Archive for the 'stubbornness' Category

Taking something back, or sharing?

March 19, 2014

There’s this spiritual story about an adolescent who really feels strongly that a grown man has stolen from her her jewels.  He feels equally convinced she has robbed him of something equally valuable, namely, something required to maintain his stature and status in the community.

So how to restore equilibrium?

There’s an attempt, which doesn’t succeed, in which he returns something and she returns something, but they both accuse the other of returning a false approximation of what was stolen.

There are attempts at partial returns, there are empty promises, there are claims nothing was stolen — lots of adversarial attempts to restore without actually completely participating.

In the meantime, they are each using some “ill-gotten gain” from the other to try to maintain themselves.  They each end up in situations in which they are ill-equipped in some way, and this does not serve the greater good, either.

A lot of the trouble reconciling was probably a trust issue — “If I give to you, will you really give to me or will it just be throwing good money after bad, as they say?”

So here’s how it got resolved:  they both were agreeable with sharing with a disinterested third party, and through something like the mathematical transitive principle or something like a concept of mixing cooking ingredients, eventually they both ended up with a portion of what they felt they were missing.  What they shared with the intermediary included the “stolen good,” and through sharing with the intermediary, they had access again to what they considered the good stolen by the other.

Footnote:  disinterested third party did not have an easy time of it, as they were often treated as if they were actually the other person in the dispute.


Breaking the puzzle piece

September 2, 2012

The Republican National Convention was a lot about upwards striving — a certain pattern of immigration and small business development.  Not a lot about downwards falling.

Rather than accept that what goes up is supposed to come down, I think some group of people at some point either misunderstood or tried to avoid the second piece of the sequence.  Instead of continuing to be willing and to follow where that leads, they don’t.  Maybe it’s an exercise of free will, maybe it’s being paralyzed by fear, maybe it’s through an attempt to use the human cognitive ability to change the circumstances externally instead of learning to accept external circumstance through internal development.  (I think humans have tried very hard to move as many things as we can from the “things we cannot change” category to the category of things we can.)

Some people do take the fall, even publicly.  Sex scandals, plagiarism scandals, cover-ups are some of the mechanisms.

Upwards striving seems to produce a set of attitudes towards life, downwards falling I think produces another, including compassion for other human beings.  There’s some variety within each set, but the sets as wholes are characterized by very different perceptions of the human condition.  People who avoid falling don’t collect that item on the scavenger hunt that is the spiritual journey — their art project needs some variation of that component.

If a person doesn’t want to fall and break, they sometimes try to break or change their environment instead — through medicine, technology, using other people — I see it as almost a form of cheating.  In fact the recent cheating scandal at Harvard reminds me of this sort of spiritual pitfall, because it, too, includes the claim of having been following the guidance of superiors (of teaching fellows in the Harvard case) and indeed all the answers come out looking very similar and it is not clear whether a process of learning and improving skills has been improved by the manner in which the exercise was undertaken.

A lot of perception, in my experience, is about rearranging understandings as if one could remake the (art project) collage over and over again.  I think maybe this process stops being available once a component has been broken in order to avoid playing it out in one’s life; let’s say one needs to experience loss, and one tries to avoid it through manipulating others or manipulating the environment.  (To use another Harvard cheating scandal, Ted Kennedy’s, it’s like having someone else take your exam.)  What we learn from the experience of loss is not learned if loss is avoided.  When the upward strivers go on about the need for creative destruction in capitalism, I want to say that it’s needed in spiritual life, too.  One of the components we need for spiritual progress is compassion.  I think this is acquired through experiencing and processing loss without hiding from its import and with honestly and fearlessly looking at what it reveals about ourselves, others, and the world.

That’s what I see in fearful and strident talk about refusing decline at a national level and about treating people who have fallen on hard times harshly — I see people who have refused to take the fall themselves or have shrunk from its import (I’m thinking about somebody like Rick Santorum here — he seems to have gotten some of it but not all of it, having filtered the feedback through some self-protective maladaptive coping mechanism, it looks like to me.)

I suppose if human cognitive ability got us into this detour in evolutionary development through willful avoidance it will also lead us back on track in some way.  Or, at least it can.  Or it could lead to a third way of human society developing, something that comes out of a combination of our lives as animals and our permutation of it through species willfulness.

We’ve been calling out for extraterrestrial help for quite some time by now, whether from gods, God, ETs, whatever.  The thing of it is, from my point of view, is that we don’t listen when we actually get a response.  In some ways, I think we’re stubbornly insisting on staying lost in this detour, of doing this our way, even if it’s dead end.

Charitable egos

August 24, 2011

I read David Brooks’s column about “rugged altruists” this morning before I drove back home, but I didn’t have a chance to weigh in with a comment, so I thought maybe I would write something here.

My first thought was about how taking a cut for one’s ego out of the dynamic of helping reminds me of extracting a cut from a financial transaction because it happened to occur in one’s neighborhood or something — it’s a resource that probable could do more good if directed elsewhere than personal profit.

My second reaction is my usual one of wondering to what extent people prefer helping others who live far away from them, in comparison to helping people who live nearby, and why that might be.

Finally, there’s the part I’m not sure I understood:  “It [the virtue of “thanklessness,” if I’m tracing the antecedents correctly] represents a noncontingent commitment to a specific place and purpose.”  It’s in a discussion about why people persist in giving service despite less than positive feedback.  I suppose that same behavior of persistence might occur out of a variety of attitudes.  I am wondering whether sometimes the persistence strand of the behavior is distinct from the original ostensible goal of the behavior — maybe we (initially) try to help in a certain way because we have the idea it will accomplish something positive, but we persist in trying because our willingness to try is a willingness to engage in the process of trying to serve regardless of outcome — rather than a willingness to try to accomplish the goal regardless of outcome.  For me the difference has to do with susceptibility to burn-out — I can persist a lot longer and with more equanimity if I’m engaging in the activity because that’s what serves — just engaging in the activity.  I can still be aware of the the hoped-for outcome, but that outcome becomes of secondary importance to me (not necessarily to the others) — what is primarily important to me is to engage in the process because doing those activities is a way of serving.

But I actually think for me a big piece of the strand of persistence is just stubbornness, and to the extent the stubbornness has a connection to something bigger, it would probably be a connection to a worldview in which engaging in this behavior ought to be helpful.  If my worldview is just my own idiosyncratic worldview, this persistence in the behavior will probably be a cul de sac of sorts, but if my worldview derives from something more profound, maybe the persistence will lead to something, even if it isn’t the outcome I might have had as a goal originally.