Let’s begin with an example of character flaws that I don’t find annoying.
It’s fairly easy for me not to get annoyed with someone who is addicted to smoking, wants to stop, but can’t. Addiction is difficult. Some people really hate it that other people smoke, and see it as a weakness when they can’t stop doing it, but not me. I can empathize with how hard it can be to stop smoking. I’ve got some habits that I’m trying to kick and that sucks, but still, for me, the overwhelming sentiment isn’t empathy, it’s apathy. I just don’t give it a whole lot of thought.
On the other hand, there are a host of other human weaknesses that I can barely tolerate.
Say someone is unreasonably demanding, unable to really hear my point of view, or easy to anger… those things can get me all worked up. Or maybe someone just won’t go “all in” and get super-passionate about a relationship or a job or life in general. I might wonder how that person has made it this far. Someone really believes that they can’t or won’t ever be able to do something… I consider how these traits will impact their ability to parent. I notice any of these things and I begin to wonder if I can really have a meaningful relationship with this person. And then I quietly console myself by acknowledging that we all have problems and thank goodness I practice yoga and don’t have to judge them. A-hem.
There is something really interesting about this list of other people’s fatal character flaws. The FCF’s that get me worked up, judgey, and concerned for the future of humanity are usually the same FCF’s that I cannot tolerate or accept in myself. They are the exact things that annoy me about myself and yet here I go pointing fingers at other people. It can feel much easier to vent all that upset and dislike in someone else’s direction rather than actually feel that emotion directed towards myself. At least it is easier for a little while. It’s easier until I realize that I can’t change someone else to make myself better. It doesn’t work and it’s lonely. And I’m starting to see that when I’m having a hard time liking other people, it’s usually at about the same time that I’m not liking myself.
It’s lonely, sometimes I don’t like myself, but then there’s the fact that other people’s FCF’s are just so obvious. My FCF’s on the other hand? I have a really hard time seeing any FCF’s in myself. I know that they are there, but what are they exactly? Where do they reside? How do I address them? It’s a little like the elusive yeti in the forest. I might see the footprints, and find the mauled carcasses of small animals after he’s done some damage, but the actual yeti? Mister Yeti? It’s hard to get a good look into his eyes because he’s so sneaky and well hidden. And then there’s the question of whether I’d even want to look into his eyes. I bet they are scary. If I actually got up the courage to really look into those eyes of the bambi-mauling yeti, would there be a moment of glimpsing into the eyes of one of God’s creatures? Would it be like the Hendersons eventually learning to love Harry? Could I befriend my yeti and welcome it in?
I’m going to have to think about the yeti business, but I’m starting to recognize that when I’m busy judging and disliking and not looking at myself and the FCF’s that I am working with, I feel disconnected from others and from myself. These things that “other people struggle with” become the things that separate me from them instead of a source of connection, empathy and support. Plus, it can be pretty gruesome seeing the wreckage left behind when my personal FCF-yeti strikes. If I am always looking out and can’t find the courage to look inward and really see what is going on in my life then it’s hard to begin the work of self–reflection and personal transformation, and that’s the real work of yoga, after all. Go ahead. Be bold. Get to know those FCF’s and see what it feels like to love your family, love your friends, love yourself and the big mess of fatal character flaws that comes along with us all.