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Don't See Other People's Faults

Have you ever had a good impression of someone at the beginning, but after spending more and more time with them, you start having a bad impression of them? This is extremely normal since we all try to show our best selves when we first meet others, but we once we get used to the other person, we let loose and reveal our real selves, with blemishes and all.

The problem is that when we hold on to these negative impressions, we lose our peace of mind. The other person didn't really do anything to make us annoyed, nor did they have any intention to. We just saw something that wasn't pleasing or appropriate according to our standards, which probably isn't the same is their standards. If standards weren't communicated and agreed upon, then it's not really fair to judge others using those standards.


When we have a negative bias towards others, not only do we get harmed, but this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby we treat them less positively, which then elicits a less positive response from them, which then makes us treat them even more negatively, and so on. If you think about it, the source of major conflicts start with a single bad impression that accumulated over time. If we can dissolve the unfavorable impression before it accumulates into annoyance and resentment, and then conflicts can be prevented or resolved.


My Chinese philosophy teacher shared a memorable story:

"One time, I was doing a talk about relationships and marriage, and I said that the key to a harmonious relationship is to only see your partner's good points and not see any bad points. Suddenly, a lady in the audience said, 'My husband has no good points!' The whole room went silent. I then went to this lady, gave her a bow, and said, 'Dear miss, I bow to you because you are willing to sacrifice yourself and marry a man with absolutely no good points. You have the compassion of a great hero.'"


The audience laughed, and the tension dissolved. My teacher then went on to explain that there's no way her husband has zero good points; otherwise, she wouldn't marry him in the first place. She probably focused on his good points at first, but over time, she started to notice his bad points, and then she let those bad impressions grow stronger and stronger in her mind, to the point that she couldn't see his good points anymore. But it's the same guy!


So when we say "don't see other people's faults", it doesn't mean we cover up our eyes and not look at the people who annoys us.

That's not realistic. It also does not mean we see their problem and then tell ourselves in our head "They have no faults. They have no faults. They have no faults." That's just lying to ourselves, and that tension will accumulate and eventually explode.


So how do we "not see other people's faults" then? Essentially, it's about seeing the other person in a different way, such that we don't see faults, but instead see their goodness. I think Wayne Dyer put it well when he said,

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."


If we look at others with a judgmental lens, picking out their problems and how they don't meet our standards, then we will be unsatisfied with them. But if we change our lens to that of understanding, responsibility, appreciation, and goodness, then the same person suddenly becomes a great person.

A Lens of Understanding

First is understanding. When we are dissatisfied towards others, it's usually because we think "they shouldn't be like that." But let's think about that… Should they really not be like that?


For example, as a teacher, I usually have some students who are not well-behaved. Even after I politely give them warnings about their misconduct, they still continue. I then get annoyed and think, "They are unreasonable." But are they really unreasonable? When I learn more about their family situation and upbringing, I realize that they usually come from troubled families with a distressed upbringing. Despicable people have lamentable circumstances.


When we understand others, we realize that their behavior is exactly the way it should be. Moreover, if we had their DNA, upbringing, and personality, we would be behaving exactly the same way as them. When we understand this fact, we won't be so annoyed and judgmental towards them. Instead, we'll have tolerance and compassion.


A Lens of Responsibility

Aside from understanding that the other person's behavior is actually the way it should be, we should also apply the lens of responsibility. Jerry Colonna said it well when he said,

"Four important questions to continually ask yourself:
1. How have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?
2. What am I not saying that needs to be said?
3. What am I saying that’s not being heard?
4. What’s being said that I’m not hearing?"


In other words, how have I contributed to them behaving that way? Given that they interact a lot with us, there's no way we have zero contribution, and thus responsibility, towards their behavior.

Perhaps we remained silent when we should have communicated, so they think their behavior is fine. Or perhaps we communicated in a way that upset them or that they didn't understand. Or perhaps we are misunderstanding them.


When we focus on our responsibility towards the problem, we stop focusing on their faults. Then we can communicate with them in a humbler way because we realize we have problems too.


A Lens of Appreciation and Goodness

Usually, the people that annoy or upset us the most are the people closest to us because we spend the most time with them, so it's easy to see their faults. And since we have to spend so much time with them, we feel the need to speak up about their faults.


It's actually morally right to urge others to improve and correct their faults. However, the key is the attitude with which we do it. If we are just venting annoyance and criticizing, then obviously, the other person won't respond positively. They'll argue back simply because they feel disrespected and misunderstood. Thus, it's very important that we adjust ourselves to feel respect and care before speaking. How can we do that?


First, think about all the things they've done for us or given us. Again, the people we usually get annoyed at are the people closest to us. Since they are close to us, they've probably also given us more than other people.

For example, our spouse dedicated their life to us, and we should be grateful for their trust and contributions. Our parents sacrificed so much for us, how could we let their faults overshadow all their contributions? Our children brought us so much joy and trusted us unconditionally when they were young. How can we let their faults overshadow all the joy they've brought and their great potential?


Second, focus on their good points. A useful exercise to try is to write down all their good points and bad points.

What will likely happen is that we'll notice they actually have many good points and only a few bad points, but we just tend to exaggerate the size and weight of those bad points, such that we neglect their good points. In other words, we distort them negatively in our mind. That's rather unfair, isn't it?


Once we feel appreciation for all that they've given to us and respect for their good points, then we can urge them to improve. When we use a respectful and caring heart to advise others, we wouldn't have an ugly facial expression or an annoyed tone of voice. We would naturally be more calm, warm, humble, and harmonious in our speech and facial expression. That then elicits a more positive response from the other person.


My Experience

This past year, I've been taking a one-year program about sinology (ancient Chinese philosophy). All my classmates are on campus in Fuzhou, China, but I had some special circumstances, so I had permission to attend online, and I didn't go to Fuzhou until a few weeks ago. Before I arrived, I had a pretty good impression of my classmates because, well, I only saw them in our online classes, and they all seem like pretty good people.


After interacting with them in person for a few weeks, I started to notice some of the faults. When I noticed slight feelings of annoyance and dissatisfaction arise in my mind, I set aside time to sit down and talk to myself. I need to dissolve these negative impressions while they are still small and weak to prevent them from accumulating.


I first tried to understand their background and upbringing. I realized that there is actually a lot I don't understand because my upbringing is extremely different from them. Therefore, we likely have different standards and values, and I shouldn't use my standards and values to judge them. If I had their upbringing and values, I would be behaving the same way.


Next, I reflected on my responsibility. Sometimes, they didn't do anything wrong per se, it's just that my standards are different. In those cases, I just need to stop judging others based on my standards because there isn't one correct standard. Other times, they indeed have faults that they should correct. In those cases, I should politely advise them, but I also need to be careful to not feel annoyed or demanding when doing so.


In order to adjust my mentality, I thought about their goodness and gratitude. If I list out my classmates' good points, I could write a lot. As for their faults, very little. Moreover, they've done a lot to help me feel welcomed after I arrived, and many of them helped me with my past assignments. They have a lot of goodness, and I am grateful to them.


By going through this process, I dissolved those negative impressions, and when I "see" them again, I see people with goodness. It's not that I am unaware of their faults or pretend they don't exist. It's just that I focus on their goodness, and I don't feel negative emotions towards their faults. 


Everyone has good points and bad points, and we choose what impressions we keep in our minds.

Icon Sources: 1, 2

Our choice will influence how we treat them, which then influences how they treat us back. If we want to have happy relationships, we should dissolve negative impressions by applying the lenses of understanding, responsibility, appreciation, and goodness. Once our mindset is right, our speech and actions will naturally align.

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