“As far as you can, get into the habit of asking yourself in relation to any action taken by another: “What is his point of reference here?” But begin with yourself: examine yourself first.” Marcus Aurelius Meditations
One of the most important exercises I have ever done was the “21 day no complaint challenge” back in 2015. The challenge is to wear a rubber band on your wrist and any time you complain or criticize you snap the rubber band on your wrist and switch arms, restarting your payment of 21 days. This helped me to internalize the habit of speaking in a positive or constructive way — if I was going to talk about a problem I had to talk about a solution as well. Now the habit foundation was laid but I did not understand the “why” behind it until recently.
Not complaining has been an important concept over many generations. Confucius said “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean.” Dale Carnegie dedicated his first chapter of “How To Win Friends and Influence Others” on not criticizing condemning or complaining.
Marcus Aurelius (in the quote above) challenges himself to go a little farther with this idea. He suggests that not only should we not complain or criticize, but when we are tempted too we should first ask ourselves why we feel the urge to do so AND to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Building the habit of working towards a deeper understanding of your own thoughts and actions, while also trying to understand others is another step towards wisdom.