in this area. You may resent their higher degree of accomplishment and then find something wrong with them in order to avoid your own feelings of inadequacy.
Since inspiration is a much more effective motivator than competition, you’d be more likely to experience success if you got inspired by other people’s victories instead of wasting time finding fault with them.
Most judgments of others are ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. However, if you lack the awareness of where they come from, they can lead to even more discomfort down the line.
Becoming aware of the nature of your judgments doesn’t mean that you no longer have preferences. You may still notice that certain types of behavior seem unappealing.
But with right understanding and a little work, discernment rather than judgment kicks in and causes you to feel compassion for others, even if you’re not enthusiastic about their behavior.
At the very least, you’ll feel neutral.
Discernment is awareness and understanding without an emotional response. Exercising discernment feels very different from getting your buttons pushed. Judgments that cause emotional reactions are clues to help you find personal insight.
When you explore beliefs and assumptions instead of judging people, you open a door to expanded self-awareness and self-acceptance.
Rather than unconsciously delighting in the ego gratification of judging others, you let your reactions and judgments help you achieve greater self-understanding—and accordingly, greater happiness and success.
When you use your judgment of others as a mirror to show you the workings of your own mind, every person’s reflection can become a valuable gift, making each person you encounter a teacher and a blessing.
Photo by mark sebastian