Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #65
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 2, 1975
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One thing about life is certain: unless you are a hermit, you will live and work with people. Unless you can get along with them and at least partly enjoy the experience, this fact can make life a heavy burden.
It is normal to want to be with only those people with whom you are comfortable, but this is neither realistic nor healthy. If you were surrounded only with those who agree with you, life would be quite static. This is an observation which bears relation to the state of many marriages. Where there are no differences, there is apt to be much indifference. If two persons only agree, then there is nothing creative or dynamic in the relationship.
It is my contention that getting along with people is 98% your reaction to others and only 2% what the others really say or do. Study yourself. Realize that any resistance you have toward others has little to do with them and mainly to do with your own fears and feelings and attitudes.
Six hundred years B.C. the Chinese philosopher Laotze defined life as “To be in relation”, and taught that man lives in proportion to the number of points with which he makes contact with life and with the world. There is a great unity of life, but also a great diversity. Everyone, in his own manner, is a creative expression of the same Mind, the same Creator, but unity does not mean sameness. You are not like everyone else, and others are not just like you. It is important, from the very beginning of any relationship, to agree to let the other person be. People have always differed from one another, and they always will; we must expect this and learn to live with it, learn from it, and enjoy it.
If others do not cooperate with you, if you find them unloving and unfriendly, if they do not buy what you offer or appear to want to listen to you, then don’t look for the fault in them. Determine rather that if you can overcome your resistance to their differences and place yourself in a proper spiritual relationship with them (and with the law of their being), then, just as electrical current always gives light with the proper connections, so there must be a way of communication with or communion with others.
This is not to say that others are without objectionable qualities. But why try to focus on those qualities? If people are not what we would wish them to be, if they don’t react as we desire, there is no reason to become angry or discouraged, any more than we would get mad at a light bulb for not shining when there was a faulty connection. You cannot change others any more than you can change electricity, but you can change the level at which you deal with them. You can transform your attitudes, your expectations, your prejudices and your fears; you can overcome your own resistance to them. When you climb to a different level in order to draw light from the other person, then it will find expression, and now you are seeing a different facet of that person’s nature which had always been there but which had been obscured by attitudes of a temporary nature. Change your vantage point and you will see others from a different level.
Our first problem is that we have not learned to “turn on the light” when trying to get along with others. If we were always to turn on the light before we make contact with people, that light would reveal for us both a basis of relationship. Two people, approaching each other timidly, each feeling that the other must prove himself worthy, both therefore withholding, have little chance of achieving a harmonious relationship. First turn on the light and begin to find the points of contact that will be enjoyable.
We must condition ourselves to enjoy and learn from diversity within unity. We are all children of God, yet we are all different from one another. Don’t expect people to always agree with you or follow your styles or manners or mores. Don’t expect people to live as you. Accept them as human beings just as you want them to accept you. This reminds me of the little boy who was dining with his mother and who asked the waitress to bring him a hot-dog. In spite of the mother’s protestations that the boy would eat pot roast, the waitress wrote down, “One hot dog.” The mother was taken aback, but the boy observed happily, “Gee, she thinks I’m a real person!” Accept people as real, regardless of superficial differences.
It is occasionally instructive to take a long, hard look at yourself. Do you by any chance see in yourself an opinionated person, the kind that is being invariably disliked? This results from a feeling of insecurity and is expressed with the refusal to consider any variations. You should practice what one writer called the “invincible might of meekness”, the humility to recognize your own limitations and to admit that others have ideas and their own kind of worthiness. Have enough spirit of adventure to listen to others and to consider their ways.
So many of us have a pervasive fear of change in ourselves and a dislike of change in others. Shakespeare wrote, “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” Be sure your motives for befriending someone are not selfish. Relate to the person as he or she really is. Every person has his own life story, his own situation, so be sensitive and responsive to this and not to your own preconceived attitudes or feelings of what he should be.
Try not to fall to the level of being irritated, angry or annoyed at others. Ask yourself as a scientist would, “Why do I react in this way?” Why let someone else determine how you feel? Then ask yourself why the other person behaved the way he did. What inner conflicts might he have? Does he suffer from feelings of unworthiness? Has he just experienced a crushing defeat? Is he afraid of you? Dealing with situations in this manner will not only free you from being irritated, but may well find you going out of your way to assist the other person rather than hurting yourself by resenting him and fighting back.
There is a natural tendency to retaliate, to resent, and to hit back, but it is a great feeling to be able to study others objectively and to master your own personal reactions. It does not require any special greatness of soul, only the willingness to attempt it and to work at it. You will be thrilled to see your true self shine, rather than always resorting to being defensive. Act out your own innate largeness of spirit; be what you want to be and accept all others as they want to be.
Thomas Carlyle finished writing volume one of his monumental account of the French Revolution and took it to a friend, the historian Froude, for the benefit of his critical comments. The latter was careless about where he left this first draft, and Carlyle had neglected to make a copy of his work of many months. One sad day the housekeeper, looking for paper to start a fire, made use of the manuscript and burned it all up within a few seconds. Froude, shocked and horrified, called on Carlyle to beg forgiveness, but Carlyle, with perfect command over himself, urged him not to feel badly and above all not even to mention it to the housekeeper. He decided that it was probably just as well that he start over again, which he did.
Hold this anecdote in your mind and let it inspire you to refuse to permit life or other persons to decide how you are going to act or feel. Develop control over yourself at all times, whatever the situation might be. Know that life is growth and that everyone has something to bring to it. Meeting life in this consciousness, you will attract to you the kind of people who will make life worthwhile.
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth