Archive for the 'parables' Category

New occasions for communication

March 7, 2015

There’s the Tower of Babel and there’s the blind men feeling the parts of the elephant, and with respect to both parables, I take it that we’re supposed to communicate with each other.  I’d go further and suggest that this communication leads to greater empathy, and hence compassion, through getting to know the other better and taking a look at things from their perspective.

This morning I got an email from the current accountant’s office letting me know that an email I had sent (with material from the prior accountant’s office — why the two offices, one in NYC and the other in MA, could not communicate directly with each other is beyond me) had not been received.  Said email was in my “sent” box, I had not received an “undeliverable” message indicating that the email would not be received, but I also wasn’t entirely surprised it hadn’t been received since I was aware that the file I had attached to the email was big.  I had marked a second email as transmitting Part 2 of 2 of the document, which the person in the accounting office had received, so they were able to realize that they were missing Part 1 of 2, which, apparently, had been too big.  And they really wanted the entire document, so they were motivated to figure things out and get back to me.

We were into “Part x of y [parts]” because the original file had produced undeliverable and failure messages at the outset when I tried to send it as one, unified attachment.

So this morning I subdivided Part 1 of the document into subsections (a) and (b) — and felt like I was getting experience in binary or dualistic thinking — and sent each of those in separate emails.  Those went through.  Bingo.

I have had the opposite experience, in fact with a professional who shares the same suite of offices with the accounting firm (although I don’t know that they share computer systems or service providers).  There, I had sent a large file (of something else) and gotten a failure notice, but the recipient told me they had in fact received it.  They went on further to say that they have learned not to assume a failure notice is accurate because it has happened to them so frequently that they get such a notice but their recipient actually receives the email.

So I am left with not being able to assume I know what has happened to an email — “undelivered” ones delivered, “sent” ones undelivered.

Tony-my-computer-guy happened to call this morning about something else, and when we got to discussing this, he confirmed the reality of what I experience and he offered some technical information to explain the gaps in the system(s).  We agreed that what’s needed, if something is important, is corroboration through a separate communication about whether the original message was received.

Later on, on my own, I reflected further on this need for further communication and it got me thinking that it could be seen as another version of the situation in which we humans are being prompted to communicate more closely with one another, like the Tower of Babel and the Blind Men and the Elephant.  We’ve developed email, and we can use it pretty impersonally and just send each other stuff, but this hasn’t meant that we don’t also have to check-in with each other if we want to make sure the message has been received and our intentions have been fulfilled.  This need for confirmation gives us another chance at communication that might lead to greater empathy and compassion.  We try to pull away and separate into respective silos of existence, but something pulls us back together and encourages us to interact, share, and engage in a flow.





The goat in the house

June 27, 2012

It’s a parable, I’ve seen it written up as a children’s book, Willy used to tell the story, too.  It’s about a family in a one room and very small home, the kind with a dirt floor, and lot’s of extended family living together in it cheek by jowl.  The husband of the primary couple in the family goes to his local religious leader and complains about his living conditions (in great detail, if you want to prolong the story).  The religious leader instructs him to bring a goat into the home as well, the husband protests in surprise, the leader says do it and come back in a week.  The fellow does, the home is even more difficult to live in, the fellow returns to the religious leader a week later, the leader instructs him to remove the goat from the home and see him again the following week, which he does.  This time he is not complaining, he is “grateful” for the relative peace of the household in within the home.

This notion of “gratitude” has confused me.  It’s not that I don’t understand or haven’t experienced that feeling of relief and adjusted perspective, but I think we probably need to reserve the word gratitude for a purely positive feeling towards something; our total attitude about it may well be mixed, but the grateful part would be the strand of positive feeling — enjoyment, appreciation, positive regard of some sort.

I say this because when I think about things in my life in terms of “it could be worse,” it is a fragile bit of acceptance, kind of shallow and not robust when it does get worse.  Acceptance can be neutral but gratitude I think is more positive.  Both of them I think don’t waver when things do get worse.

For example, if I’m driving and grateful for an open road, it can’t be that I’m glad there’s no traffic, it should be my actual enjoyment of relaxation or ease, the view or the wind in my hair.  If around the bend I encounter a jam, my enjoyment may cease but I think I will feel less disappointed and frustrated if my gratitude was for something positive, not the absence of something negative.  Similarly, if I thought I wouldn’t have to fill out a particular bit of long and involved paperwork this year, I could just enjoy the time spent doing something else — if I try to be glad of not doing the report, when I find out I have to do it nonetheless, I will feel more frustrated.

I do think that the goat-in-the-house routine can help us locate what might be enjoyable in a situation that is difficult on its own, but I think I, at least, need to focus not on the absence of something worse but on the pleasure where I can find it in the situation, however fleeting it may turn out to be.

Bridge repair

February 28, 2012

Here’s a story that came to me as I was walking this morning along the bike path.

