Your ideas will be shot down. But you don’t have to be.
A group of blind men were brought to inspect an elephant, and each man touched a different part of the elephant.
The first man, who ran his hands along the elephant’s trunk, said “the elephant is like a thick snake.”
The second man, who felt the ear, said the “No, the elephant resembles a big fan.”
The third man, who touched a leg, said “No, the elephant is like a pillar.”
The fourth man, who patted the elephant’s side, said “The elephant is clearly like a wall.”
The fifth man, who touched a tusk, said “I’m certain the elephant is like a spear.”
The last man, who felt the elephant’s tail, said “You’re all wrong. The elephant is just like a rope.”
Unable to come to an agreement, the men continued to argue and defend themselves, eventually even coming to physical blows.
This parable shows how we often believe our limited views to be the whole truth. Compounding the problem, we become attached to our ideas and want to defend them. As a result, we arrogantly reject the views of others, or we become angry at the world if our expectations are not met.
When others reject our ideas, we get hurt. We become prone to negative emotions, and we can easily fall into the trap of wanting to control others (this topic was covered in extensive detail in the previous blog post). The more attached we were to that idea, the more it hurt when it was rejected. But it doesn’t have to hurt.
A person once told me that he has many ideas in his head, and he wants others to criticize them so that he can make sure only the best ideas stay in his head. If he disagrees with others’ ideas, he remains respectful. We can all be happier and build our characters by following this example.
Sometimes, people don’t go against our ideas, but the world does. We have expectations that don’t get met, and it hurts. Maybe your train/flight gets cancelled, causing you to be late for an important event. Maybe you saved money for many years to buy a living space, waiting for prices to go down, but prices just keeps going up. Or maybe you’ve landed an interview for your dream job, only to be rejected in the last round of interviews. The bigger our expectations, the more it hurt when they weren’t met. But it doesn’t have to hurt.
A key idea from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is stimulus versus response. We are constantly faced with stimuli, external forces that we cannot control, and most people will react automatically. But between stimulus and response is the choice to choose your response. For example, if we have worked hard to achieve a major goal, but due to external circumstances, that goal cannot be accomplished, how may we respond? The automatic response is anger, fear, stress, and negativity. But we can choose to be happy because happiness is not something we pursue, but rather a conscious decision that applies to everything in life. We can be appreciative of the people who’ve helped us along the way, the possibilities for our future, and beauty in the current moment. We can also be patient in overcoming difficulties, knowing that with proper effort and time, we can accomplish our goals. In all examples of when the world goes against us, we can choose to view it as a chance to cultivate serenity, appreciation, and peace.
Often times, both people and the world will shoot down our ideas and expectations. Instead of automatically being negative, angry, stressed, or afraid, we can change our perspective and choose our response. We can choose to cultivate tolerance and respect towards others. And we can choose to cultivate patience and appreciation towards the world. As Reinhold Niebhur wrote in the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.