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It happens to all of us: we meet someone, just do not instinctually connect with that person, and can’t find a way to like him. It’s a common enough experience – but what can we do about it, spiritually?
To live a spiritually-oriented life, do we have to like everyone? No, of course not. We all have instincts and preferences and inclinations, and it’s the rare person who makes a friendly, lasting connection with everyone they meet. We’re bound to run into people in this life who we simply don’t relate to, or connect with, or even like very much. Those instincts can provide a valuable warning function, too.
OK, but what about the promptings of the heart? What about the teachings of the great spiritual traditions, which encourage us to love humanity? What about paying attention to what Moses and Christ and Buddha and Baha’u’llah said?
In Leviticus 19:18, Moses advised his followers: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
In Matthew 13:34, Jesus Christ said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
The Buddha said, in Chapter 17, Verse 223 of the Dhamapada, “Conquer anger with love, evil with good, meanness with generosity, and lies with truth.”
The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.
This “spirit of love and fellowship” sounds so simple – but in reality, it’s probably the toughest task we’ll ever attempt to accomplish in this life, because it applies not just to the people we like, but to the ones we don’t.
One Practical Suggestion for Befriending Everyone
The great prophets and founders of the world’s enduring Faiths made their mark on human history solely through love and compassion. They had no earthly wealth, no secular power, no positions of legal authority – instead, they were humble, poor, and persecuted. Despite those extreme disadvantages, they left lasting principles that built entire civilizations, legal systems, moral frameworks, artistic legacies, and closely-connected global communities.
They accomplished those remarkable feats solely through love – by loving everyone who they came across, even their enemies and adversaries, and by urging their followers to do the same.
Because those manifestations of God made such great sacrifices to teach us to love others, we owe it to them to do our best to follow their examples. Besides, their teachings and actions don’t just describe an exalted state of being – they give us down-to-earth, real-world ways to decrease the overall quantity of estrangement and alienation from others, and increase the quantity of love in the world. That approach isn’t just theoretical – it can benefit each of us directly and personally.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, led an exemplary life of love and service to humanity. His lived example, and his practical, detailed advice about how to love others can help everyone conquer their instinctive likes and dislikes, expanding the scope of their love in wider and wider circles until it extends to all people. In a speech he gave in Paris early in the 20th century, he said:
All religions teach that we should love one another; that we should seek out our own shortcomings before we presume to condemn the faults of others, that we must not consider ourselves superior to our neighbours!
Let’s take a look, then, at one of Abdu’l-Baha’s recommendations.
One Good Quality and Ten Bad Qualities
The Baha’i teachings ask us to see past a person’s outer shell – their physical characteristics, their social position, their material wealth or lack of it – and instead search for their inner spiritual qualities and attributes. Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in J.E. Esslemont’s book Baha’u’llah and the New Era, urged everyone:
To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults. To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.
That sort of positively selective spiritual vision, which focuses on every human being’s best attributes and de-emphasizes their faults, can help us like people we might otherwise tend to instinctively dislike. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task.
It happened one day in the time of Christ … that He passed by the dead body of a dog, a carcass reeking, hideous, the limbs rotting away. One of those present said: ‘How foul its stench!’ And another said: ‘How sickening! How loathsome!’ To be brief, each one of them had something to add to the list.
But then Christ Himself spoke, and He told them: ‘Look at that dog’s teeth! How gleaming white!’
The Messiah’s sin-covering gaze did not for a moment dwell upon the repulsiveness of that carrion. The one element of that dead dog’s carcass which was not abomination was the teeth: and Jesus looked upon their brightness.
Thus is it incumbent upon us, when we direct our gaze toward other people, to see where they excel, not where they fail.
This lofty spiritual attribute isn’t always easy or quick to develop – but when it begins to manifest itself in a person’s daily behavior and relationships with others, it can work miracles. People who would normally be shunned or shunted aside can gradually become friends, companions, even close confidants. A virtue-centered approach to liking or disliking others can also expand our personal universe, because it allows friendships to develop with those who may be very different from us, and therefore have new experiences and perspectives to offer.
It is Our wish and desire that every one of you may become a source of all goodness unto men, and an example of uprightness to mankind. Beware lest ye prefer yourselves above your neighbors. … If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship.
So the next time you encounter someone and find yourself thinking “I really don’t like this person,” see what you can do to change your inner landscape by consciously overlooking whatever faults you perceive, and then identifying and focusing on at least one good quality.