Emerson said, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.“
If that was true of Emerson, isn’t it likely to be a thousand times more true of you and me? Let’s cease thinking of our accomplishments, our wants. Let’s try to figure out the other person’s good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime—repeat them years after years after you have forgotten them.
When Alfred Lunt, one of the great actors of his time, played the leading role in Reunion in Vienna, he said, “There is nothing I need so much as nourishment for my self-esteem.“
We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem? We provide them with roast beef and potatoes to built energy, but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars.
“In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great people in various parts of the world,” Schwab declared, “I have yet to find the person, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism,”
“There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors. I never criticize anyone. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”
That is what Schwab did. But what do average people do? The exact opposite. If they don’t like a thing, they bawl out their subordinate; if they do like it, they say nothing. As the old couplet says:
“Once I did bad and that I heard ever
Twice I did good, but that I heard never.”
In the past few days, I showered you with Droplets of excerpts from the book of Dale Carnegie. Most excerpt I chose bring with it a sense of universal, timeless, and very self-evident truths embedded in every note of its tone whenever you try to articulate it.
Universal means that those principles are supposed to be understood in every culture regardless of whether you come from the East or from the West, or from anywhere. Timeless means that whether you are from the stone age, agricultural age, from the industrial age, or from our present internet or information age, these truths remain truths. Self-evident in simpler term means “obvious”—you don’t need empirical researches, or extensive studies, you don’t need to be masters or doctors of certain discipline, you don’t need any title or position to at least observe that these principles are true to most of us; you only need to be open-minded and humble in order for you to recognize these truths.
However, given its powerful description of having universality, timelessness, and obviousness, still many people, including educated people don’t get it. And that is what I don’t get. That exactly is what I don’t understand!
Why is it that despite our society’s enormous knowledge of many things around and about us, these knowledge seem to be so enormously inadequate too, inadequate to at least recognize very obvious, universal truths that have been existing for maybe thousands of years?
One night, I was having a conversation with a crying 17-year-young woman who has been severely criticized for something she didn’t do. The following morning, just fifteen hours later, I was listening to an adult lady having exactly the same predicament. At first, she tried hard not to appear weak or hurt, well at least in her face. But eventually the impact of pain kicked in. She burst into tears…into reasonable tears. These two ladies are not friends, they come from different worlds—one a teenager; the other, an adult—yet they are experiencing very similar painful situations. Both are emotionally hurt.
It’s so saddening that the people who hurt them are highly educated people. And they were supposed to be the people who would be considered as “friends” and “mentors.” By default, their titles and professions suggest that they must be people who can be trusted. Yet they betrayed the trust of these two ladies in different occasions by being too judgmental and by delivering sharp, uncalled for, and very bitter criticisms.
Is that what our modern sophisticated, full-packed systems of education teach us? By learning too many advanced academic subjects and focusing too deeply on mastering them, we forget the obvious, the basic, the more powerful lessons! Of course, not all educated people are like that, but I guess most of us are. Yes, including me. I cannot deny that I also criticize too much. I criticize more than I praise. How about you in your daily life? Do you praise more than you criticize?
What is the use of education if all we can learn are academic matters instead of life matters? What is the use of education if it develops pride and prejudice to us…pride and prejudice that will make us criticize other people just because we don’t agree with them?
We have learned so much about the technical side of life—mathematics, literature, science, arts, and many other subjects in between—but have we learned not to throw sharp, bitter and useless criticisms? Have we learned yet not to become judgmental to others?
Does our modern education help us develop the knowledge, attitude and skillNOT to criticize others, but instead understand them? Where is the proof?
I always feel guilty when after watching a movie—any movie, regardless of whether it’s war, detective, suspense, romance, even fictions with superheroes—I realize that I always identify myself so tightly with the protagonist. Within two to three hours of watching I can unconsciously convince myself that I, I am the starring model, the hero, the one who is always right, the one who needs a standing ovation—a never ending applause.
How many time I have secretly become Superman, Batman, James Bond, Jacky Chan or Jet Lee. In many movies, I am quick to identify myself with the Denzel Washington character, with Robert Redford, with Tom Hanks, with Morgan Freeman…with whoever the protagonist is. Every time I watch I become the starring idol—at least that’s how I feel inside—but never have I become the Lex Luthor, or the Darth Vader.
I would always want to think that the protagonist resembles me, and that I resemble him. I have never yet watched a movie where I have immediately seen my very tight connection with the antagonist—the envy brother, the terrorist, the robber, the traitor, the murderer. Always, just always, I see the antagonist as the opposite of me. I am not “that kind of man” I never do the things like that.
That very thinking continues to actively play its role even when I am reading the Bible. When Moses splits the Red Sea and performs many miracles, I can quickly see myself as little Moses in my little chair. Never have I thought—not a single moment—that I am the Pharaoh or that I am like him. No! It’s impossible, I am too righteous!
Reading the triumphs of King David helps me quickly boost my confidence. Yet not once did I ever think of how close my attitude is with the antagonist King Saul. No! It can’t be, I am too holy!
That’s why it gives me difficulty to relate to many of Jesus’ stories. That’s why Jesus’ parables have very little positive effect on me. That’s why I always miss the point. Because, in Jesus’ parables, the undeserving become the center of the story, the protagonist, the starring actor or actress, the matinee idol. Jesus has a habit of making an unexpected twist in his stories by picking up the “undeserving” as his star.
