By Anna Bethea
UUCT Director of Religious Exploration
I’ve heard often that I see the best in people. Maybe you’ve been told the same, or know someone who fits this common description. I think it’s a nice compliment, but it’s never felt quite right to me. One reason is that this trait is often associated with being more prone to getting hoodwinked by others and having a general sense of naivety.
I admit that, at times, I can be quite carefree and gullible. But in important matters, I feel confident in my intelligence to weigh risks and make wise choices. In short, I don’t like being dismissed for seeing through rose-colored lenses or for having Pollyanna thoughts.
However, the biggest reason this attribution doesn’t sit right with me is that I think I probably have just as many judgmental and unkind thoughts about others as the next person.
There may be others with temperaments more suited to having naturally kind thoughts about others, but my approach is actually quite the opposite. Instead of seeing the best in others, I relate to the worst in them. In their thoughtless actions, I see the many silly mistakes of my own life. In their arrogance, I see my own tendency to see myself as righteous and virtuous. In their flusteredness, I see the moments when I’ve felt overwhelmed and inadequate.
It’s not the simplest of practices. It’s quite difficult for some of us to be able to chip away at our own egos. But once we start, we begin to see that what’s keeping us separated from others is not their actions or their differences. It’s our own inability to see them as human beings¬—as us. In order to see the best in others, we have to be willing to see the worst in ourselves. It’s a scary endeavor, fraught with self-doubt and loathing.
Unpleasant as it may be, this paradoxical practice provides an opening for true compassion for ourselves. Once we can truly see and accept ourselves¬—warts and all¬—we can start to extend this more readily to others.
Recognize yourself in others.