Do you know someone who you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favour of it. But why not begin on yourself? From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others—yes, and a lot less dangerous. “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbour’s roof,” said Confucius, “when your own doorstep is unclean.”
If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism—no matter how certain we are that it is justified.
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and envy.
Bitter criticism caused the sensitive Thomas Hardy, one of the finest novelists ever to enrich English literature, to give up for ever the writing of fiction. Criticism drove Thomas Chatterton, the English poet, to suicide.
Benjamin Franklin, tactless in his youth, became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American Ambassador to France. The secret of his success? “I will speak ill of no man,” he said, “…and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain—and most fools do.
But it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.
Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”