There’s a bridge across a river, important for the flow of raw materials and the goods made from them, from one side of the river to the other, from one community to another, and then back again.  There’s a series of storms, and the center of the bridge collapses.  The people living on either side of the bridge realize they have to work together to repair the bridge.  To do this they establish new links with each other, including by phone and by mail, maybe even by email and Skype.  They realize in the course of planning and executing the bridge repair that they can also share how they have developed their own contribution to the resource exchange that use to characterize their relationship, and that’s especially how the people on one side of the river view the upshot of their collaboration.  But for the people on the other side, it’s more about how they re-established any connection at all, and a collaborative one at that, and how they figured out an overland route to use in the interim.

What went wrong

February 20, 2012

This is in the way of a postscript to my previous post, though it’s sort of a prequel.

The guy who wanted to rediscover deep feelings was not supposed to marry until a certain woman met up with him.  He thought this was going to happen when he was young and in college, and maybe indeed that was Plan A.  But it became clear that Plan A would not have worked, because there was a preexisting problem that needed to be addressed, that flat tire that Richard Shindell’s Sister Maria is changing in his song “Transit.”

The guy didn’t wait, married someone else, maybe even thought it was that certain woman, had children, and lots of energy was consumed through those relationships.  This is what seems to have caused the damage to the other person and the people related to her, and certainly became relevant when the issue of redressing that damage arose later — how to help the new group while maintaining the same relationships from before.

Perhaps the guy was supposed to have remained celibate, I don’t know.  Perhaps that was not a viable option.  Perhaps the script could never have been enacted as written, as conceived by one set of players, perhaps it needed to be knit together from all those variations.

I want to close with this anecdote:

When I was about three or four, I think, I asked my mother if I could have something to drink, and she offered me milk.  I agreed, but hoped she’d change the offer to cranberry juice (a big favorite of mine but somewhat rationed out in my family of origin — I’ve wondered retrospectively whether my affinity for cranberry juice had anything to do with facts I discovered later in life, such as that I’m missing a kidney).  She didn’t.  She poured the milk into a glass, set it on the kitchen table, and let me know.

“I don’t want it anymore,” was my reply.

“Will you drink it if I put chocolate in it?”

“Yes,” still hoping she’d realize I really wanted cranberry juice.

“Your milk is ready, it’s on the kitchen table.”

“I don’t want it anymore.”

“Will you drink it if I bring it down to where you are [I was in the playroom watching a children’s magic show on black-and-white TV].”

“Yes,” still hoping she’d realize what I really wanted.

My mother (who is one of the sweetest people I know — I had a friend who used to say she reminded her of what she thought the Tooth Fairy would be like) brings the glass of chocolate milk down to me, and I repeat, “I don’t want it anymore.”

She poured the chocolate milk over my head.  (Of course, this meant that she then had to help me wash it out of my tangle of curls, but that’s a separate issue.)  I had that child’s surprise that she hadn’t understood me and that she had her own perspective on the whole transaction.

For me the story has turned into a cautionary tale of when to stop pushing something before it gets to the point that I’m going to feel the urge to pour the chocolate milk over someone’s head.  If they’re saying one thing and doing another, perhaps I need to change what I’m doing so we don’t get to such an impasse.


January 24, 2012

I wrote what follows in an email in response to a bit of tension that seemed to be developing in an email group discussion.  It contains some thoughts of mine that I hold to more generally, beyond that context, so I thought I’d try posting it here, too.

I am interested that many “liberal Democrats” (Paul Krugman comes to my mind as an example of a person whom I think illustrates this and with whom people may be familiar) don’t wonder more why the approach of liberal Democrats doesn’t pull in everybody in our democracy to that way of thinking — and I want to connect that gently with the discussion here.
We all and each have a point of view.  Sometimes we lose sight that it is just that when we are surrounded by many others who happen to think similarly.  But people who have different ideas may have them because from their experience and in their lives, these other ideas are more helpful.  Other people aren’t just “us” parachuted into different scenes — we are each shaped by our experiences, Democrats no less than Republicans.  I think the fact that Democrats don’t seem to be able to address the deep unease that seems to animate much of conservative policy is a weakness in the Democratic platform.  I sometimes wonder if the attempt is even made.  I think that an attitude of being “right” from an intellectual point of view is a limiting (and limited) one, and often misses the real issue — which may actually be that the model being used is itself missing some important parts or information.
So, I’m all for emphasizing being open-minded.  We are all so limited anyway, we need to pool our understandings, like those blind guys with the elephant.
Which brings me to the religion issue: there, too, and especially, we are all blind guys feeling what part of the elephant we can reach.  For me, the point of the Sufi parable is the communication necessary among the blind guys — compassionate communication, I think, is actually the goal, not coming up with an accurate description of the beast being felt.


November 25, 2011

I woke up this morning wanting to write about a parable in which somebody borrows a neighbor’s lawnmower and returns it broken and suggests a web link to a site that explains how to repair it.  Maybe I’ll get back to that — my first interpretation was to identify with a reaction of feeling riled at someone not cleaning up the damage that they cause, but maybe it’s more a lesson in accepting the challenge to learn to deal with damage in one’s life regardless of apparent source.

