One of Dostoevski’s characters said that to love people you have to hold your nose and shut your eyes; but love them you must.
Liking or hating people is a matter of personal habit or outlook, of personal philosophy.
Think how wise humankind has been in developing manners and customs in life that cover up, idealize, or glamorize physical functions of human beings. Consider, for a moment, the function of eating. Surely not naturally a pretty process—the taking in of food, chewing it, mixing it with saliva, and swallowing. But over centuries, as man grew more civilized, he adopted manners that made eating a most agreeable custom. Suitable tools and vessels—knives, forks and spoons, glassware, china plates and cups—were developed, as were tablecloths and napkins. Table manners grew. Flowers came to be used for special occasions. The art of showing consideration for others became a ritual at the table. So, by glorifying certain aspects of eating food and ignoring others, dining became one of the most delightful of social forms.
Doctors and nurses are called upon to perform many acts that would be distasteful to the average person. Yet, by keeping their minds on the good they do and holding to a scientific attitude, doctors and nurses receive deep satisfaction from their work. And their professions are among the most honored.
The physical acts involved in bringing a new life into the world would doubtless seem ugly, without the beauty and appeal of romantic love and the treasured ideals of motherhood. Through song and story we have built these up into the most cherished of human relationships.
So it may be seen that the human race has found practical and helpful ways for the individual to adjust his attitudes to ward certain basic physical human functions.
Far less progress has been made in human relations on the mental and emotional levels. Any one of us can consciously cultivate the habit of tolerating and liking our fellow’ human beings. Beyond pleasant manners, a person may consciously act in a way that will offset unpleasant aspects of human nature.
An officer of a large industrial company had a position that required him to work in other departments of the organization. Usually this causes friction and resentment and is often considered meddling. But this man got along well with everyone. He won a high place in the organization in spite of many deficiencies, including the lack of even primary school education.
“How do you do it?” he was asked.
“The first thing is,” he replied “my intentions toward everyone are good. I know if anyone dislikes or hates me it is because he doesn’t really know me or understand my intentions. I make it a rule to remedy that, to get to know the person. Further more, whenever I hear someone has said something critical about me, I find a way to do that person a favor.”
The odd fact about the doing of a good deed is that it works both ways. The receiver of the favor naturally is favorably inclined toward the person who has done him a good turn. But, also, the doer of the good deed is favorably inclined toward the one he has helped. He feels that he has an investment in the other person, an investment of good will.
What is suggested here is a philosophy of intelligent self- interest combined with the practical ideal of adding to the other person’s happiness. While we should keep our eyes open and protect our own interests, we shouldn’t, on the other hand, get soured on human nature because an occasional person is bad or some aspect of human nature is distasteful.
We have to understand people.
Each person has infinite capacity for good or ill. His traits may have been transmitted through the chromosomes and genes of millions of ancestors. His traits may have been acquired by a variety of environments—by the way he was handled by parents, teachers, bosses, and friends. Early experiences actually live in our bodies. They lurk in the interbrain, below the level of consciousness. Our emotional habits are always ready to trip us up unless we understand and control them. The result is that we often act, unknowingly, against our own best interests.
People who are self-centered, thoughtless, and greedy in their relations with others, are that way because of previous conditioning and because they are ignorant both of the origin of their own emotions and of how others react against them. There is no point in hating and fighting such people. Most of them will respond to unruffled good nature and a sustained, genuine desire to help them.
“But some such people are just too tough,” you may say. “What if they never respond?”
There are such cases, of course. Ordinarily, a person can avoid such people or avoid controversy. That is the best course. On very rare occasions we may meet a really vicious person who ruthlessly forces the issue. If then we must fight, let’s not nip or nag or go faltering against them, like “old Nicias faltering against Syracuse.” Let’s attract allies by our fairness; move right in and go for the knockout. There are extraordinary cases where it is necessary to fight.
Having said that, let’s add at once an urgent appeal to common sense, because so many people arc far too much inclined to fight—win, lose, or draw. Not long ago we mentioned in a conversation that Christ drove the money-changers from the temple. The spunky, little lady to whom we were talking replied with great enthusiasm, “I sometimes think it’s the finest thing He ever did.” She meant no irreverence, but the point was obvious. People have an unreasonable and unconscious yen for combat. So let’s get down to plain horse sense:
Let’s not fight just to indulge our vanity or to enjoy the brief excitement of it. If we are not sure that we can put the other fellow out of commission completely and permanently, we’d better not start. He may pick himself up from a partial defeat, dust himself off, and flatten us out. Let’s think it through coolly in advance. What specifically are we going to gain, selfishly, if we do win? Of course, we are not talking about physical fighting. Most of us have progressed beyond that. But, as to verbal fighting, the pressing of our interests, ideas, and influence directly and offensively against another person, let’s think calmly before we start. Any person, however pugnacious by nature, should be able to go through an entire adult lifetime without the necessity of engaging any other person in direct, personal conflict. Skill in avoiding conflict, in itself, demonstrates the superiority, the superior control, strategy, and confidence of the non-fighter.
