What color is an apple?
What color is an apple? If you said red, yellow, or green, you were thinking of just the surface of the apple and ignored most of it, which is white. Although there are big differences between apples and people, we often think about both in the same way. That is, we too often see only the surface of others. Our view of them is shallow and one-dimensional. No wonder we are not impressed by most of the people we meet. Yet, if plunge into the depths of those we encounter, we will discover hidden treasures.
Real or fictional people are not only valuable, but are necessary, for their words and deeds instruct us. They reflect our own weaknesses and faults, as well as our own strength and potential. For example, let’s see what we can learn from the characters in this ancient Hindu story.
Lord Krishna ordered a wicked king to search the world for one good person and bring that person before him. After a long search, the wicked king returned and said, “I have looked far and wide. Yet, everyone I met was deceitful, untrustworthy, and selfish. There is not a single good person that I can bring before you.”
Lord Krishna then asked a kind and gentle king to search the world for one wicked person and to bring that person before him. After a long absence, the kind king returned and said, “Lord, I have failed you. Although I could find many that were misguided, misled, or misinformed, none were truly evil. When they act ruthlessly, it is out of ignorance; they are all good at heart.”
See how easy it is to learn from others? I’m sure you weren’t surprised the evil king couldn’t find a good person and the kind king couldn’t find a wicked person. After all, when we explore the world, we see what we ARE. We see what we BELIEVE. And we find what we EXPECT to find. Pierre Mac Orlan (1882 ~ 1970) understood we find what we look for because he wrote, “When you have a taste for exceptional people, you always end up meeting them everywhere.”
The evil king was blinded by his own prejudices and saw only the surface of others. The good king’s mind was unclouded by preconceptions, so he was able to dive into the hearts of everyone he met and discover their true nature. Yes, there is a great deal we can learn from others. However, learning isn’t enough. We must apply what we learn if we wish to benefit from it.
People are treasures. But as long as they are strangers, they are undiscovered treasures. It is only after making friends that we have the chance to open the lid of the treasure chest and discover the glittering gems it contains. Anais Nin (1903 ~ 1977) writes about the value of friendship: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Although friendship may not be necessary for survival, survival is meaningless without it.
The more friends we have the richer our lives. But, the number of friends we make is limited because of many impediments that block our way. The first roadblock was already mentioned. It is our prejudices, which obscure our vision. So, we need to become aware of our narrow-mindedness and destroy it. Here’s how Victor Hugo (1802 ~ 1885) makes the same point, “Superstition, bigotry and prejudice, ghosts though they are, cling tenaciously to life; they are shades (shadows) armed with tooth and claw. They must be grappled with unceasingly, for it is a fateful part of human destiny that it is condemned to wage perpetual war against ghosts. A shade is not easily taken by the throat and destroyed.” Yes, destroying our prejudices isn’t easy, but it is a worthwhile and necessary struggle.
Another impediment to friendship is our differences. After all, birds of a kind flock together and those that are different are usually unwelcome. Our differences are like the pits in an apple, minor irritants at first, but they are the seeds of a lasting relationship. For though it is our similarities that unite us, it is our differences that we learn from.
Yet another impediment is self-centeredness or conceit. If we are engrossed in our own imagined magnificence, how can we see the splendor of others? A pompous attitude is hardly a recipe for friendship, for as Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613 ~ 1680) wrote, “A person well satisfied with themselves is seldom satisfied with others, and others, rarely are with them.”
Friendships that are won can easily be lost because of misunderstandings and disputes. Being angry with a friend is like burning down your own house to kill a rat. Rebuild damaged relationships with forgiveness and realistic expectations. After all, people are imperfect; and that includes us. If we are to be accepted with all our faults, don’t we owe others the same courtesy?
In this regard, the Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 ~ 135 AD) offers some good advice, “Everything has two handles; the one soft and manageable, the other such as will not endure to be touched. If then your brother do you an injury, do not take it by the hot hard handle, by representing to yourself all the aggravating circumstances of the fact; but look rather on the soft side, and extenuate it as much as is possible, by considering the nearness of the relation, and the long friendship and familiarity between you – obligations to kindness which a single provocation ought not to dissolve. And thus you will take the accident by the manageable handle.”
If we are easily hurt by the insensitive remarks of our friends, imagine how they feel when we do the same. The truth is, we make more enemies by what we say than friends by what we do. We can win a few friends with our mouths, more with our ears, and the most with our hearts. As long as we communicate in a thoughtful and caring way, we will maintain our friendships.
Friendship is to people what sunshine is to flowers. People need nurturing. They need our friendship, so don’t wait for them to be friendly, but show them how. Just as one seed will yield countless apples, one friendship will sprout countless joys. Sir John Bowring (1792 ~ 1872) instructs us how to become good gardeners, “There is in every human heart / Some not completely barren part, / Where seeds of truth and love might grow, / And flowers of generous virtue flow; / To plant, to watch, to water there, / This be our duty, be our care.”
One of the mistakes we make is to forget that everyone we see will die. Because of this lapse of memory, many words and feeling that should be expressed are left unsaid. Don’t save your thoughts for your friend’s eulogy, but express them today. And like Benjamin Disraeli (1804 ~ 1881), let’s remember that, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him, his own.”