Bottom Line Up Front: How you see the world is how you see yourself. What you see in other men is a reflection of what you see in yourself. If you see the world as a place filled with bad men, it is likely you yourself have allowed yourself to become a man you do not respect.
Two ways to go through life.
Have you ever met someone who makes trouble wherever he goes? Everything is hard for him. I knew an officer in the Army who argued with everyone. It didn’t make sense to me until I understood a movie with Jimmy Stewart called “Harvey”. I say understood because I had seen it many times but it wasn’t until I was old enough to understand it that I learned the lessons it had to teach. You may have seen the movie or watched the play. It’s a very popular play in high schools because it deals with some weighty matters, but uses a light hand.
The plot is deceptively straightforward. Elwood P. Dowd is an eccentric early middle-aged man in a small town. He is affable, he has a good sense of humor and seems to know everyone. He has a wide network. Everyone seems to like Elwood, but he starts to run into trouble. We, watching the story unfold, wonder, “How is Elwood going to breeze through this?”
The most memorable thing about Elwood is that he has an invisible friend. His invisible friend is a 7 foot tall rabbit named Harvey. We wonder throughout the movie, “Does Harvey really exist?” He is very real to Elwood. Elwood’s belief in Harvey gets him in trouble. Everyone thinks Elwood is crazy. We too start to wonder.
Someone—a lovely young lady– asks Elwood, “Why are you the way you are?” His kind and sympathetic response goes as follows: “There are two ways to go through life. One is to be very, very clever. I tried that way for the first 35 years of my life. The other way is to be very, very pleasant. I assure you the second way is much better.”
Central Issue Facility on a US Army caserne in Germany
The Army officer I knew who argued with everyone was not a bad guy. He was an Artilleryman. He and I arrived at our assignment in Germany at roughly the same time. In those days (and it may still be done this way) when we arrived at our assignment we went to the Central Issue Facility, or CIF, to draw our field gear. It was equipment we borrowed. Tents, cold weather gear, field gear that all soldiers need but few soldiers owned. It was provided by the installation we were assigned to.
It’s essential gear, and at the end of the tour of duty we would return it. We had used it in the field, maybe in the mud, certainly in the rain, in snow, under tough conditions. Turning it back in could be a nightmare. If we didn’t clear CIF and get them to check off our paperwork we couldn’t clear that assignment. I know in hindsight that ultimately we’d clear but as a young officer I was worried about clearing CIF. I wanted to ensure it went smoothly. I went to my platoon sergeant and he set me straight. He said, “Sir, make sure all your gear is reasonably clean, but the key is to go on a Thursday or Friday morning around 11, right before lunch. The second key is to have your sleeping bag dry cleaned and still in the brown paper from the dry cleaners.” These were two excellent pieces of advice. Armed with this I went to CIF at 11:10 on a Friday morning. I had my equipment all ready to go. The people who worked at CIF wanted to go to lunch. They figured if you had your sleeping bag dry cleaned you probably would be squared away in other ways, too.
I went through and was cheerful and happy with everyone. They were cheerful and happy with me. My friend the artilleryman—who had done everything I had done– followed me through. When I saw him later he said “Those were the most difficult people I have ever had to deal with.”
They turned him away and he had to go back later.
Call to Action: Ask yourself in writing (and don’t flinch), “How do I see others?” Listen carefully for two weeks to every word that comes out of your own mouth. Note how often you criticize or complain about others. Next, ask yourself, “How do I see myself?” How closely do the two align?