People are not what they seem. There is as much difference between exterior and interior states as there is between inner and outer sides of a house. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, you can be absolute sure that he is totally different from what you think he is.
The mistake is our own false assumptions. For instance, we assume that a certain person is the calm type. We have made two mistakes. First, we do not see the emotional turmoil he suppresses when in public view. Second, at the moment of our observation there is no particular crisis to arouse and reveal his panic. Surface calm will explode sooner or later, as many a bride or bridegroom discovers too late.
Our task is to see people as they are, not as we want or need to see them. Then, we make no mistakes.
How can we do this? Since other people are invisible, psychologically speaking, how can we see them as they actually are?
This can be accomplished by understanding ourselves. When you frankly face your own motives, you see the motives of others. By understanding your own desires and actions, you understand why others act as they do. Self—knowledge is the unlocking key to insight into others. Perhaps in a moment of intense self-honesty, a man sees in himself a selfish motive masquerading as generosity. Not only is he healthier and happier than before, but he can no longer be tricked by others with the same masquerade.
It works both ways. You understand other people as you understand yourself. As you win insight into your own action, the behavior of others becomes clear.
Whatever happens to you in social relations is quite valuable, providing you let it shed light about yourself to yourself. Human encounters are beneficial challenges to our fixed ideas. The best challenges are those revealing us to be less noble than we assumed, for the shattering of imaginary ideas is the shattering of unseen chains.
Just as we become acquainted with our nature through self-observation, we can learn about the other man by watching him in daily action. We should not do this out of mere curiosity, nor from a critical viewpoint, but because we want the facts about human nature.
Watch, for instance, how a man behaves when accused of something. Whether the accusation is accurate or not, notice whether it arouses anger, indignation or accusation in return. The ego-less man, the man thinking from his Supermind has nothing to defend, therefore, cannot be upset. But a lesser man, with a gulf between himself and his Supermind, will react offensively and defensively.
Arthur Schopenhauer supplies another test:
A man shows his character just in the way in which he deals with trifles—for then he is off his guard. This will often afford a good opportunity of observing the boundless egoism of mans nature, and his total lack of consideration for others and if these defects show themselves in small things, or merely in his general demeanor, you will find that they also underlie his action in matters of importance, although he may disguise the face…Do not trust him beyond your door.
Source: The Power of Your Supermind (book), by Vernon Howard
Photo courtesy of Neil Liddle