At the very least, violent conflict with another person is likely to lose us the possibility he may some day become our friend and ally. Let’s beware of building up influences that work against us.
Learning to love people by looking for the good in them eliminates any habits of complaining or criticizing we may have. This is important, for if we complain often, say about our associates or the outfits we work for, people are apt to think the trouble lies with us. Everybody knows that everybody has problems; but it’s part of the job, a part of life, to meet and solve such problems, not cry about them.
Haven’t you noticed that people hate and avoid a person who habitually criticizes others, who imputes the worst motives to others? The reason is that, consciously or not, the observer thinks the person with a low opinion of human nature is judging from his knowledge of himself, the person he knows best. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” A critic attracts criticism to himself.
Some people, not infrequently the young or immature, think a cynical viewpoint indicates sophistication, worldly wisdom. Such an attitude is costly to the person who holds it. It makes happiness impossible. We live in a world of people and, if we hate people, life itself will not be to our liking. Life is in tolerable in a world of cold-blooded self-seekers. Cynical people are not cynical because other people have failed them; they are cynical because they have failed to help other people without expectation of reward.
With good works we build our faith in human nature. We mean real faith that expects and develops good instead of bad. Do you recall the story of the woman who heard that “faith moves mountains”? Well, she had a mountain she could see from her back window. One night when she thought she had steamed up enough faith, she prayed long and hard for the mountain to be moved. Next morning she looked out her window. “Just as I expected,” she exclaimed, “there it is!”
We do not mean faith in defeat. An encouraging aspect of man is that, when a crisis or emergency forces him to show his true colors, the true colors are not so bad. A friend recently told the story of the people in a backwoods village who, in the course of their humdrum lives, fell into habits of gossip, backbiting, and otherwise demonstrated the meaner and less pleasant human qualities. However, when a great fire swept in, not only did the better persons of the village help the meaner ones, but some (not all) of the most ignoble characters of the town rose to great heights of self-sacrifice in their efforts to rescue others. Human nature seldom looks so good as when it is put to a great test.
We must have tolerance, too. Friendship is based on tolerance. A friend, it has been said, is a person who knows all about you—and likes you anyway! What a boon, what a comfort, what a sustaining influence is such a one “who likes you any way!” We are all full of human frailties, all make mistakes, some embarrassing, some really grave; so we all need that friend who forgets the bad and appreciates the good in us.
But how to acquire such a friend? The answer is in another time-tested saying, “To have a friend, be one.” And we mean by “friend” one who knows all about us, and likes us an People will love you and help you if you love them and help them.
Tolerance means we should not expect too much of other people. One of the commonest mistakes is expecting people to be reasonable. Yet few if any people will always be reasonable from our standpoint. To put it another way, our view point will not always seem reasonable to other people. We will save ourselves many disappointments if we do not expect people to be reasonable.
One way to learn to love people is to cultivate the habit of telling them the good things we may hear about them. It is quite as blessed to give as to receive a good word.
The late Will Rogers often said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Everyone loved Will Rogers. It is true, we can find something to like in every person we meet if that’s what we look for.
Recently I sat next to a very old man in the train. My first impression was negative; we expected to have to listen to ailments and complaints. On the contrary, we found a man of rare humor and optimistic outlook. Among several significant stories he told was one about a missionary in India. One day the missionary met a government official. The official asked him what he did for a living. The missionary told him that during the thirty years he had been in India he had converted five thousand people to Christianity. The official said that he had lived in India for thirty years and had never met a Christian. The missionary said, “What kind of work do you do?” The official said, “I look after His Majesty’s affairs, and also hunt big game. I have killed hundreds of tigers.” Whereupon the missionary replied, “During my thirty years in India, I have never seen a tiger.”
One man was looking for vicious tigers—and he found them. The other was looking for an opportunity to help people—and he found it. Neither saw what the other looked for.
We find what we look for in people. And it is important that we look for the good in them, because we live in a world of people. They make or break us.
People are full of human fallibilities—every one of us. If we are tolerant of other people’s mistakes, they will overlook our mistakes. People are also full of admirable qualities. If we look for such qualities in others, people will look for and find good qualities in us.
To make life worth living, we must keep our faith in human nature.
Learning to love people instead of hating them may be made a pleasant habit and here, summarized, are a few suggestions that may help:
1. If we look for good qualities in people, we shall find them.
2. If we look for bad qualities, we shall find them, too.
3. We can look with tolerance upon people if we realize that they often acquire unpleasant traits through unfortunate early environment.
4. Civilized people have been able to glamorize their unattractive physical functions.
5. Progress is needed on the mental and emotional levels in human relationships.
6. You may win the good will of a person who fails to understand you and your good intentions by doing him a favor.
7. If you think you have to fight a really vicious person, don’t start unless you are sure you can win a complete victory.
8. Any person should be able to go through an adult life time without violent controversy with another.
9. If we express a low opinion of human nature, people are apt to think we judge by knowledge of ourselves.
10. If we don’t love people, we will not like life. If we hate people, we will hate life too.
11. “To have a friend, be one.” A friend is one who knows all about you and likes you anyway 🙂