28. If you cannot bear the faults of a friend, you make them your own [because you have not the charity to correct them].
29. Be not blind to a friend’s faults, nor hate him for them.
30. If you bear the faults of a friend, you make them your own [that is, you show a disposition to correct them].
Are you someone who has an eye for everything that others do wrong? Quick to complain, criticize, and condemn, as long as that critical eye is turned away from one’s self?
There are many people in the world like this. In fact, I’d venture that most people are this way. They find it much easier to recognize faults (or “opportunities to improve” in corporate-speak) in others than in themselves.
But is this a bad thing? Confucius is quoted as saying, “Don’t complain about snow on your neighbor’s roof, while your own doorstep is unclean.” And this is what it boils down to — why would you worry about someone else’s faults when you have plenty of opportunities to improve yourself? Focus on yourself. Improve. Get better.
Sure, once one gets involved in the long, difficult process of self-improvement, it becomes easier to spot faults in others. But staying mindful of the insidiousness of this “judgmental witness” is a good thing. Don’t let it get out of control. Remember to focus on what you can control — you.
And when it comes to helping others correct their faults — or at least their “faults” as perceived by you — it gets into a danger zone. Because bottom line, change is hard. Really hard. Most people don’t want to change. Or they say they do, but inside they’re holding on to their pretty lies and ineffective habits and rituals. These things become part of their perceived identity, and losing them would literally feel as if they are losing part of themselves. An illusion, to be sure, but a powerful one.
And what can you really do? Explain the necessity of periodic exertion and renewal, help them find a higher purpose, and create an action plan balancing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy? At that point they’re a client, not a friend. It’s not realistic to think we can change someone else, much as we might think we see their glaring “improvement opportunities.”
Taking it a step further, who are we to say what is best for a friend? Maybe they aren’t ultimately a “driven” person and don’t mind not accomplishing much with their life. Maybe they’re cool watching Netflix 7 days a week. Maybe they’re cool with poor health.
It’s near impossible for me to accept this though, particularly when I’ve seen the creeping malaise that can swallow up a friend — surely they’d benefit from some direction and guidance. But all too often, it comes off the wrong way. There’s a million reasons why it’s not them, it someone or something else. And most people just can’t be arsed.
But it does sound as if Publius is driving towards a happy medium here, between completely ignoring your friends’ faults, and offering some charity in correcting them. Maybe a well-timed conversation inquiring about working out. Perhaps an expand-your-horizons-type book gifted at the right time. Or simply doing what you do to be successful and being willing to answer questions should you be asked.
It’s tough — when one gets involved in self-improvement, it’s easy to look to others, seemingly with all the answers. But it’s an illusion. What you think a friend needs might not be what the friend wants (even if they do really “need” it). And even if you have accurately gauged their vision and what is best for them, life is hard and change is harder.
But when possible, do lend a helping hand. Don’t let it become a neurotic, constant judging of others or start to shoulder the burden of friends’ faults yourself. But be a model. Be true to yourself and what you know at this moment to be right to achieve your vision.
Let others be. Lend the helping hand when reasonable, but keep the focus on cleaning the snow off your own doorstep.
Until next time,
Reading about Confucius must be good for you, because he wrote 500 years before Publius and so must be wiser.