On Sharing Wisdom
There are certain things we wish everyone realized. Have you ever felt a craving to make people realize certain truths, or to transform the way they see the world? If you follow my blog, you know I’m committed to help people think freely and live as their own masters. This desire led me to start this blog and deeply affected how I lived and interacted with others.
As I’ve discovered insights about myself and the world, I sensed that my duty was to help people realize these “truths”. However, even when meaning well, actively giving people “guidance” can have negative effects. Carried away by my own views, I offered unsolicited criticism or advice. Not only were my tips ill-received, but they often led to unwanted consequences. People closed themselves off, fearing judgment for their opinions and ways of life. My wish to help was genuine, but my methods were counterproductive. My attitude conveyed a disrespect for people’s freedom to be different, as I believed I had the answer.
Respecting others’ boundaries when you truly feel you’ve realized something, especially an unconventional truth, can be challenging. For example, it’s hard to experience the immense benefits of meditation and not bring it up when people mention their anxiety, anger or depression problems. Or wake up to the fact that meat production is a major ecological problem without flooding your social circle with pro-vegetarian propaganda. Yet pushing our views thoughtlessly is not only annoying, but actually harms our cause. When we bother others by invading them with our ideas, they react defensively and reject realizations they might otherwise benefit from. Ironically, if only we were less in a hurry to “wake them up”, perhaps they’d genuinely show interest.
When an insight transforms our world view, it is natural to want to bring others with us. Yet, we can’t expect others to draw similar conclusions, even facing the same facts. We, humans, tend to underestimate how biased by our past experiences we are, and this leads to misunderstandings. Always keep in mind that the mind’s favorite past-time is to create stories justifying the way you feel. Most of your ideas are therefore nothing more than the rationalization of instinctive emotional reactions to your environment. Don’t believe everything you think!
Perhaps you’ve seen this from the other side when friends became vegans, anti-consumerists or followers of some ideology. Even with valid arguments, it can seem like they’ve turned into salesmen for their ideas. Being approached by someone intending to persuade is off-putting, and blocks equal exchange and honest discussions. These situations generate tension and frustration on both sides, and rarely give birth to insightful realizations.
A honeymoon period follows most major insights. During this period, your brain adjusts to its new reality, and feeling frustrated by others seeming inability to see reality from your perspective is understandable. In a way, this can be a sign that you’re becoming wiser: you’re breaking out of your shell of preconceived ideas about reality, and can’t help but see delusion everywhere you look. Some realizations are dramatic and returning to normal after them can prove impossible, which isn’t necessarily bad.
Yet, this sense of frustration can also prevent further growth and massively limit your positive impact on the world. Being confrontational is a symptom of immature realizations and you need to grow beyond the “angry preacher” phase to be meaningful. There’s certainly a place for debates, but if you’re constantly in fight-mode and arguing left and right, soon people won’t even bother listening to you. You don’t want people to avoid you for fear of confrontation.
However, it wouldn’t make sense to keep our insights to ourselves when they might be useful to others. Despite our biases and weaknesses, it is possible to positively influence others. We all have invaluable mentors or friends who’ve had a major impact on our lives. But how do we find the balance between respecting people’s right to think differently and sharing our insights?
Focus on what you are, not what you say
I believe that people listen to what we are much more than to what we say. I don’t focus on changing others’ thoughts and views, but on what I convey as an individual. By living mindfully and according to my ideals, I’m confident that I influence the world more positively than by actively seeking conflict. I have stopped knocking on people’s doors ; I wait for an invite.
To have an impact on those surrounding you, they have to first see for themselves that you’ve understood something valuable. It’s easy to get caught up in judging the outside world and neglect our own actions. I’ve seen people so passionate about “world peace” that they behaved aggressively to those not living up to their standards. Their claims, even when intellectually valid, were meaningless. All I heard was frustration and judgment.
Nowadays, I rarely speak of meditation unless someone brings it up. Letting go of the constant urge to assert my ideas is a relief and allows me to concentrate on my practice. Yet, I’m having more mutually beneficial conversations about meditation than ever before. Some people, who had never shown interest before, even asked me to teach them.
The wisest words uttered by a frustrated person have no impact, because they aren’t spoken with wisdom. Sages need not speak before you discern intriguing things about them. You can’t shortcut this process by trying to convince people that they should want something. Let that happen naturally. Remaining unperturbed by stressful circumstances is the most powerful statement of mindfulness you can make. It’s also harder than repeating what you’ve heard about meditation, which is people criticize more than they practice.
If you live by your wisdom instead of preaching it, you will notice something interesting. People will unexpectedly reach out and open the door for discussion. This can be unsettling at first. I certainly was surprised when a stranger randomly came up to me and asked “you are Zen, aren’t you?”.
Behaving wisely and respectfully is not a means to an end either. Making room for alternative points of view and letting go of the urge to bring others to your side also teaches you as a lesson of humility. We develop healthier relationships and learn a lot more when we actually listen to what others have to say. Give people space to share what they think and how they feel by holding back hasty judgments and opinions. You will be surprised by how insightful your friends are when you give them the chance.
Besides, remember that people have the right to refuse awakening to certain truths. Humans can have drastically different goals, from the simple to the grandiose, and no purpose is ultimately more valid.
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