In the crypts of Westminster Abbey, the following words were written on the tomb of an Anglican bishop who lived in the eleventh century:
“When I was young and free my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I are older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew in my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realized: If I had only changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have even able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed my world.”
People who often experience relational difficulties are tempted to look at everyone but themselves to explain the problem. But we must always begin by examining ourselves and being willing to change whatever deficiencies we have.
I am in my early seventies and am still continuing to grow and change. I realize that there is a lot that I don’t know or understand when it comes to healthy relationships. In fact, I am sure that there are many things that I need to learn about many aspects of life. Yes I am wiser than I was ten or twenty years ago. But, I have not arrived. No one ever does. And, if you have stopped changing and growing because you “have arrived” you are deceived; self-deceived but nonetheless deceived. So, I am still working hard daily at knowing myself and improving who I am and how I live and relate to others. It is a daily challenge.
Critic Samuel Johnson advised that “he who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he proposes to remove.”
If you want to make a difference in your world, you must know yourself and then take responsibility for yourself. It is up to you who you become and what you accomplish in your life.
A former mentor of mine writes: A few years ago when I travelled to New Zealand to do a conference, I stayed in a hotel in Christchurch. One evening I was thirsty and started looking for a Coke machine. When I couldn’t find one and I saw a door marked “Staff,” I figured I’d go in and see if anyone in there could help me. I didn’t find a hotel worker or a drink machine there, but I did observe something interesting. As I approached the door to go back out into the hall, I found that the door had a full-length mirror with the following words: ‘Take a good look at yourself. This is what the customer sees.’ The hotel’s management was reminding employees that to fulfill their purpose, they needed to take a look at themselves.”
And that is true for us too. Psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp believes “all the significant battles are waged within the self.” As we examine ourselves, we discover what those battles are. And then we have two choices. The first choice is to be like the man who visited his doctor and found out that he had serious health issues. When the doctor showed him his X-rays and suggested a painful and expensive surgery, the man asked, “Okay, but how much would you change to just touch up the X-rays?”
The second choice is to stop blaming others, look at ourselves, and do the hard work of resolving the issues that are causing us problems in life and in our relationships. If you want to have better relationships with others and a more fulfilling life, then stop, look in the mirror, and start working on yourself.
Remember: Coping with difficult people is always a problem, especially if the difficult person happens to be you.
So, a question to ask yourself: Have I examined myself and taken responsibility for who I am?