Sensitivity and Touchiness
One of the basic necessities of social life is learning to get along with other people. One can hardly find two persons who have beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that are identical in all respects. Even in regard to the most insignificant matters of life it is rare to find people who are in complete agreement. This fact must always be kept in mind and one must try, so far as one can, to get along with different kinds of temperaments and personalities, so that one is able to adjust and develop friendly and harmonious relations with associates and companions.
Some individuals, due the lack of a certain degree of maturity necessary for social coexistence, are so sensitive and touchy and so rigid and unforgiving in their relations that they cannot overlook the smallest thing that happens against their expectations. A lapse on behalf of their friends makes them simply succumb to their violent and immature feelings, leading them to abandon all hopes of arriving at a mutual understanding. They allow good relations to be severed on account of a deep resentment and ill feeling. Life, however, has its bright and dark sides, thorns as well as flowers, beauty as well as ugliness, and these always go together. One's approach, from the outset of social life, should be based on pleasant manners and sound moral principles. One should learn the law of social life that it is necessary to bear some unpleasant things for the sake of its numerous advantages. At the same time, one should refrain from misplaced expectations and pursuing idle dreams. The art of living lies in being as flexible as one can in regard to one's expectations, and very often stable peaceful relations cannot be maintained and friendship and intimacy cannot prevail without it.
One should try to understand and accept people and their needs as they are, not as we would like them to be. This depends on the measure of one's moral development, emotional refinement, and spirit of understanding.
It is a mistake to judge everything from the perspective of our own wishes and desires. But there are many people whose feelings are adversely lopsided; selfishness and egoism are so strong in their character that they totally lack the capacity to be objective. Moreover, thereby they torture and torment themselves, whereas objectivity and reasonable expectations would have secured them mental peace.
A psychiatrist recounts the tale of his inordinate expectations. During World War II, he wanted to leave his hometown for a distant city. Despite his insistence, they declined to give him an air ticket. They told him that priority lay with the transportation of army personnel, and he was forced to go by the train and that, too, in the third class.
"A few moments after that I took my uncomfortable seat in the third- class compartment," he says, "I felt furious. I saw that it was a torture for me to continue my journey on these hard benches. Immediately I began to analyse my perturbed state. After a while I asked myself whether the torture I felt was really due the uncomfortable seats, or if it was because I was upset that a respectable and dedicated psychiatrist like me had been denied the consideration of being favoured with an air ticket, so I wouldn't be compelled to waste hours of my valuable time on journey by train. Then I asked myself if I had a right to expect such a favour during wartime and if my expecting them to be treat me as an exception was selfish and stupid. Immediately I realised that it was an unjustified expectation, because certainly at a time when my brothers were under the rain of bullets and shells, their work had a priority over everything else.
"As soon as the matter thus cleared up in my mind and I was convinced that I should not be upset, the hard seats not only did not bother me any longer, I spent the rest of the journey, happily reading or conversing with other passengers. I did not feel tired by the journey at all, although neither the seat had become softer, nor the duration of the journey had become shorter."
At times, selfish and hollow people cultivate social relations for some particular purpose. Their relations and contacts with others, which should be untainted by personal gain and purpose, are meant to obtain some particular goals of their own. They continuously hunt for friends through whom they might make some personal gain. For instance, they would never seek the friendship of those who have sublime feelings and sincere intentions but whose company would not procure any material gain. As a result, their friendly relations are sustained so long as there is some hope of a gain. But if they do not get any nearer to their goal in this way, sensing that the friendship would not help them in achieving their ends, a peculiar coldness replaces the previous warmth and they terminate their hypocritical relationship.
Obviously, when unsteadiness and infirmity cloud all aspects of someone's social life, the reality is gradually exposed and others, too, on recognising such a character, treat him coldly and contemptuously and avoid him. And this is an injurious spiritual condition that we often observe among many people.
We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.
There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency Your genuine action will explain your other genuine actions. 3
3. Emerson, "Self-reliance," cf. Commins & Linscott, The Social Philosophers (New York: Modern Pocket Library 1954), p. 399.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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