I'm often trying to correct others' views, opinions, and lifestyles.

I feel a strong urge to correct when their actions are clearly bringing negative consequences for themselves and others. For example, in a place I live, people generally don't pay any attention to vaccination and the prevention of disease, and my failure to convince them to follow the guidelines with logical and carefully researched arguments causes me a lot of distress.

Health, conduct, and environment-related triggers are the strongest, but I'm often needlessly eager to correct people for all other sorts of objective and subjective mistakes.

Now, what would be the proper way to live with people while minimising my own distress and maximising the good influence I could have on others?

  • It is in the egocentric nature to nest its immediate environment to its own self-absorbed motivations, controlling, judging, discriminating. This is because its understanding of fear is misplaced towards things out there, when it fears only what is inside. Worldly situations become a convenient decoy. It can take a long time to see how things out there are not causing your fear. That's when you begin to face the inner fear. – NeuroMax Jun 12 at 20:14

I wouldn't try to influence because that is very likely to cultivate your own clinging to ego. I used to say to myself that I will just sacrifice my own progress with ego to help others and I couldn't see that this was horrendous wrong view. It's more important for the betterment of the world for us as individuals to let go of clinging. If we believe something then we are probably clinging, so I always try to be mindful of my beliefs as well as have a kind and compassionate attitude.

  • Well, I assume you can occasionally influence others without sacrificing your own progress (those who are giving answers on this forum aren't sacrificing their own progress, are they?). There is a funny sutta where the Buddha himself teaches king Pasenadi how to lose weight (suttacentral.net/sn3.13). For me, the question is how do you do that properly. – Damocle Damoclev Jun 12 at 15:33
  • You asked a question in a Buddhist forum. I didn't come at you proselytizing what I think. Did the Buddha track down King Pasenadi to give him advice? – Lowbrow Jun 12 at 20:31

It is tempting for me to invoke "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," by asking how you feel when others correct you on many things over time. But I have a good friend who has the same issues you're describing and he likes being corrected when he's wrong -- though in his view too many people try to correct him when he's not wrong. So checking your own reactions when you're on the receiving end may not be the answer.

I've found the best solution to get me to break habits in the way I deal with others is to pay keen attention to how they react, and how well it achieves my ends. For example, I often notice that when I try to offer up logic to correct a point of view that I see resulting in actions with bad outcomes, my points seem to only make the person I'm talking to more stubbornly entrenched.

In the end, I've found that doing like the Buddha did in casual encounters is best: give advice when it's asked for. Otherwise: lead by example.

If the compulsion to offer advice gets too strong, ask if you can give advice, and if the person says no, respect their boundaries.

The only person you can reliably effect change in is yourself. When I look at life that way I realize I have plenty enough to keep me busy.


Concern for others is good:

AN4.95:2.2: The person who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others is like this, I say.
AN4.95:3.1: The person who practices to benefit others, but not themselves, is better than that.

Yet better yet is to temporarily put aside worry for others and simply use that time for your own practice:

AN4.95:3.2: The person who practices to benefit themselves, but not others, is better than both of those.

Because only by developing one's own practice can one truly help others.

AN4.95:3.3: But the person who practices to benefit both themselves and others is the foremost, best, chief, highest, and finest of the four.

One cannot help others if their actions cause upset. That upset comes from inside. So take care of inside before outside. Take care of your own practice first. A lifeguard who can't swim well is useless in a flood.

  • 2
    Also a lifeguard shouldn't try to save an irrational person because such a person might sink both due to his panic or whatnot. – Letsbuddhism Jun 12 at 21:39
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    This reminds me of the bamboo acrobat and his assistant who was called Frying Pan. It's a great sutta about just this. – NeuroMax Jun 13 at 3:20

The core of this problem is that you are clinging to the idea that your views are correct. This has nothing to do with the question of whether your ideas are actually or factually correct, which they may very well be. It's a judgement that people should have correct ideas; a discontentment that people reject correct ideas; a frustration that people resist being educated into correct ideas.

Put in simple terms... You are upset that people fail to see the truth when you present it, but in reality you have failed to see the truth of the people you are trying to teach.

If you ran across a young child who insisted that 'two times four is six', what would you do? You might explain that, no, two times four is eight, two plus four is six, but if the child insisted that he's right you'd think: "well, the kid just doesn't get it yet", and calmly encourage him to keep working on it. But for some reason, you don't to take that attitude with adults. Adults are supposed to 'know better'; adults are supposed to 'use reason' and 'follow facts'; Adults are supposed to grasp the truth of things immediately, and respond with changes in behavior and worldview. You shift attitude, from that of a patient, compassionate educator to that of... what: A dominant authority? A righteous firebrand? A combatant in the war for truth? In any case, where you would embrace a child exactly where it is, in faith that it will move forward on its own (with a little help), you reject adults as flawed or problematic. You don't see, hear, or feel these adults as they are only as they should be, and that causes you consternation.

The idea of 'being adult' is a mental construct. It suggests a 'finished product' that cannot be worked with or changed, but only dealt with. And thereafter we get competition, jealousies, politics, resentments, even war. but what does the world look like if we don't split it into children and adults, but adopt one attitude for everyone?

  • Now, what would be the proper way to live with people while minimising my own distress and maximising the good influence I could have on others?

Well, you should learn to speak at the right time and avoiding confrontational speech.

Furthermore you should really pick your battles because social & political engagement will be retaliated against by those of other convictions.

You can talk to people about the measurement of an electron and they will listen with an open mind assuming they have no invested interest in how the electrons are measured whereas policy is something people have a lot of invested interest in. Where you have invested interest there is also confirmation bias, uneducated opinions and rationality here is less relevant.

Another thing you have to realize is that whenever you are correcting someone that is to influence their behavior. Thus if you are going to attempt training other people you better know what you are getting yourself into because you might be trying to do or fix someone else's work.

People are like dogs & children in that many don't have good behavior, are confused and need training. You don't go around correcting every dog you see or give other people's children corrections, so don't go around correcting other people because they won't like it and will try to punish your "bad behavior".

If you want to be an asset then make yourself useful. One doesn't have to be smart to be useful, being educated or resourceful is enough and being smart is of little use if one is neither endowed with resourses nor education. If one is smart, resourceful & educated then one is going to be very useful to other people interested in development of good qualities.

If you had a well behaved dog and it was constantly correcting other untrained dogs, that would be a flaw in the trained dog. So you should also think 'others will have bad behavior whilst i will maintain good behavior among them'.

  • Being a biology student, I'm determined to be educated. What's bothering me is that sometimes education seems to be of little use. – Damocle Damoclev Jun 13 at 13:20

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