Archive for January, 2012

Consideration and Loving-Kindness

May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering.
May my good friend be well; may they be happy; may they be free from suffering.
May the neutral person be well; may they be happy; may they be free from suffering.
May the difficult person be well; may they be happy; may they be free from suffering.
May we four be well; may we be happy; may we be free from suffering.
May all beings be well; may all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.

— Metta (loving-kindness) meditation based on the Theravada Buddhist Path to Purification

Think of a time when you’ve been in an argument.  Maybe it was with someone you value as a good friend or with a family member you love.  Or maybe it was with someone with whom you rarely agree at the best of times.  Think about what was driving your side of the argument.  Were you trying to make a point?  Were you trying to defend yourself from what you felt was an unfair accusation?  Were you trying to explain why you thought that the other person was mistaken?  Were you trying to convince the other person of what you thought was a better course of action?

I know I’ve been in arguments for all these reasons and more.  Some of them were modest disagreements with no raised voices or unkind words.  Others of them… weren’t.  Particularly if the other person is someone I respect, like or love, though, there can be as much of an argument going on within myself as there is between me and the other: the belief in my own truth and the feeling of my own righteousness sometimes overpowers my desire to treat the other person’s beliefs with fairness and their feelings with consideration.  In this way there’s often a tension between our passion — for a plan or a cause or a world-view — and our compassion — for those with whom we disagree as well as for ourselves.

The general consensus of opinion concerning last year’s shooting of Rep. Giffords and others in Tucson is that it wasn’t directly caused by the poor quality of public discourse in the country, yet there’s also general agreement that we owe the victims and the survivors our efforts to do better.  Heated arguments are nothing new, whether in politics or elsewhere in society, but there doesn’t seem to be a good reason as to why it needs to be that way.  Passionate speech for or against a particular issue is to be expected, but name-calling and epithets bordering on slander are at best a distraction and at worst destructive of the public soul.  It’s past time for compassion to be a part of our civic discourse.

This isn’t about “political correctness”, going to great lengths to censor ourselves for fear that we might offend anyone for any reason whatsoever.  Fear rarely allows for rational behavior, and the only way to be sure to never offend anyone is to never say anything (and, for that matter, to never be present).  It’s also not about giving in or wishy-washy compromise, much less empty and value-less moral relativism.  If we are to truly affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we must also expect every person to be accountable for their words (and their actions).

It is, rather, about consideration and loving-kindness.  In recognition of our common humanity, we can begin by assuming that the person with whom we are arguing is, like us, doing so sincerely out of their own convictions.  As James M. Barrie put it, “Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own.”  In recognition of our own limits as finite beings, we can try to abide by one of the many variants of the Golden Rule found throughout the world’s religions.  And in recognition of our interdependence as human beings in community and living beings in Nature, we might find ways to yoke the passion of our love for ideas and beliefs to the compassion of our loving-kindness for ourselves, one another and the world.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.”

May you and I be well.  May the friend and the stranger be well.  May the one who works with us and the one who works against us be well.  May we be happy.  May we be free from suffering.

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