Most of us have probably come across the universal wisdom that the people who irritate us the most are expressing qualities that we ourselves have. This is why family members can be so vexing for so many of us—we see ourselves in them, and vice versa. This isn’t always true, of course, but when it is, it’s a real opportunity for growth if we can acknowledge it, because it is infinitely easier to change ourselves than it is to try to change another person, which is never a good idea. For example, if we have a coworker who engages in some kind of negative behavior, like complaining or trying to control everything, we can look and see if we ourselves carry those traits.
We may have to look to other situations in our lives to see it, because we behave differently in different environments. Perhaps we don’t complain at work, because our coworker overdoes it, but maybe we do it with our friends. Maybe we aren’t controlling at the office, but we’re used to being in control at home, and this is why we feel so irritated not to be in control at work. Even if we look and find that we are not engaging in the same behavior that we see as negative in others, we can still learn from what we are seeing in this person. The truth is, human nature is universal, and we share many of the same tendencies. What we see in others can always help us to understand ourselves more deeply.
Having the ability to see something in another person, and automatically bring this observation back to ourselves, is like having a built-in system of checks and balances that enables us to be continually engaged in self-exploration and behavior change. When we see behavior we don’t like, we can make a concerted effort to weed it out of ourselves, and when we see behavior we do like, we can let it inspire us to engage in imitation. Through this process, we read our environment and let it influence us to bring out the best in ourselves