“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” – Goethe (German poet)
Each one of us has the potential to bring out the best or worst in others. When we focus on people’s faults, stick labels on them, and then subsequently treat them with suspicion and reservation, we actually block their progress. By forcing people into a defensive mode, we distract them from doing the deep internal work that can give birth to their divine and innate potential. It’s not that we are simply passive and powerless victims of other peoples (mis)behavior. We are often party to it.
Great saintly teachers have shown how an approach of encouragement, appreciation, and loving discipline can create miraculous change in others. Swami Prabhupada was one such example. Having spent his entire life amidst refined and immaculate spiritual culture, he arrived in New York’s skid row and lived side-by-side with bohemians, acidheads and hippies. He saw beyond their difficulties, frustrations and problems, and detected the spark of genuine spiritual enthusiasm and sincerity. He fanned that spark, and ignited a fire that could incinerate their inner issues. Convinced that every soul is amazing, he worked hard to enliven that spirit.
Bringing out the best in others does require immense spiritual depth. We have to stop taking things personally. We have to develop a character of forgiveness and kindness. We have to be patient, and value progress above perfection. We have to avoid overreacting in provoking situations. We have to remain fixed in our values and principles despite the irrationality of others. We have to avoid the temptation to ‘hit back’ and hurt others simply for immediate relief and gratification. A tall order. I hope that one day I’ll develop the spiritual depth to conduct myself in this way. We may think that remaining sane, healthy and happy in our own life is good enough. The principle of being genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of others, however, is innate to our own progress. By bringing out the best in others, we bring out the best in ourselves.