The Saskya Pandita (1182-1251) was a Tibetian wise man and spiritual leader as a Buddhist scholar. This title was given to him in recognition of his scholarly achievements and knowledge of Sanskrit. He is considered in tradition to have been a reflection of the embodiment of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. He was once quoted to have said that we are “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or abilities are the characteristics of an excellent person.”1
This was another way of saying that each person must have a clear picture of self-awareness: knowing where you came from, who you are, what you are, and where you’re headed. This will allow us to understand why not everyone behaves or conducts themselves the way we do. For example, one person may be very quiet and contemplative while another may be the life of the party. That doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong. Identifying our own preferences and the preferences of others can be an important building block in the foundation for our success. This knowledge can help us understand situations as they unfold and improve our communication with others, and influence people and situations to get the results that are good for all of us.
Every one of us has natural tendencies that dictate our preferences. How these are developed in each of us is a complex combination of things. Whether we were born with them or learned them – nature or nurture – can be an interesting question to explore. It is also interesting to think about how much preferences guide our behavior. Behaviors that feel comfortable, that we do without thinking, that just seem natural, that we resort to when under stress, or that we simply identify as “the way we do things” can all be considered as natural tendencies or our personal preferences. Being aware of personal preferences is an important step. Understanding others, being aware of what makes them tick, is another important interpersonal skill. So instead of resenting or showing distaste for other people’s preferences, remember to treat them the way we would like for them to treat us.
If we are going to grow and mature, we must have a betters sense of self-awareness. This should start the beginning of a lifetime of growth and learning. Once we understand what we prefer, what is comfortable for us, it is much easier to branch out of our comfort zone to learn new behaviors. Having options, about how to behave, rather than just responding in whatever way feels natural, gives us the freedom to act in a sensible way, given the situation. It is in these moments when we choose to be a bit uncomfortable that we have the most potential to learn and grow. This is especially true if we select these areas for development because we have a personal reason to do so. Motivation is a powerful influence on our success. For instance, if you know you have a short temper, start learning how to control it better and you will become better.
Another assessment tool is introspection. We can pay attention and take note of our own experiences, actions, and reactions. Our own observations are invaluable sources of information about who we are and what makes us tick. Paying attention to how we feel inside while we participate in a variety of activities can give us some insight into our own behavioral preferences. Do we feel happier when working in a group, or alone? Do we feel satisfaction when we accomplish a difficult task? Is it easy or difficult for us to tell others what to do? Our body language can also offer helpful clues. Paying attention to what is going on when we start to feel bored and tired – or lively and interested – is an indicator. If our body is responding positively to the situation, it is likely there are elements there that agree with our personal preferences. We don’t have to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to grow, but it will help us see our own personality more clearly.
In addition to what we see in ourselves, the observations of others can also be helpful. Sometimes others see behaviors in us that we don’t see, especially when we are too involved in activities to pay attention. There are several key concepts to keep in mind if our observation is to be a truly valuable self-discovery process. First, assess the situation – What is going on? In terms of the situation, get a sense of the environment in which a certain behavior has occurred. What are the significant factors? Who is involved? This context information offers additional perspective about the behavior.
Secondly, pay attention to specific behavior – what happened? For an observation to offer objective information rather than subjective, or merely an opinion, it needs to be specific. Vague comments are not as helpful as a concrete example. Since behavior arises from complex factors this protects us from being offensive or narrow in our interpretation and allows for the processes of communicating our thoughts and asking questions to understand even more about others and ourselves. Jumping to conclusions often leads to errors or an incomplete picture.
Thirdly, the impact of our or other’s behavior – what is the result? The impact also needs to be described in concrete terms when making an observation. Some results that could be observed include: Change in body language, Increased energy or animation, Decreased energy or animation, Focus changes, including impacts, observed in reaction to specific behavior gives people a lot of information about not only what they are doing but how that influences people and situations.
We may quibble over the fact that all of this is just too much information for us to digest when we are in a heated situation, who has time to do all this analogy? That’s when we need to train ourselves to step back, observe what’s going on, focus in on what seems to be the point of contention, do not make up our minds of who’s right and who’s wrong, but what can we say to turn down the heat so that everyone involved can have a more measured conversation. Never think of your response as a gift with a beautiful ribbon tied around to be the final answer to the problem. But offer options that the individuals involved can look at to settle their disagreement amicably.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, Holland (1469-1536), was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament, and also an important figure in Christian theology and classical literature. On one occasion, Erasmus stated that “It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” This goes along what Saskya Pandita was saying. Don’t change just to fit the situation so as not to cause trouble. Remain who you are so that you can help change the situation for the betterment of everyone.
Does the Bible have anything to say about this? Yes, it does! For instance, the Apostle Paul told everyone that as Christians we have a choice. We can either go along to please the crowd, or we can go along with God to please Him. So don’t try to become what other people appreciate but does not represent who you are. Let God design you from the inside out so that you are doing God’s will, not your will or the will of others. That way you will grow into the kind of person people will appreciate for being genuine and honest, good and pleasing, because they now know what to expect from you.2
And the Apostle Peter also has some advice for believers. When others see how devoted and dedicated you are to being what God wants you to be, they will know that you are for real, not putting on a face just to please them.3 That’s because your real personality is shining from the inside, not some disguise you put on the outside. Pretending will not last long and the real you will quickly be revealed. So why even try to fool anyone. To shine in the light of what and who you really are will last a long time. You won’t have to tell anyone that you are a gentle and humble person, they will see it. Peter says that this is something money cannot buy, it is a gift from God because He’s the only one who can give it.4 – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines: Edited by W. Y Evans-Wentz, IV. The Precepts Compared with “Elegant Sayings,” Stanza 29, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 60
2 Romans 12:2
3 1 Peter 3:3-4
4 Acts of the Apostles 8:20