Difficulties Show A Person’s Character

Alex Chen
3 min readJun 9, 2024

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“Difficulties show a person’s character.” –Epictetus

Commentary

If we want to know a person or ourselves deeply, one way is to observe how they or we respond to difficulty, challenges, setbacks, failures, stress, and conflicts.

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However, our energy should be spent on demanding ourselves to be better, not others. If we demand others, that will create conflict. Besides, if we can’t even understand our own mind, how can we understand the mind of others?

Thus, this quote is about understanding ourselves first, then others. It’s also about demanding ourselves, not others, to be better in the face of difficulties. It’s easy to be kind and polite when we’re in a good mood and have a lot. But how do we treat others when we’re stressed, tired, sick, uncomfortable, or don’t have a lot to give?

I heard a story of a prince who treated his servants rather impatiently and unkindly because he was sick and in pain. The king told him, “Your servants have a much tougher life than you. When you’re ill, you have all these people attending to you. When they are ill, they might not have anyone to attend to them, nor can they afford the best medicine. You shouldn’t give them a bad attitude. That’s really unfair and unkind of you.”

When I grew large canker sores in my mouth before, making it painful to eat or speak, I worked hard to keep a patient and kind attitude towards others. After all, it’s not fair to them if I treat them with a bad attitude; my pain has nothing to do with them. I was fairly successful, and I was quite pleased with my improvement in character.

Recently, I was really busy preparing for a big presentation. I slept for 5–6 hours for nearly a week because I was so busy. One time during a meal, someone said to me, “Is everything alright? You don’t look happy these days.”

I was kind of surprised because I wasn’t unhappy at all. In fact, I really enjoyed the research I was doing for my big presentation. I then realized it must be because I look really tired and serious during meals. I then realized how much my cultivation is still lacking. I’ve been practicing “think of others with your every thought” for a few months, and that includes not giving others negative energy or making others worry.

It’s fine for me to be really tired temporarily because the sacrifice is worth it, but in the process, I need to be more cognizant of the energy I’m giving others. No matter how tired I am, surely I can still greet others with a smile and ask them how they are doing. The problem was that I was absent-minded due to always thinking about my presentation.

Being overly attached to anything, even if it’s a “good” or “important” thing, will create problems. Thanks to that difficult experience, I realized my deficiency in cultivation. I’m sure I will encounter more difficulties in the future, and I hope I will learn from this experience and do better next time!

Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on June 9, 2024.

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Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.