How to know what a person is really like – The Buddha

“‘It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.’

Udana 6.2

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.6.02.than.html

In other words, you need to be around people for a while to really be able to tell what they are like.

It’s like opening up a watermelon – it may look beautiful on the outside – but it’s only when you take the time and effort to cut it open that you can see whether it is beautiful inside or rotten inside.

That’s where the term “rotten to the core” comes from.  An apple might look beautiful on the outside, but you take a bite out of it – and it’s rotten to the core!  And you end of getting sick from it.

What this means is that oftentimes, people who are good looking (Studies by Robert Cialdini) – they might be beautiful, they might look gorgeous – we tend to also attribute to these people attributes of trustworthiness.  But what is beautiful on the outside, may be ugly inside.

In other words, trustworthiness has nothing to do with how good looking a person is – they are separate issues.  So don’t fall into the trap of automatically thinking that a person is trustworthy just because they are hot!

So you need to be observant of people over enough time and wise up as to what they’re getting up to:

Give it some Time:  If it’s just a short time, you might not be able to tell – some people are really good at being charming and popular socially, but underneath, may not be so .  Because anyone can be on their best behavior for 1-2 hours that you chat to them every week or so.  You need to spend a long time with them to see how they react in different situations to really be able to tell.

Being observant:  After a while, you’ll notice things that they can no longer suppress for an hour or two a week that you used to meet up with them!  So you need to be attentive – pay attention to things, so that you don’t get fooled.

Wising up about it:  Don’t be gullible.  You need to wise up about what people around you are doing.  Some people are straight shooters – what you see is what you get.  But others may do things that, on the surface, may look innocent – but underneath, might have an ulterior motive that may not be in your best interests or the best interests of your family and friends – you need to wise up and not get conned or fooled by these types of people.

If you don’t wise up about the true motives of people – you’ll just remain clueless – and people can run right over you and use you for their own selfish gains.

So this first scenario of living together – is the most general scenario to tell what a person is like – then the following scenarios get into more specifics:

By living together with them – you will know whether they are virtuous or not.  You will understand their character because you will sooner or later, be able to see how they act when no one is looking.  And then only if you’re observant, not if you’re not observant.  And only then if you’re wise about it, not if you’re not wise to what they’re doing.

The next ones give different scenarios of how they are applied:

Trade:  By doing business with someone – you will know their purity.  Are they pure in their business dealings?  So you will know whether they cheat you or not.  Or whether they are giving you more value than what you pay for.

Adversity:  It’s when things get tough – that’s when you will know what they are made of.  Are they going to stick with you and help to solve things?  Or are they going to bail and jump ship at the first sign of a problem?  So you can sometimes only see someone’s loyalty when things get tough.  Because it’s not in good times that you can tell a person’s character – it’s when there’s a problem or an obstacle that arises – that’s when you get to see how they react to adversity.

So at first:

  • Business dealings are one way to tell someone’s character.
  • Adversity is another way.

So these first two deal with a person’s character.  The next one deals with competence.

Character is one aspect – the honesty of people.  But honesty alone is not enough.

You can have the most honest doctor – but they are incompetent, then it helps no one.  So not only do you want a doctor who is honest, but one who knows what they’re doing!

Competence:  It’s only when you start talking to people – engage in conversation with them and listen to what they have to say  – can get then get a feel to see whether they know what they’re talking about.

Have you ever started talking to some “expert” and then start asking simple, legitimate questions and then you discover that perhaps you might even have more knowledge over the topic than they do?

So by listening to people talk and then engaging in back and forth conversation – then you’ll know their level of expertise.  By talking to people – you will also be able to gauge their level of intelligence – are they brilliant?  Or are they an intellectual lightweight?

In summary

You need to look into 2 things to be able to discern what a person is really like.  So it’s these 2 things that will help you see how trustworthy a person is:

  • Character – You can tell a person’s character by observing them in 2 types of scenarios:
    • In their business dealings – observe how they treat customers – this will tell you their virtue
    • Through adversity – this will tell you whether they will stick around or not at the first sign of things going unfavorably
  • Competence – you can tell a person’s level of expertise and intelligence and experience through talking to them

And will take some time – as people can be good hiders if you only meet with them briefly.

And you’ll need to be observant – instead of being oblivious to what is really happening.

Sometimes, you may have assumed one thing – but they end up acting another way.  Because sometimes, you might have your suspicions.

But if you observe someone over a period of time, observing how are they in their business dealings and how they react to adversity, as well as talking to them to see whether they know their stuff or not – this way, you can to be sure – they remain no longer as suspicions!

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One thought on “How to know what a person is really like – The Buddha

  1. Now this is a most excellent post! And good timing too. There is so much uncertainty nowadays, especially with people, that everyone will need this straightforward formula to judge people.

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