“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
I don’t often quote Friedrich Nietzsche: Gee, have I ever? But there’s a Truth here, and I was raised to embrace Truth. It’s a Truth worth discussing.
We enter the pathway of whatever it is we are looking at. Race car drivers will tell you in order to steer out of crashing into a wall, you must turn your head away from the wall. That’s so counter-intuitive! If we’re zooming full-speed ahead into deadly impact, our instinct is to watch it happen! But the dynamics of physics are at play here. Force yourself to turn your head from the danger, and your body–and your race car–tend to follow.
The same is true with magnifying a person’s faults. Try it! Scrutinize, point out, rehearse, react to a human being’s every flaw, and those flaws will grow. They will magnify, just as sure as if a magnifying glass were inspecting them. It’s not an experiment I would want to attempt for very long–! But you can see it happen: and it’s safer than the wall-crashing experiment. Even more to the point, WHO HAVE YOU BECOME in the process of your critique?
With this same principle at work, then, what if we magnify one’s strengths? Accentuate the positive? What if we acknowledge the attempts, and reinforce with a smile? Can we increase our show of gratitude, enthusiasm, affection? Encourage growth in ways we know the person will respond and appreciate? What if we lean into goodness? Human beings flourish under such love!
I heard a marriage counselor chuckle that whenever he asks a troubled couple to explain the other’s weaknesses and strengths, it goes something like this: “Here’s the list of his-or her- shortcomings (& it’s rattled off as if rehearsed a dozen times a day). And here’s a list of mine.” The person acknowledges his or her own shortcomings but explains it’s a reaction to the other’s horrible ways.
“And what strengths do you see in yourself?” the therapist inquires.
The complainant then shares the lengthy list of his or or her own strengths; the assets they have brought into the relationship. Predictably, the counselor told me, the list again comes easily.
“And your partner’s strengths?”
“Well…I guess maybe…ummm…”
On the other side of things, (and I know my readers are already ahead of me on this!) we cannot ignore walls. Nor should we! Monsters do need to be fought and wrongs do need to be addressed!
I appreciate monster fighters! And I’m glad–and grateful– to fight alongside them in combating Awfulness. But let’s be very careful about gazing into that abyss. For if we lose perspective, we could lose who we really are in the first place. The world doesn’t need more mean people.