Our relationships with one another are often a source of distress. One major form of conflict we experience with others involves their failure to give us the consideration we feel they owe us. We often suffer from thoughts like these: “She is not being respectful enough.” “He is not as kind as I want him to be.” “They just don’t care as deeply as I do.”
However, if we will be courageous enough to see the truth of the next insight, and then admit it into our heart and mind, we can change the real root of this underlying sense of our dissatisfaction with others along with the conflict it generates: Many times the very thing we want from the person we are with — for example, respect, patience, kindness, love — is the very thing that we ourselves either lack at the moment or otherwise somehow are withholding from them. The “catch” here is that we are mostly unconscious to our actual inner condition in these encounters with others, and here’s a major reason why this happens:
Hidden in each of us are certain clever “self-concealing devices” whose sole reason for being is to protect our self-image and keep us asleep to ourselves. One of the ways they work is to show us ourselves as blameless while pointing the arrow of insufficiency at someone else.
Each time this self-protection device successfully diverts our attention in this way here’s what unfolds: Not only are we kept from coming awake to ourselves, but in this engineered spiritual sleep we are rendered unable to realize that the very quality we judge as missing in the people before us is actually lacking in ourselves!
We almost always place demands upon others, but almost never see that the nature in us making these demands is without the very substance it cries out as missing. No wonder the circle of disharmony continues.
How many of us feel that the “others” in our life — particularly the people we are around every day, whether at home or at work — just don’t treat us as we deserve? Perhaps not all of the time, but most of us feel slighted in our relationships every now and then, and perhaps more often than not. And how many of us can honestly say that we offer to our fellows what we want from them?
Generally we extend olive branches and our considerate sympathies to those who we think can serve us, and rarely do we serve those who we are convinced have nothing we want. And yet we still want their respect, kindness, or consideration.
Can we learn to give to others first what we hope to get from them? Before we ask for someone’s attention, let us first lend that person our own. Before we look to him or her for an act of consideration, let us offer one from ourselves. If we wish for kindness, let it begin with our own. Otherwise all we give each other are unconscious demands followed by judgment and disappointment.
We must learn to take the true conscious initiative with each other and then make the effort to be to others what we wish them to be for us. With that end in mind, here is a special exercise that can help us create more harmonious human relationships.
Even to attempt the following practice will reveal more to you about yourself than reading a thousand books on spiritual realization. To begin with, as we have been discussing, we usually demand from others those interior qualities that we are in short supply of ourselves. For instance, it is impatience that leaps to judge impatience. Unkindness finds others unkind — and tells them so in no uncertain terms. Arrogance despises pride and makes sure that the proud know they are dreaming of unreal heights. On and on churns this cycle of disharmony until we go to work on ourselves, implementing the kind of true self-transforming principles that follow.
Whatever it may be that we find wanting in someone else, we must learn what it means to give that very thing to him or her. What we would have from others, or have them be towards us, we must provide or be ourselves.
For instance, if we really want the person we are with to be open with us, we must first open up ourselves. When we know we tend to be critical of others because they don’t show us the respect we would have, we must show these same people the respect we want.
Now, add to these thoughts this last idea: Sometimes we want something from others that they just don’t have within themselves to give. We make demands, for instance, that others understand us when, at that point in their development — for whatever reason — it’s impossible that they could. But wanting what we want, we act as though we are weary with them and become condescending. This behavior on our part only convinces the others in question of their own shortcomings. But given this new understanding, what can we do instead?
Give to them what we have of that quality in ourselves instead of taking away what little they have in themselves. To give the fruit of such a conscious interior labor is to receive the goodness we ask for.
This exercise in harmonious human relationships takes a great deal of attention and, more important, a great deal of being tired of finding everyone around us not as good as ourselves. Our real spiritual growth — our self-transformation — depends upon what we are willing to give, and not upon what we feel we are owed.
Put these ideas to work. You will be shocked and amazed at your discoveries, and you will benefit from the healing that they bring to all your relationships.