Prevent Yourself from Focusing or Talking About People's Flaws

Be not like a fly seeking sore spots.
Cover up your neighbor’s flaws, and reveal them not to the world.

This saying, which comes from a traditional Jewish ethical text, always conjures up somewhat nasty images in my head of wounds covered with flies. Yet, it’s a potent image–and effective.

I try to remember this advice in two types of situations: when I am focused on someone’s flaws rather than their positive attributes and when I am inclined to say negative things about someone or something to others.

In the first case, focusing on someone’s flaws only makes us see more flaws. This never helps a relationship. It’s best to try and focus on the positive when we find ourselves in the downwards spiral of negativity.

In the second case, speaking poorly of anyone or anything tends to come back to haunt us. It’s best to simply speak well of others or to not speak about them at all.

Interestingly, human nature seems to pull us towards negative speech and to focus on the negative qualities of others—especially when a relationship is going sour. And this holds true for all types of relationships—romantic, business, etc.

I wonder why that is, why we have such a need or desire to focus on the negative in others and to speak about it, to broadcast it to the world. The most obvious answer is that this makes us feel better about ourselves—less flawed. Another answer is that other people’s flaws mirror our own, so we point out theirs rather than look at ourselves in the mirror; we avoid our own reflection by only seeing them.

Whatever the reason, it’s best to remember not to seek out sore spots. Even if you can’t stop focusing on someone’s flaws (Of course, keep trying!), do them a favor and at least don’t “reveal them to the world.” Take a good look at yourself—in them—and imagine how you would feel if someone uncovered rather than covered up your flaws.

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