“You hate most in others what you hate most in yourself,” Mr. Baxter said, as he looked around my seventh-grade class. Then he focused his gaze on one of my fellow students in particular. She knew those words were meant for her.
I saw her tense up. She did not take his words kindly.
Why? Because instead of allowing for her to judge another pupil with impunity, Mr. Baxter turned the tables and pushed her into a moment of honest (and most likely scathing) self-reflection.
You hate most in others what you hate most in yourself. Ouch.
I don’t quite remember what it was that my classmate was upset about, or what aspect of her personality Mr. Baxter’s words called her to give consideration to, but for me, the quote stuck. In fact, it has become a kind of “life axiom.”
Legitimate self-reflection can be hard. It can hurt. It can burn our egos and slight our psyches. In the end, however, using axioms like Mr. Baxter’s can help us have a principled view of ourselves and a more grace-filled view of the world.
Mr. Baxter’s adage has become that for me. That’s why when I find myself critiquing, condemning, or commenting on the shortcomings of others, his words often give me pause.
They interrupt my self-righteous disapproval and judgment of others and invite me to think about what it is that I find so annoying or aggravating about them. Moreover, they guide me into honest self-evaluation and reflection.
When I am upset with someone who I think is overreacting to a situation and stressing everyone else out, I pause to reflect on how I can often be found doing the same with my family and friends. When I think people need to take a “chill pill” and not be so worried, I try to give them some grace and note that I often find my anxiety hard to control and can be a ridiculous stress-ball over some of the simplest things in the world. When I find someone’s evaluations of my work objectionable or mean-spirited, I stop and think about how some people feel that way when I level my critique in their direction.
Not letting my reflection end there I try to do a conscious assessment of my attitudes and postures toward colleagues and coworkers and appraise my relationships with friends and family.
In this way, Mr. Baxter’s axiom helps me lead a more examined life, which deepens my experience of life in general. Best of all, coming clean about my character flaws, habitual shortcomings, and many missteps helps me learn how to be more merciful toward others and, in the end, more forgiving of myself.
I find this type of self-evaluation truly helpful, but be warned: this axiom can be a double-edged sword.
Self-reflection and criticism are healthy disciplines, but they can turn toxic if used as a bludgeon against our own psyches. Self-evaluation and growth can be painful for mere mortals like you and me, especially if we don’t give ourselves some grace. Without that, we are only left with the hate. The loathing. The self-criticism and censure. Then we are miserable, endlessly evaluating everything we do and feeling worthless, discouraged, and hopeless.
The trick is to not let valid self-evaluation turn into unfounded self-hate. That is sometimes easier said than done.
After all, with Mr. Baxter’s axiom we are evaluating what we hate—in others and, ultimately, in ourselves.
To avoid the trap of self-hate, I try to turn that dislike into energy for change. It motivates me to assess myself honestly, to make a plan for persisting in healthy habits and disciplines to replace the negative ones, and to realize that in the long run wrath against myself isn’t a way to wellness.
Instead of letting self-evaluation become a constant barometer of our success or failure in making ourselves a perfect person that we would admire, like, and generally want to be around, it should eventually lead us to be softhearted toward ourselves.
That’s really why Mr. Baxter’s axiom is so healthy for me. Just like I can’t change what I hate in others, I also find it really difficult to change what I hate in myself. I’ve found some success and made some better choices here and there. Self-improvement is definitely possible.
But, when it comes down to it, wellness is not the same as perfection.
Wellness and healthy self-evaluation mean having an honest, but compassionate, view of others and ourselves—faults, failures, foibles, and all—and letting our hate dissolve in the face of forgiveness and charity.
So, may you use axioms like Mr. Baxter’s (or your own collection of truisms) to enter into a process of honest self-appraisal. May this lead you to wholeness and health. But, may you not get caught up in self-hate. Instead, may you change what you can and give yourself grace with the rest.
May you give grace to others as you also give grace to yourself.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!