The traits – dare we say faults? strengths? – we notice in others, can be opportunities for us to understand ourselves more deeply and authentically.
You’ve probably heard that universal saying that the people who irritate us the most are the ones who express qualities that we ourselves have (but may not want to admit to). This is why family members can be so exasperating for so many of us — we see ourselves in them (the good, the bad and the ugly), and vice versa.
This isn’t always true, of course, but when it is, it’s a real opportunity for growth – if we can bring ourselves to see it clearly and acknowledge it. It’s a fact that it is infinitely easier to change ourselves than it is to try to change another person – never a good idea. For example, if we have a coworker who engages in what we see as negative behavior, like complaining or trying to control everything, we can look within and see if we ourselves carry those same negative traits.
We may have to look beyond our immediate circumstances and look into other areas of our lives to see it, because we behave differently in different environments. Perhaps we don’t complain at work, because our coworker overdoes it, but maybe we complain a lot when around our friends or family. Maybe we aren’t controlling at the office, but we’re so used to being in control at home that this is why we feel so irritated not to be in control at work.
Even if we look and find that we are not engaging in the same behavior that we see as negative in others, we can still learn from what we see in the other person. The truth is, human nature is universal, and we as human beings share many of the same tendencies – positive and negative. What we see in others will always help us to understand ourselves more deeply.
Having the ability to see something in another person – positive or negative – and bring this observation back to ourselves, is part of a built-in system of checks and balances. This system enables us to continually engage in self-exploration and enables us to make behavior changes. When we see behavior we don’t like in others, we can make a concerted effort to weed it out of ourselves, spurred on by the irritation we feel when we see and feel the negative effects of that behavior. When we see behavior we do like, we can let it inspire us to engage in imitation – gaining skill, knowledge and strength. Through this process, we read our environment, decide what changes we would like to make, and continually work to bring out the best in ourselves.