Updated: Oct 2
A while back, someone told me about a conflict she said with her sister. She said that she is normally a kind and patient person, but her sister is extremely rude and unreasonable towards her. During a family vacation, her sister kept getting on her nerves, and eventually, she had an angry outburst at her sister.
Later, she felt bad and guilty about her angry outburst, and she asked for my thoughts. I asked her if she loves her parents. She said she loves them dearly. I told her that what parents want most is for their children to be harmonious together. No one is perfect; we all have our faults and bad habits, but family should not be a place for blame and argument. Family should be a place for support, acceptance, and unity.
A while later, she told me she finally apologized, and she felt such a big relief after. I admire her for being able to apologize even though her sister was the unreasonable one.
I've tried to force myself to apologize even though I firmly believed that the other person is at fault, and it really isn't easy.
A Key To Happiness
I really admire the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said,
"Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself."
At first glance, it seems like being strict with myself and tolerant towards others is really tiring and unfair. But after practicing it, I've come to realize that people who always demand others to be proper and reasonable will have a miserable life. Why? First, they are always looking for people's faults, so their mind is full of negative energy. Second, they often criticize other people, which hurts their relationships. Negative relationships and arguments are a big source of misery.
On the other hand, people who are strict with themselves but tolerant towards others will have a joyful life. First, they gain the joy of constant self-improvement. If others don't behave well, it's because they don't have any good role models around. Since I'm around them all the time, that means I need to set a better role model. I also need to cultivate virtues like patience and wisdom to inspire them to improve, not nag them.
When we are strict with ourselves, we will use this seemingly unfavorable situation to improve our virtues, which then reaps the joy of self-improvement. Moreover, since we are tolerant towards others, we will have happy relationships, which is a great source of joy.
Cultivation Starts In The Family
I also really admire Confucius, who said,
"Those who love their family wouldn't hate others. Those who respect their family wouldn't scorn others…When taught filial piety, people will respect all parents in the world. When taught siblinghood, people will respect all siblings in the world."
(Original Text: 愛親者，不敢惡於人；敬親者，不敢慢於人…教以孝，所以敬天下之為人父者也。教以悌，所以敬天下之為人兄者也。)
Note: Filial piety means having a heart of love, respect, and gratitude towards parents. Siblinghood is the same but towards siblings.
In other words, the best and most natural place to cultivate virtues like love and respect is at home in the family. After all, we interact with our family members the most, so we are our true selves with them. Sometimes, people treat those outside the family better than those inside the family. In that case, it's because they have an ego and want to put on a good image in front of others. Or it's because they want something from the other person. That's not real or sincere goodness. Truly good people will definitely treat the people closest to them with love and respect.
Moreover, it's very natural to have love in the family due to the blood relationship, so it's the easiest place to cultivate love and respect. Hence, family is naturally a place for mutual support, understanding, and unity.
When one person has trouble, the family takes it on together without blame. When one person has good fortune, the family rejoices together. When we can cultivate this kind of attitude in the family, we can then extend it towards groups outside the family, such as at work. If we've lost this natural love and harmony in our family, then we need to find a way to recover that.
I remember when I was young, I had a good relationship with my parents, especially my mother. But in my late teens, I cared a lot more about what my peers thought of me, and I felt my mother didn't understand my struggles. I chased things like material pleasures and status, and my mother criticized me a lot, which made me distance from her even more.
A few years ago, I started learning Confucianism, and I learned that filial piety is the most important virtue. I also heard an important proverb:
"When the family is in harmony, everything else will flourish."
(Original Text: 家和萬事興。)
I reflected on all the unhappiness and "bad luck" in my life, and I realized that my conflict with my mother accounted for a large majority. Over the next few years, I worked on myself to be more respectful and considerate towards my mother. Rather than being strict with her and demanding her to understand me, to not criticize me, to be more wise, I instead demanded myself to be more understanding towards her, to accept her criticisms and actually act on them, to improve my own wisdom.
By letting go of my demands towards her, I naturally become more tolerant towards her, and eventually, she became more understanding and tolerant towards me. I learned that if we demand others to be good, and we often criticize them for not being good enough, they will feel negative and resist. But if we let go of demands and set a good role model, eventually, they will feel ashamed of their bad behavior and willingly improve themselves on their own accord. This is the natural and long-term way to help others improve.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Notice People's Good Intentions. Once I started noticing and feeling my mother's good intentions, I felt like I recovered a lot of the innate love between parent and child. I was also able to feel other people's good intentions, and I naturally respected and appreciated other people more as well.
But I still have to work to maintain this state of love and respect. If I don't consciously work on it every day, it's easy to regress back to old habits.
For example, a couple weeks ago, my mom couldn't find her cellphone. Since she has a bad habit of not putting things back in their proper place, my first thought was, "You probably moved it and forgot to put it in its proper place again…" I then used my phone to call her phone. We heard the phone vibrating, but we couldn't find it. I started to get frustrated and impatient.
My mom noticed and said, "It's OK, don't get frustrated."
Eventually, we found it. It was in a high cabinet. It turns out my mom had to get something from a briefcase in that cabinet, and she accidentally put the phone in the briefcase. My mom said, "Wow I don't know why I did that. I'm sorry."
I said, "It's OK. I'm sure you'll improve after this incident."
Later, I reflected on why I got frustrated and impatient. I think part of the reason is because I could hear the phone but I couldn't find it. But another reason is because I still held feelings of blame towards my mom, and I demand her to not make the same mistake multiple times. If I were more tolerant and respectful, my first thought would be "Don't worry mom, I'll help you find it no matter how long it takes."
A week later, my mom couldn't find her phone again. She said, "I'm really sorry. I know I just lost the phone last week, but I can't find it again."
This time, I had the awareness to do better than last time. I told my mom, "Well, it might not be you who misplaced it. It might be me. I remember I used it last night. But it doesn't even matter who misplaced it. We're in this together, and we'll find it together."
I called her phone, and again, we heard it vibrating, but we couldn't find it. It wasn't in the high cabinet. Later, we found it in a random drawer. My mom absent-mindedly put it there and forgot. But I didn't blame her this time because we are family. In fact, I am thankful for the incident because it strengthened our sense of family unity.
Nowadays, a lot of families have a many conflicts. People are tolerant with themselves but strict and critical towards family members. Naturally, they treat those outside the family the same way, resulting in conflicts in the greater society.
If we want society to be more peaceful and prosperous, we need to start by making our families a place of harmony and peace, and that means being strict with ourselves but tolerant, loving, and respectful towards family members. This will create a harmonious and supportive family atmosphere, which is not only important for world peace, but also extremely important for our own happiness. As the proverb goes, "When the family is in harmony, everything else will flourish."
Weekly Wisdom #257