by Niall Doherty

A few weeks ago I wrote about three people who inspire me. I received feedback from a reader who didn’t agree with my choices. Finding something he didn’t like about each of the three people I had listed, he seemed convinced it was a waste of time to consider any of the knowledge they had to share.

I didn’t think that was such a good idea. In my view, having an attitude like that hurts only you.

To illustrate my point, let’s take Steve Pavlina, one of those three people who inspire me. Steve believes in and sometimes writes about psychic phenomena and the paranormal. For example, about eighteen months ago he wrote about the spirit of a dead friend helping him win at blackjack.

My reaction to that article was probably similar to the reaction of most people: “Man, this guy’s crazy.”

But I wasn’t about to let that one disagreement stop me from reading and appreciating other articles on Steve’s site. Instead, I just filed it away in the “Things I don’t necessarily agree with” part of my brain, and continued on.

Good thing, too, because I’ve since received many valuable insights from other articles Steve has written.

It takes effort

Writing people completely off because you disagree with something they say is nothing short of laziness. When you do that, you’re effectively saying, “I couldn’t be bothered getting to know this person completely, so I’ll just make a sweeping judgment about them based on the few things I do know.”

Granted, nobody has the time or the capacity to truly know everyone they come into contact with, but we can be conscious of those snap judgments we make about others and how we may deprive ourselves of important lessons because of them.

Nobody’s perfect

It’s important to realize that nobody is perfect. If you’re holding out for an infallible mentor to show you the light, you’re in for a long wait. Consider these brief descriptions of two famous historical figures:

  1. The first man was a charismatic leader and a decorated war hero. He preferred a vegetarian diet, never smoked, rarely drank alcohol and was faithful to his wife.
  2. The second man died without a penny to his name. He regularly defied laws and was imprisoned many times. He often appeared indifferent towards his family and had an especially strained relationship with his son.

The first man is Adolf Hitler. The second is Mahatma Gandhi.

Obviously the above descriptions are extremely selective, but they go to show that even the best of people have their flaws while the worst have their redeeming qualities.

I like to believe we can learn valuable lessons from both these men — even, in the case of Hitler, if those lessons are mostly of the “what not to do” variety — and from everybody who falls between them in the spectrum of good and evil.

The Bible

Not so long ago, if you had quoted a bible verse at me, I would have considered you a brainwashed lunatic who could never teach me anything worth knowing. Then I came to this realization that everybody and everything has at least some truth.

Gradually I came to see that the bible was no different. Sure, it calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 20:13) and encourages you to burn witches (Exodus 22:18), but it also contains great lessons about love, truth and self-discipline.

As A.J. Jacobs concluded in The Year of Living Biblically, it’s impossible and often immoral to follow every word of the bible, but the book can indeed enhance your life if you focus on the right parts and live by the lessons contained in them. You just have to persevere through many inconsistencies and a bunch of stuff you’ll probably disagree with. You must use that mind you’ve been blessed with to separate the wheat from the chaff and arrive at your own truth.

Against the grain

If you tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

As humans, we’re predisposed to give more attention to the bad things in life. It’s a survival instinct. Scientists have proven that something we perceive as bad will have a stronger and more lasting affect on our brains than something we perceive as good1. That’s why you can thoroughly enjoy the first ninety minutes of a movie, only to have the whole experience ruined by an implausible ending. Somehow those last few minutes negate the previous ninety and you come away disappointed.

Again, it takes effort to focus on the good rather than the bad, but that effort is worth undertaking, because there’s no growth if you choose the lazy way out. With laziness you limit yourself to seeing problems instead of opportunities.

Learning from everyone

You don’t have to agree with everything someone says or does to learn from them. In fact, I’d argue that you learn the least from the people you agree with the most.

Think about it: how much can someone really teach you if you’re already nodding your head in agreement before they finish a sentence?