"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Friday, November 2, 2012

What We Admire in Others

Who do you admire? Who are the exemplars to whom you look to as models, guides? Who embodies the good, holy, right, proper, or most beautiful way of being human...a way of being you strive to replicate with your own life?

If you are a Christian, you might just say Jesus. That’s good. Jesus seems a better model for life then, say, the Kardashians. But are there people you know, maybe friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or people you only know from a distance that you really admire?

And what is it about these people? What qualities do these people possess? I’ve been rather immersed in the work of St. Thomas lately and so am thinking a lot about character, the moral life, the kind of person I am, and how seriously I take spiritual progress toward wellness or wholeness or unity with God or proper functioning (as Thomas might put it). And it seems that guides are essential—people you can look to and mimic.

Thomas also seems to think that some people excel in some virtues more than others; thus, you might admire the patience of a friend and wish you could be patient in the way they are patient, but admire the courage in another. People have varied strengths, according to him. That seems to hold up, mostly, doesn’t it? In my experience people are really excellent in some ways but have their blind spots as well, flaws that are there for whatever reason but don’t necessarily define their character for me because of their strengths in other areas.

So what do you admire most in people? What qualities do you see in others that, perhaps, humble you, convict you, inspire you, make you wish to mimic and embody those same qualities you see in others? A few come to mind for me, though this list is not really comprehensive.

Listening. I admire those who are fully present in conversation, who so easily understand others because they are attentive, and make an effort both bodily and verbally to communicate that understanding back to the speaker. When I am listening to others I often recall the ways I’ve been listened to and seek to give that to others, the gift of being heard...not disrespected, not judged, and not coerced...just heard. I know how meaningful it is to be known, and I love it when that gift is given to me. People that listen well inspire me.

Scholarship. This might not seem a virtue, but if I’m honest, people who are well-learned on subjects I wish to know more about inspire me to read more so that I too can have this wealth of useful knowledge (did somebody just laugh about my choice of “useful”?). Of course, I often have to get over my jealousy and insecurity first, but after that, I can let the hard work of others who’ve relentlessly studied motivate me. Part of it is probably ambition—wanting to advance in my field, career, etc. Part of it is just curiosity, I think; there are seemingly limitless things to know, to learn about, in all facets of human life, from history to science to religion. I just want to know as much of it as I can, because, I think—it makes me happy to know things.

Generosity. I’ve been the recipient of much generosity in my life; from some people who have a lot to give, and some who don’t. Some people are liberal with their possessions, eager to share and benefit others. These people don’t tend to be foolish or wasteful or irresponsible; they know their financial situation but make space in their budget and heart to share. That kind of detachment is admirable, when people see their possessions not as something they are entitled to but have been blessed with as tools to use for the betterment of all, not just themselves. These people inspire me.

Peace. There are some people who just seem unruffled by challenges, even-keel, impervious to the anxiety their circumstances could cause them. They don’t feel threatened by others' opinions and criticisms but welcome them. They don’t lose it when their plans go awry. They respond to everything new and unexpected with grace and poise, seeming to see such things not as annoyances but opportunities. This peace I see in others is attractive, especially when I stop to listen to my own heart and all its anxieties and fears; their peace seems an antidote to my unsettledness. I want it.

Creativity. I love observing and hearing about the unique ideas and projects and creations of others. When someone thinks about something in a way that hasn’t been thought of before. When someone infuses their own unique perspective into whatever they are doing and brings forth something new, profound, distinct. People that are creative inspire me to look at my own interests, personality, abilities, experience and be entrepreneurial or artistic in my own way, bringing forth something new that can make the world, even in a minuscule way, more beautiful, more glorious, more good. I love watching people create.

Compassion. It's a beautiful things to watch someone care so deeply about someone or something else to the point of wanting to do all that is in their power to help. Often these people feel great sorrow for others who suffer in some way. Sometimes when others suffer I don't feel much, maybe because I feel so detached from their situation or caught up in my own life and needs and pursuits. We all have to take care of ourselves, and we're certainly not going to weep for someone we've never met in the same way which we'd weep for, say, our spouse if she/he was suffering. But people that genuinely enter into the pain of others and can so deeply identify with them to the point of being moved to act...these people inspire me to care more, to do more.

These are just some qualities that come to mind, but there are certainly more. I think it’s a good discipline: to stop and think about the people you admire and why you admire them. I imagine this list says a lot about me. Your list, whatever it is, probably says a lot about you as well.

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