Jesus’ stories provoke my self-righteousness, my sense of pride and arrogance, my rage. It challenges my strong and very stiff idea of “who is deserving and who is not.”
How can I relate to the Prodigal Son’s story if the star is someone who doesn’t resemble my obedience? How can I understand the parable of “the workers in the vineyard” if I think I am not as lazy as the workers who worked last and got the same amount of money? How can I understand why Jesus forgave the thief on the cross if I don’t think I am as unable to earn forgiveness as that thief?
I still remember what happened after one Filipino celebrity accepted the role of an antagonist in our local TV Series entitled Mara and Clara. In the story, Mara is the lovely, meek, intelligent young beautiful woman who is so loved by many. Her half sister is Clara—the super antagonist who’s full of envy, bitterness, contempt, hostility, and resentment. In the center of all her negative blending emotions is her half-sister Mara.
The TV Series was so captivating that the viewers immediately identified themselves with Mara, the protagonist. Unconsciously, they have developed hatred to one of the undeserving, irritating, infuriating antagonist. The worse part is that people become so enraged that even in real life they started to threaten the actress who plays the role of one of the antagonists in the story. They did not realize that she was just playing a role in a TV series, and that the protagonist was her true friend in real life.
Like the antagonist in the movie, some viewers become too consumed by their hatred and hostility against the innocent celebrity who was just acting on camera. The worse thing is that these people aren’t aware that in their raging contempt and hostility toward the antagonistic role, they become the antagonist in real life. Eaten up by their self-righteousness, they become blind that as they pursue a virtual monster they are becoming real monsters themselves.
The real good person has been receiving death threats from people who are consumed by the false notion that they themselves are the true good people. These people were infuriated by the role of the antagonist.
Because they have identified themselves so tightly with the story’s protagonist. They become the unlikely protagonist.
My father was a martial arts practitioner, a marathoner, and an amateur gymnast. He could hit a bulls-eye twice with a single hole. Yes, he was a sharp shooter as well, very sharp that he could make his second bullet pass through the same hole the first bullet made. I have seen it many times, but until now I’m still amazed!
He has other talents too. He could swim underwater for more than 3 minutes and resurface with a fresh fish, using only his “sibat” or arrow. He could drive more than ten hours straight. When he walk through the street he could make numerous mental pictures of the environment. When he reach the end of the street, he can tell you how many adults, how many male or female, how many children were there—and what they were wearing or doing. Amazing! How in the world was he able to do that?
That was my father. Unfortunately, none of those talents or skills were transferred to me. To his dismay, I have learned nothing of those tricks or magic. However, I have learned something from him that he wasn’t aware of.
For the few years that we’ve been together, I have learned how he was able to do those things. Oh I’m sorry, not how but why. With the countless conversations that we had, his secret principle gradually made it to the corners of my consciousness. After many years the secret did sink in.
He believed that in order for a person to achieve extraordinary things he needs to choose how he’s going to deal with pain: either he choose the pain of discipline or the pain of regret—regret because you did not discipline yourself.
You want to win the martial arts tournament but you don’t want to practice. You dream of loosing weight but you don’t sacrifice enough time to exercise. You want to pass the final exam but you don’t want to study. You want to win but you don’t want to discipline yourself. You want shortcut. You want free success.
“The process of self-discipline,” he said, “is painful. You don’t feel like getting up early in the morning to jog, but you force yourself. You really want to eat lots of ice cream and cakes but you restrain yourself temporarily. Sometimes you really don’t want to do things necessary for you to reach your dream. But those things are essential. Winning requires sacrifice, and that sacrifice is called self-discipline.”
Winning is not a gift. It is something you earned. It’s not free. You sacrifice something to gain it. You sacrifice your time, effort, attitude…you even sacrifice your fear by exercising faith.
Discipline is a form of pain. It’s the kind of pain that you choose. It’s a painful sacrifice!
On the other hand, if you don’t want to bother yourself with small sacrifices, if you don’t want to choose the little programmed pain of discipline, then you just have to wait. Sooner or later, another form of pain will be delivered to you do0r-to-door. You will be welcoming to the pain of regret!
Because you didn’t do some exercises, you remained fat, lack of practice gave you the lowest score in the tournament, lack of study gave you a failing grade. You are now experiencing another form of pain. You are now saying, “if only…”
But it’s a little bit late now.
Inevitability of Pain
Later in my early twenties, I have learned from a pastor that, “Pain is inevitable.” As normal humans, we will not be able to evade pain—for it will always be there. One way or another, pain will come to us. That’s given.
As I ponder over his words, it suddenly hit me. His teachings fortified my father’s secret.
My question years ago was answered.
“That’s why,” I realized, “My father always insisted that, I just have to choose which pain I would like to deal—the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Because pain is inevitable. My father was simply saying, “Because you cannot evade from the power of pain you better choose which pain you want to deal with.”
How I wish my father told me earlier that pain was indeed inevitable. But maybe he chose not tell me that truth because I was very young then, and the color of pain has not yet saturated my young mind’s reality, I haven’t learned the concept of pain more fully. However, as I grew in maturity, the realistic colors of pain gradually became a daily encounter—a daily reality.
Now I understand why my father was able to do those things that many of his friends couldn’t: he chose the pain of discipline by forcing himself to practice more and perfect his skill regardless of how he felt during the time of discipline. He concentrated on his objectives not his feelings.
How about you, which do you prefer, discipline or regret? They are both painful. Yet one of them is a “sweet pain.”