We don’t grow up until we look up to others

Do you enjoy being admired? Of course you do. We all do. After all, we have an innate desire to be admired. We want to be respected and held in high regard. Since we all feel that way, my statement comes as no surprise. However, what we may overlook is that we have an equally strong desire to admire and respect others. How can we have such a desire and be unaware of it?

Well, before we can love, appreciate, and admire others, we have to love, appreciate, and admire ourselves. But how can those who were brought up with constant criticism admire themselves? For they feel defective. If they are constantly criticized, something must be wrong with them, they reason. If they are not held in esteem by others, how can they have self-esteem? And because they do not admire themselves, they do not learn how to admire others.

The admiration of others is a mark of maturity. When we are free of emotional baggage and in control of our lives, we come to accept, appreciate, and admire others. That’s what I mean by saying, “We don’t grow up until we look up to someone.” But for those raised in a society, such as ours, where a preponderance of energy is spent berating, ridiculing, and criticizing others, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the gentle art of admiration for others. Witness the late night comics that demean the highest office in the land. Witness the tabloids that proudly announce the latest scandal. Witness, too, radio talk show hosts and clerics that spew venom at those who disagree with them. If we are raised in mud, how can we avoid being covered in mud?

Yet, if a gold chalice were buried in mud for hundreds of years, it would remain gold. Merely removing it from the mud and rinsing it off will restore it to its former beauty. We are no different. If we wash the mud out of our eyes, we would be able to see the beauty that surrounds us. Everyone we meet is like a snowflake, uniquely different from any other person. True, those we meet may be covered in mud, but there is gold beneath it. And every time we say a kind word to them, a spot of mud dries and falls to the ground, revealing glittering gold.

Why should we want to cultivate the art of admiration of others? What better reason than to grow. We learn about ourselves when we learn who and what we admire. Admiration is a stepping stone. It raises us to a higher level. Here ‘s what Thomas Mann (1875 ~ 1955) had to say about it, “I have always been an admirer. I regard the gift of admiration as indispensable if one is to amount to something; I don’t know where I would be without it.”

Morihei Ueshiba (1883 ~ 1969) was one of the world’s greatest martial artists, as well as a Japanese philosopher. He pointed out that besides admiring others, we are to admire life itself. For everything has something to teach us. In his book, “The Art of Peace,” he writes, “Contemplate the workings of this world, listen to the words of the wise, and take all that is good as your own. With this as your base, open your own door to truth. Do not overlook the truth that is right before you. Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from the holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants, and trees – should be your teacher.”

Admiring others doesn’t mean holding in awe the rich and powerful. Rather, it means holding in reverence the benevolent, the peacemaker, and the compassionate. For when we admire those who uplift society, we uplift ourselves. What we admire shapes us. What we detest entraps us. We need to ask ourselves, “Do I want to be molded by my admirations or my resentments? When we accept, appreciate, and admire others, welcoming them into our lives, they touch us and help make us what we are. When we embrace others, we embrace life.

Besides being a valuable teacher, admiration is a source of happiness. For what is admiration but delight in what is? It is appreciation and gratitude for what is. A grateful heart is full of joy, while an ungrateful one is full of bitterness. Isn’t the dreariness, dissatisfaction, and depression that hangs over much of society nothing more than a failure to admire the world and our fellow travelers? Those who say, “What is there to admire?” still have mud in their eyes. We all can find much to admire if we look for it.

When we accept life we grow to appreciate it, then admire it, later revere it, and finally venerate it. An accepting heart blooms into a heart of love. And it is love that brings clarity of vision, which allows us to penetrate into the hearts of others. It dispels the clouds of prejudice and narrow-mindedness and allows us to learn from others. True admiration, then, is not about holding some people, special people, in high regard. Instead, it is about holding everyone in esteem. For when we look into the eyes of another, we behold our own reflection.

Those of us who are parents must exercise vigilance, for the circle of admiration begins at home. When we hold our children in high regard, they learn that they are worthy of admiration and begin to admire others. They then start to reap all the rewards that follow.

Remember, too, that all the criticism that permeates society is nothing more than cries for help. People want to be recognized and admired and lash out at others because they themselves feel deprived. So much so that Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that withholding compliments and encouragement is a sin because it withholds food for the hungry. Feed the hungry that cry at your doorstep by accepting, appreciating, and admiring them. When you soothe their hunger and quench their thirst, you will nourish your own soul and spirit.

Another caveat: what we take for granted, we don’t hold in high regard. Who is there more worthy of admiration than your own spouse? Don’t take him or her for granted. I can honestly say that my admiration for my wife of 40 years has never stopped growing. Not that this is particularly remarkable, for never ending admiration is the natural consequence of awareness. You can never admire what you are unaware of. So, wipe the mud from your eyes, if there is any, and stay attuned to life, always looking for good, and you will never be disappointed.