“Much of our anger stems from misunderstandings. Someone says something or does something and we misunderstand it or misinterpret the motives. Our response is a reflection of our interpretation. Thus, when we misunderstand the meaning behind someone’s words or actions, we frequently create a negative situation which did not previously exist.
We must stop and ask ourselves ‘What is really going on? What might be all the possible reasons that person said or did what I think he said or did?’ In order to find the answer, we must be humble enough to momentarily disengage from the immediate reason and reaction which comes to our mind.
Say a co-worker goes privately to the boss in order to get a raise. As we walk by the boss’ office we hear that she is over-valuing her own work and exaggerating the reasons why she is so important to the company. We hear her take credit for projects in which we know she only played a small role, and in which we actually played a vital role. Immediately, our instinctive reaction is one of judgment and anger. ‘How dare she take credit for work we have done! How dare she approach the boss for a raise when so many people (ourselves included) deserve it more!’ we say. We immediately start planning what we will say to the boss when she leaves his office, how we will repudiate what she said, how we will get all the co-workers together to prove to the boss that she is not nearly as crucial and important as she claims to be. Essentially, we assume that her motives are dishonest and egoistic.
However, if a small angel allowed us to see the movie of what took place last night at her dinner table we might see the following scene: Her husband, with tear-filled eyes, announces that he has been laid off from work with only thirty days notice. Her son – in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for cancer – is unable to eat anything due to the pervasive nausea he experiences from the treatment. When she finally does manage to feed him one chapati and a small bowl of dal, he immediately rushes into the bathroom to vomit. Her father-in-law, hands shaking uncontrollably due to Parkinson’s disease, reminds her, scornfully, that she must be cursed as she’s brought such bad luck upon the family. As her tears soak through her pillowcase, sleep evasive as ever, she realizes that she will never be able to single-handedly support the family on her current income. She resolves that tomorrow she has no choice but to beg the boss for a raise.
Had we been able to watch this movie, had we been given insight into our co-worker’s true motivations, the wave of anger and vengeance in which we found ourselves drowning would never have washed over us in the first place.
Where there is understanding there is compassion. Where there is understanding there is tolerance. Where there is understanding there is acceptance. It is the tragic lack of understanding between people that leads to much of our personal and interpersonal anguish.
In order to understand someone else, we must be prepared to place aside – even just for a moment – our own ego-centric world view. We must be prepared to look beyond our own preconceived notions of justice, righteousness and truth. We must be prepared to step out of the one-dimensional and self-centered paradigm of thought in which we typically operate. In order to truly understand someone, we must be prepared to ‘stand under’ them, to see them from below rather than from above.
Only by removing the glasses of selfishness and superiority through which we’ve become accustomed to viewing the world can we truly see another person.
So, the next time we find ourselves outraged, shocked or pained by another person’s behavior, let us try to stand under them, to see them through our divine, unmasked eyes of humility and egolessness. Let us pray for the purity of sight and the purity of mind to see their true motivations and circumstances.”
– H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji