Reflections on Aphorisms #39

I’ve been thinking a lot about success and productivity recently, and it’s time to get back to a more philosophical bent. Not that there’s no philosophy in that, but I’ve explored it about as well as I can with my current life experiences and I’ve found (to a small amount of surprise) that pretty much everyone I find myself studying has very similar ideas on those concepts, even if their particular expression of their ideas is different.

Aphorism 62

The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes, but the real task is in fact to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others.



When you look at a statement like this out of its original context, you run a risk of errors, but I’ve also vowed to myself not to go back and look up stuff while writing about aphorisms, so I’m going to work off of my half-remembered partial reading of The Sickness Unto Death, and hope I understand Kierkegaard’s ideas here.

You know things about yourself that you can’t really know about any other person. You can guess at other peoples’ motivations, interests, and so forth, but you can’t know them. You can know your own, to a degree.

This is where there’s dangerous self confidence. I don’t think anyone wakes up wanting to be bad unless they’re severely pathological, but yet most people tend toward moral error in at least one area.

For instance, I have to keep myself disciplined or I’ll slack off. Fortunately, writing blogs semi-regularly and having a boss in one form or another is usually enough to keep me accountable and avoid too much descent into sloth.

However, people often don’t perceive themselves as objectively as they’d perceive others. I know other peoples’ flaws, because they grate on me whenever I see them. If they’re loud, obnoxious, or lazy, I recognize it immediately. Of course, I am boisterous, gregarious, and optimal in my efforts when I evaluate the same tendencies in myself.

This is why it’s important to blunt some things in your perceptions of others, and to sharpen one’s perception of the self.

Carl Jung talks about the notion of the shadow: a space within the personality where people hide qualities of themselves they don’t want to recognize or don’t know how to identify.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

The thing about the shadow is that it requires conscious observation and help from others to discover, essentially what Kierkegaard refers to as “objectivity” in this context.

By contrast, it’s really easy to judge other peoples’ flaws. They’re obvious to us, just as the physical shadow they cast is obvious to us. They may be flaws that don’t bother us, in which case anyone can find them tolerable, or they may require patience and moderation.

As a teacher, I saw this a lot with students. If you hold students to the same standards of behavior as adults (which you should in most ways) you will be disappointed by the fact that they almost always fail to meet those standards.

At the same time, you need to consider whether a student is trying to behave and failing–but simply lacks the impulse control, social skills, and reinforcement needed to stay on the right path–or whether they are not trying at all. You also need to consider whether students are actually trying to behave when they succeed: are they misbehaving in areas that you don’t consider problems, but which they should be held to higher standards in?

The point here is not to get on a high horse, but to consider everything from a perspective that accounts for the imperfection of people. What we perceive as flaws can have a benevolent genesis; someone who talks too much may simply be highly sociable, and want you to feel comfortable and welcomed. Their standards for what should go into a conversation are higher, and their lack of a social barrier may intended to show trust rather than reflecting arrogant self-importance.

This doesn’t mean that you have to take a strictly kind attitude toward people. Sometimes you’ll find someone who is actively dangerous to those around them, and you need to figure out what to do when that occurs. Sometimes that involves keeping them at a distance from those that they might hurt, or even ostracizing them until they reform their behavior and attitudes because you are the person who will get hurt.

In any case, it’s important to think about these things in a sophisticated fashion and avoid the first instinctual response.


Don’t assume something that is irritating is ill-intended.

Look at yourself in more than just a physical mirror.

Give people credit: they think they’re doing the right thing.

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