Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Humps We See in Others

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend a great deal of time worrying about how I appear to other people. I know I’m not perfect. Far from it. But I figure that there is an upside to my own flaws, faults and imperfections: for one thing, they seem to bring joy to others. Maybe that’s reason enough not to over-polish.

Or maybe it’s just that I underestimate the seriousness of my own shortcomings. I might be like the man who was driving a car with a bumper sticker that read, “Hang up and drive.” A police officer was pleased to spot the sticker, as she had witnessed too many accidents caused by motorists talking on cell phones. Wanting to signal her approval to the driver, she pulled up alongside the car. But when she glanced over, she was dismayed to see him peering into his rear-view mirror and shaving. 

At least he wasn’t talking on his mobile phone.

Maybe it is just easier to spot the flaws in others. It’s like the camel. An African proverb states, “The camel never sees its own hump, but that of its brother is always before its eyes.” I probably don’t see my own humps very clearly. Or, as writer Margaret Halsey once said, “Whenever I dwell for any length of time on my own shortcomings, they gradually begin to seem mild, harmless, rather engaging little things, not at all like the staring defects in other people's characters.”

So I can appreciate the story of an elderly couple who, while on an automobile trip, stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. The woman left her eye glasses on the table, but didn't miss them until they were back on the highway. And, of course, it was difficult to turn around by then. Her husband fussed and complained all the way back to the restaurant about her “always leaving her glasses” behind. They finally arrived, and as the woman got out of the car to retrieve her glasses, the old man said, “While you're in there, you may as well get my hat, too.”

Psychologist Carl Jung puts a powerful spin on this phenomenon of seeing other’s faults more clearly than our own. He teaches that “everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Or, put another way, the humps we can’t help but seeing in others are a lot like the humps others see in us. Or, perhaps they are like the humps we see in ourselves.

So, what would happen if we’d look at other people’s faults and humps as a gift? After all, they’re teaching us about ourselves.

And that’s what makes us different from camels.

-- Steve Goodier


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