As human beings, we have a fundamental problem with perspective. No matter how well-developed our intuition, we have the difficulty that we do not see people as they are. We see and respond to the world as we are, and not how it is as a general rule. There are times when the world forcefully intrudes upon us, but for the most part, unless someone is being particularly unpleasant to us, we will generally see others and see interactions through the filter of our own experiences and our own worldview and our own sensitivities, and that is not always or even often the best way to do so. Let us all concede that many of us (myself included) are at least fairly sensitive in some areas. Recognizing those sensitivities and how they affect us leads us to recognize that the origin of many of our difficulties lies with how we see the world (inaccurately) and not so much in the actions of other people who generally are at least neutral if not favorable to us.
We ought to recognize that if we see the same pattern over and over again, that maybe there is a problem inside of us, rather than assuming that the whole world is made up of a bunch of jerks. If we find that people continually offend us, maybe it is not because others are necessarily always offensive (though some of us, no doubt, are difficult to handle), but perhaps because we are too easily offended. It is far easier, and far more productive, to work on ourselves whenever possible rather than demand large amounts of change from other people. After all, if we expect someone to change for us, that will affect one relationship, but if we can fix an issue (like oversensitivity) within ourselves, it will improve dozens or maybe even hundreds of actual and potential relationships for the same amount of effort.
It is funny that after I started writing this entry I received an e-mail from one of my innumerable e-mail lists. That e-mail discussed the need for people to become authentically themselves, to take advantage of opportunities and to make the best of them. It is our choices that determine who we are as people. We are not determined by what other people do to us, but rather what we do about it. And all too often what we do about the bad things that happen to us is to take them out on all of the relatively innocent people who happen to walk in our lives later on, even if they only do little things that may bother us. Is that really just and fair and loving and respectful and all of those other qualities that we are supposed to develop? No.
But that’s a problem we can really only wrestle with ourselves. It is our sensitivities that create difficulties with other people. There was once a person I knew, whose conversation was a bit tedious and tiresome, always about money (something I have only a slight interest in personally), even though he never seemed to have very much of it, and he was not a person who had great interests in fine literature or culture in general. Our casual friendship, such as it was, was able to endure for about a decade because I’m a fairly patient and longsuffering sort of person, and because both of us at least had some basic level of respect for the intellectual competence of the other, but once a set of disagreements led us both to hit some sensitive spots of the other, the possibility of friendly relations evaporated.
This is not an isolated experience. After massive fights and problems I tend to examine what went wrong on all sides, determining what set me off, and how what I did was seen by others. What I find out is generally instructive, and it usually ends up that the same sort of problems appear over and over again. There are generally difficulties in communicating, particularly communicating about awkward or uncomfortable matters in a situation of declining trust. There are usually feelings of people trying to take advantage of others and not show reciprocity on both sides, and usually neither side recognizes the true feelings of the other (because they are not communicated or respected) nor understands exactly just how much effort it takes for the other person to put up with the hypocrisy and behavior of the other person. As human beings we seem to have fundamental errors that allow us to see the effort we put forth for others, but not the effort they put forth for us, and that judge others by their actions (and the fruits of those actions) while judging ourselves by our intentions. Even where we know that the intentions of others may be good, it is sometimes difficult for us to recognize that when we gauge their actions, as we may not be aware of how our own good intentions often go awry as well.
It is when one sees patterns over and over and over again that one has to figure out what happened and do something about it. Our personal experiences are case studies, to be mined for insights, so that we can improve and grow, learn from our mistakes, and become better people. We cannot fix other people (as tempting as that is sometimes), but rather we can work on ourselves. Because we see the world as we are, we will respond based on our own lives, our own patterns of thought and behavior, and our own sensitivities and insecurities. Quite frankly, that is often a scary place to be. We can do better. With time and effort, let us do so.