But then I got another thought, probably not original, about shame, and it seemed to make more sense to write about that first, directly after the post about shame.

What I thought is that the story of Adam and Eve is conventionally told as one in which they lose their innocence and experience shame.  If shame is a by-product of being cut off from that greater part of the self, from the inner office, from the vacuum motor (see previous post, please), if it occurs when the mahout falls off the elephant, so to speak, when the ego loses communication with the soul, to put it another way, then returning to the garden is the reconnection of our “I” identity with our more eternal part, with our souls.  It’s about that journey from a child’s connectedness with the universe through development of a sense of individual self, and then to a reunion with the universe but still maintaining the ability to see the self as distinct now.

If the key is to reconnect with the soul, I would say that we discover that connection through the love we finally hear when we call out from the heart, that cry that I think the Jewish Shema prayer embodies (it’s on my mind because I have this plan to attend this evening Friday night services at a shul for the first time in years — the invitation, which I am taking as a general and not personal one, from someone who has very good hosting skills, came through a guy — I have to ask myself why I am listening to him when I have never attended services where Gita attends, despite her having invited me years ago, and my answer is to laugh gently at my ego).  That calling of our soul to us can be difficult to hear amid all the noise of our lives, and sometimes I think we unfortunately hear it best in the relative quiet of loneliness and despair.  It’s one of those gifts of desperation people talk about.  But it really is one that keeps on giving, and in a good way.

Osprey story

November 11, 2011

I walked around the res (reservoir) today, and I noticed what looked to my untrained eye like a duckling diving repeatedly down under the water completely for long periods of time.  I thought, “He shouldn’t be doing that,” even though I kind of knew it was I who wasn’t getting it.

When I finally turned to continue on my way, I saw a person with lots of birding equipment coming the other way, so I asked him if he knew much about the water fowl, and I explained to him what I had observed.  He wondered whether it would turn out to be a grebe, but it wasn’t, it was a “ruddy duck” (actually, there turned out to be two pairs, four ruddy ducks in all).

The conversation continued, much longer than I anticipated (every time I got ready to take my leave, he restarted the conversation), and eventually he told me a story about an osprey who was carrying a very large stick to its nest on a very windy day, how it kept getting buffeted off course by the wind, and how when it eventually dropped the stick over the nest, the stick fell into the water instead of into the nest.  The bird, he said, then flew away in search of another stick, without any ado.  And having told this story, my interlocutor decided it was time for him to move on, too, which left me with the impression that that was what I needed to hear from him.

And it dovetails very nicely with what it is I think I’m looking to learn how to do, what I was trying to get at, in my previous post, as an alternative to addictive behaviors that is also not satisfying brain stimulation either: just doing the next task that serves, regardless of what it is.

Understanding God through social science?

October 29, 2011

I guess what I really mean is, “Understanding where to look for God, or how to understand God’s existence through social science,” but that seemed kind of long.

It’s nothing new, it’s in that (Noel) Paul Stookey song, “The Wedding Song,” it’s in the story of the blind men feeling the elephant: God emerges from our loving interactions with each other.

But the thought came to me that maybe people who don’t roll with this love notion or religious parable thing might be okay with seeing God as an emergent property, through a notion developed by the rational thinking people at the right institutions with the correct credentials — those people have their role to play, too.

If I don’t react well to seeing the divine left off the list, it’s similarly not okay for me to leave off these fellow seekers.

Of soap operas and science fiction, “Dallas” and Klingons

August 27, 2011

I was thinking earlier about how encouraged or not I feel about where we are heading.  (This had something to do with Charles Blow’s column today and a comment I received in response to my comment on the column.)

I realized that I can see things in terms of a mash-up between a “Dallas” conceit and a Star Trek episode.  I’m thinking about that “it was all a dream” conceit on “Dallas” and the Star Trek (original series) episode in which the Federation folk on the Enterprise and one of their usual adversaries (maybe the Klingons, I can’t remember) have to band together and laugh together in order to dispel some other (negative) force being brought to bear on them (I’m remembering that the force, if  not disrupted, will result in the Federation and the Klingons’ complete destruction one another, or something like that).

I think we have wandered down an unfortunate and mistaken path (both at a national level and on the global level) but that there’s plenty of hope that we can and will reroute ourselves.  I think this will take the equivalent of holding hands with whomever we see as the Klingons in our lives and laughing together with them, whether at unseen negative forces or not, I don’t think it much matters.  But this conceptualization indicates that it is actually within our power to do it, to put ourselves on a more sustainable path and one that includes everyone in a more dignified manner, and I think the universe is rooting for us in the sense that we have enormous good will being made available for our support throughout this process.

We talk about American exceptionalism, and as human beings we seem to have a sense we are exceptional as well, and I don’t know that we really are exceptional in either sense, but I do think regardless of all that that we are worthy of decent lives in a decent world nonetheless.