The Master said, “Do not be concerned about whether others know you; be concerned about whether or not you know others.” (Confucius, Analects, 1.16)
How often do we get flustered or disturbed when we find ourselves misunderstood by loved ones and colleagues? — how much emotional energy do we expend worrying about not being understood or correcting misperceptions of ourselves? Confucius asks us here to redirect our focus. Since we really cannot avoid being misunderstood, given how different from us people are and how necessarily partial a view they have of us, and since even those closest to us don’t understand us, and since we often don’t even understand ourselves, why not concentrate rather on something we can do and that might be more interesting? Not expecting to be understood by anyone else, we can choose to direct our minds to understanding those around us. It will lead to more peace of mind and more delight in other people.
A 94- year-old African-American woman I met once in Chicago, who had lived through all the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century, once expressed the same thought even better than Confucius. When I asked her about the frustrating persistence of racism and discrimination, she said simply: “Why should I care about how they see me? What I care about is how I see them.” Here is dignity, strength, and mental independence in two simple sentences — something worth practicing every day.