How simple it is to say, "I must try to change myself and not others"; but how one's fingers itch to take a hand in making other people over into being as fine as oneself! I have pondered a great deal on this and arrived at the conviction that it is absolutely necessary to resist poking at other people's opinions and attitudes. When I manage to live by this, I find that it not only works, but brings quite amazing results. But it is hard — comical, too, for how easy it is to do something, and how difficult it is not to.
Let us say I have an opinion. Now I not only consider this opinion to be the best one, but do all I can to foist it on others who have great difficulty in seeing the thing from my point of view. It is right and proper that I have an opinion, which suits me from my point of view and as I am just now, because it has arisen from my inmost conviction. But is it so certain that this same opinion is suitable for others, even if I think so? Each one undeniably must live his life and have the right to his opinions; however well or ill-advised they may seem to us, they belong to him at that particular time.
What happens, then, when I try to force my view on someone? I disturb the harmony. My ideas are in accord with me — a friend's are in similar accord with him. What do I know about another's inner motives? Besides, if within a few days I have changed my mind, what have I accomplished, aside from making other people unhappy and perplexed?
All my life I have had a fatal longing to make people over — consciously or unconsciously. It is difficult to learn not to — not only in words, but to learn deep inside that every human being treads his own long road towards our common goal in his own way. For example, my friend has a big problem (which I also happen to have in high degree) and considers it should be solved thus and so. Naturally! But I think, even intuit perhaps, that he acts unwisely. Have I the right to interfere? It is certainly a temptation to feel that the situation is too much for my friend, and that I should clear it up because of my own experience of similar situations. But is it my business to do so? No, it is his problem. My job is to learn that there are times when one must stand aside and watch, without hindering another from solving his problems in such a way that they become valued experiences for him. Perhaps my next and greater experience will be to discover when I disagree with someone's decision that it actually was right for that person to act exactly as he did!
I surely don't mean that we should never act and act quickly to help others; not at all, for that would be foolish. But in the final analysis, the best way to show others one's opinions is day by day, without words, to live one's own maxims. If they are right, certainly they will rub off on others!
(From Sunrise magazine, December 2000/ January 2001; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)