“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
To me, Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been an absolute favourite. His ideas never fail to trigger a sweeping thought process.
In the above quote, he is touching upon one of the most pervasive of human drawbacks—insisting on agreement. Our society emphasises external signposts, making us crave for an endorsement of our thoughts and actions. We feel berated if our ideas and thoughts do not receive the approval of others. Emerson acknowledges that he’s vulnerable to falling into the trap of self-condemnation when someone disagrees with him. So, he’s telling himself, rather sternly, that he must resist the temptation of feeling rejected or mistreated simply because someone has contradicted him.
Being contradicted is OK
When someone holds a viewpoint that is contradictory to ours, it means nothing more than a difference of opinion. Viewpoints are judgements we make based on our understanding of an event, a situation or an idea.
People are entitled to their opinions and if someone airs an opinion not consistent with yours, it only defines that individual, and not you. Emerson’s words are nudging you to look for your locus of control, which determines how you react to contradictory viewpoints. If your locus of control is inside you, you will choose to react in a self-enriching manner. But, if it is outside you—meaning that it depends on other people’s good opinions—then you will allow your life to be governed by those others. You will become a people-pleaser, whose self-worth derives from external validation.
According to Japanese-born baseball champion Ichiro Suzuki, “People striving for approval from others become phoney.” By all means, enjoy praise and appreciation when it comes your way. But, for the sake of your happiness and peace of mind, don’t rearrange your priorities to please others or avoid their criticism.
Take criticism with grace
All of us are criticised for our thoughts or our actions from time to time. Wisdom lies in taking criticism with grace. When someone disapproves your thoughts, do not accept the disapproval itself as true. Instead, choose to examine the contrasting viewpoint from a neutral perspective; accept it if it agrees with your understanding, reject it if it doesn’t.
Keep in mind that being open to alternative views does not mean accepting them. It only means that you allow an opinion that is different from your own. That’s what Friedrich Nietzsche meant when he said, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
Emerson and Nietzsche are teaching us the value of tolerance. They are reminding us that in the world of individuals, absolute rights and wrongs don’t exist. What is right for one, may be wrong for another. Once we understand and accept that each individual has the right to choose his way as he deems fit, we will become more accepting of the choices of others. Moreover, we will become more assertive of our own choices—then there will be no need to try and comply with someone else’s idea of right or wrong.
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