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Posts Tagged ‘tolerance’

Today I got thinking again about how we just don’t see ourselves as others see us.

On the one hand that can have an overconfidence problem, where we’re moving along with huge blind spots that we’re not even aware of. For those, we should pay attention when someone makes an unflattering observation about us, even if it’s mean and sounds preposterous. There’s no reason to take it too much to heart in most cases, but it shouldn’t just be ignored. It doesn’t hurt to take a quick stock of what we may say or do that might give that impression and work on that.

But on the other hand, we miss out on so many beautiful things about us because of how we’ve gotten used to picturing ourselves. So when someone makes a flattering observation, we should also pay attention. Again, not to take it too much to heart (keeping perspective’s important!), but we can’t afford to brush it off. Someone has seen a quality in you worth mentioning, which says something given that most of the time people will assume you already know or hear it all the time. It would hurt NOT to take a quick stock and see if we’d like to develop that quality further.

We get so used to living inside our skins a certain way that it becomes too easy to overlook our special qualities that make us so wonderful. Sometimes we’ve even suppressed them out of habit for some reason or another. We need to wake up, snap out of the daydream and start shining again. It’s what we have those gifts for — they’re meant to be shared. Nobody can share them for us; we have to have the courage to share ourselves.

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It seems lately that many of life’s biggest frustrations are from other people not behaving the way one might expect of reasonable individuals of their age and background. Phrases like, “Surely they couldn’t possibly possibly think that—“, “Clearly they must be doing this deliberately” and “If only they would wake up and see” keep coming up.

I’ve come to realize that in many cases, if not most, they really do think that, they aren’t doing it fully deliberately (or at least, aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing/the consequences/etc.) and they aren’t likely to “wake up and see” anytime soon. (And yeah, in some cases, “they” are “me”.) For whatever reason, what these people can see right now is all they can see, and that alone is going to guide their decisions. Until, when they’re ready, they see things differently — and not before.

Yesterday a friend of mine said of one of his own frustrating people (not me this time), “It’s who she is until she herself decides it’s who she isn’t.”

That’s both freeing, and maddening. Maddening because sometimes you want to be able to MAKE them see, make them decide. But freeing, because recognizing you can’t make them, maybe it’ll be easier to accept the way they are, and work with that.

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The other day I was talking to someone who expressed real frustration with people he thought were “cheating the system” because, from where he was standing, they were taking advantage of something without any right to do so. I said that we can’t always tell what someone’s circumstances are just by looking at them, and there’s often a lot more at work than we can see. It reminded me of the story of Gessen, the “stingy artist”.

Gessen was a famous artist in ancient Japan, known for being willing to do anything for hire. One day a geisha came to him and asked him to come paint in front of her patron for a party she was throwing. He said he would paint anything she wished for the right amount of money. She told him to name his price, he did, and the arrangements were made.

At the party, he did his work as told, and then the geisha made fun of him to her patron, saying he was a filthy money-grubber whose work wasn’t worth anything, because he only did it for cash. She said he’d even paint her petticoat, and when he named a price for it, she took her skirt off and had him paint it right there. He did as he was asked, got paid for it all, and went home without a word.

A couple years later, there was a nasty crop failure in his hometown. The wealthy had plenty to eat, but the poor were left to starve. Until Gessen opened up the doors to his secret granary he’d been stocking during his years of saving everything he made from his art. Later that year, he was able to finish commissioning a huge overhaul of repairs to the road the poor travelers had to use to get to and from the neighboring areas. Again, it was from what he’d saved for that purpose because the local rulers weren’t going to do a thing about it, despite how dangerously unsafe it was. A few years later, he was able to finish the temple his late master had wished for all his life, but was unable to complete.

Finally, his three charitable goals completed, Gessen’s work was done. He put away his brushes and never painted again.

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