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Let Your Ideals Scrape Off Your Own Faults

We all have standards and ideals for what we think a good person should be. As for how we use these standards, there are four possibilities:

  1. Strictly demand others and oneself

  2. Strictly demand others but lenient with oneself

  3. Lenient with others and oneself

  4. Lenient with others but strictly demand oneself


Most people tend to use these standards to demand others (#1 and #2), and they are usually more strict with others and lenient with themselves (#2). This is a key cause of conflict.


The stoic philosopher Seneca said:

"When philosophy is wielded with arrogance and stubbornly, it is the case for the ruin of many. Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others."


Here, the term "philosophy" can be interpreted as an education on how to be a good person. The teachings of Stoicism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are all good examples of philosophy or moral education. They teach virtues such as kindness, wisdom, respect, courage, etc. Learning philosophy and cultivating virtues is a very noble thing, but a big trap that many people fall into is using these standards to demand others instead of oneself, which then creates conflict. The whole point of learning philosophy is to live a happier and more effective life; if the more we learn, the more conflict we have, then we've learned incorrectly.


If we still have an attitude of demanding others, then when we learn standards for being a good person, we'll start using all these standards to demand others. Before we learned them, we didn't have this "arsenal"; after we learned them, this "arsenal" harms our relationships even more.


Thus, the first step in our self-improvement is to set our attitude straight: we shouldn't focus on others' problems and demand others to be good, but instead demand only ourselves. If we see other people's problems, we should think, "Do I have the same problem? Even if my problem isn't as severe as theirs, I still have that problem to some degree. If I still have that problem, then I have no right to criticize them. I need to fix myself first."

I've heard of and encountered so many examples where a person learned philosophy, felt the teachings are great, but then started demanding their family members to learn and abide by these standards. These family members then feel like this person started to become very demanding out of nowhere and oppose this person and the philosophy they are learning.

Even if we've never formally learned philosophy, we still have standards of what a good person should be in our own mind. Everyone would agree that a good person should be kind and respectful, but who is able to actually be 100% kind and respectful 100% of the time? Not to mention that the closer we are to someone, such as our family, the more laid back and carefree we are towards them, yet the more demands we have towards them.


If we want to have a harmonious relationship with others, we need to let go of our demands towards them and only demand ourselves. "Harmony" is an attitude, not a matter. If they tend to criticize and demand a lot from us, but in our own heart, we don't oppose them, we don't feel the urge to argue with them, we can understand them, we can be strict with ourselves and lenient towards them, then harmony already exists in the relationship. It takes two to argue. As long as one person has a harmonious attitude in the relationship, conflict will not arise. As for who that person should be, we have to choose the one that we can control.

And if that's a hard medicine to swallow, then we can try to understand their difficulties, which cause them to be the way they are.

Moreover, if we truly want others to change for the better, to become more kind and respectful, then we still have to be strict with ourselves and lenient towards them. People don't care so much about what you say. They care about what you do. If you demand them to be more kind and respectful, you're already setting an unkind and disrespectful example. They'll think, "You're not kind or respectful either, so you have no right to demand that from me."

(Side note: We can use words to advise and urge others, but the prerequisite is that we've set a good role model ourselves; otherwise, they'll scoff at us. But we need to be respectful and humble when giving advice, not demanding or blaming. For more on how to advise others, check out this article: Rules For Effective Criticism.)


But if we demand ourselves to role model good behavior, and we let go of demanding others, then they'll slowly get influenced. They'll think, "Wow, this person is such a morally good person. They don't give me any pressure. I like them more now. Since they've been so kind and respectful towards me, I feel a bit bad to continue being unkind and disrespectful towards them. I should be more kind and respectful towards them in the future."

This is a natural process that takes time, just like a seed takes time to grow into a fruit. If during the process, you get impatient and say, "I've been so kind and respectful towards you for so long now, and you still treat me this way?!", they'll think, "Oh so you weren't sincere. You're still demanding me. Then I will still oppose you."


People don't change because you force them. If they do, it's because they have no choice but to obey you, and as soon as they can oppose, they will. If we want lasting change, people have to do it out of their own will.


No matter if we want to reduce conflict or to change others, it all starts with letting go of demands towards others and only demanding ourselves to set a good role model. Over time, other people will gradually respect our moral cultivation, and they will naturally feel the urge to emulate us.


Weekly Wisdom #297

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1 Comment

Thanks for this. It serves as a reminder that we are the ones learning about philosophy. Let's understand them more and be a good example.🤗

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