categories, empathy, grace, groups, Human Biology, Jesus, labels, mind, serendipity, sympathy
Serendipity is defined as the act of making discoveries by accident. It is, I would suggest, the movement of grace masquerading as coincidence.
I have learned that if I am open, nuggets of wisdom come to me from others and if I let them lay fallow in the warm earth of my mind, they will be joined by others, watered and will suddenly break open with a new idea.
Such is how I have learned to operate in the writing world of blogging.
The mind is a curious machine. Of that we can all agree. We remain puzzled by much of it, and perhaps we always shall be, at least in this human form.
Whatever new thing is presented to us is taken in and an attempt to understand it commences. In order to understand it, we must, perforce, place this new thing in some context of all the things we already know. It is most like, least like, similar to, sounds like, acts according to, and so forth.
In other words we label, and said label stays with us, often unknowingly throughout life, secretly forming impressions and beliefs about things without our willful knowledge. It is human nature, and at most we can be aware that we are doing it, in an attempt to “see” clearly. It is the antithesis of Buddhist teaching of non-duality. We find it hard to “let it be” as it were.
Much is being made by some, of our propensity to label people. Liberal, progressive, conservative, neo-con, right-wing, fundamentalist–you name it, we label it. And yet, they are mostly useless. If you asked 1000 people who voted for X, they would perhaps in total give you 75 reasons why they did so. The 1000 would split along these reasons, and the resultant “groups” would be insignificant in terms of a demographic.
Our unique make-ups simply don’t allow such easy simplistic categorizations. We are a dizzying array of contradictions, counterpoints, and metaphors. In our own minds our decisions are logical but often they may seem arbitrary and wildly upside down to others. Yet we label away in earnest.
There is a difference between empathy and compassion or sympathy. Some can sympathize with the screw up, but cannot empathize with him, because some tend to see themselves as rational, and not tempted into such irrationality. The empath on the other hand, sees their own limitations, and places it on a continuum. Others, they can see, fall elsewhere, and they do not see one as “better” than other.
Let me give an example. The sympathetic person comes into contact with a homeless person. They offer assistance in the form of helping that person obtain employment. They go away satisfied, they have succeeded. The person is now employed, and on the road to getting control once again of life. Two weeks later, they see the same homeless person pan handling on the same corner.
The sympathetic person is angry. He sees the homeless one as “lazy” happier to live on the “dole” than do an honest day’s work. He labels the person as unworthy of further efforts.
The empathetic person sees something quite different. He may offer the same assistance, but if he finds the person panhandling again, he doesn’t become angry. He realizes that the person is unable to cope at some level with what he can cope with. He accepts and can understand that some persons by personality, psychology or life experiences, cannot handle the stress of bills, work schedules, and so forth. I might acknowledge that I could not handle being a air controller–the stress would be too much for me. That is my limit.
Our ability to “walk” in someone else’s shoes, helps us not to label. We can accept, and we can agree that such persons deserve warm, dry, shelter each night, health care, and food. We accept their limitation because we are mindful of our own, knowing they are only different in degree. We can see the homeless person as “doing their best.” And doing one’s best is all we can ask.
I have, therefore, found it profitable to challenge assumptions in my life. At least, at this juncture of my life. I often suggest that certain phrases, certain old assumptions make no sense to me. I have no idea what they once meant, and we fling them about as if they meant something. We “know” what we mean in using them, but we don’t really “know” what they mean do we?
We preach faith, because we are sure that we are right about what we preach, yet we don’t acknowledge that the essence of faith is the fact that we don’t have the facts to back up what we believe. So what are we declaring as “true?”
Jesus spent much of his ministry trying to help people to challenge the assumptions they lived by. He shook them up, shocked them at times. He challenged the Pharisees again and again. You do all these “things” these rituals. Do you know why they were instituted? Do they still accomplish their intended ends? If not? Well? Are the ends still valid? Then find a new way of accomplishing them. If not, then simply discard them.
We do well to, from time to time, examine the rules of the road that we live by. Are they valid, these ends we so tout? If so, is this the most effective means to accomplish them? If not? Well?
We would all do well to emulate Jesus. Buddha said similar things too. All the great thinkers and doers, all the great prophets and seers, all the philosophers and such, look at our assumptions and question them. They remix and separate, they re-organize, turn around, flip upside down. They challenge us to justify our beliefs and our commitments.
When Jon Kyl, (R, AZ) suggests that maybe unemployment benefits for laid off workers are somehow “encouraging of laziness in finding a job,” I suggest it’s time to question our assumptions once again. Mr. Kyl’s assumptions are certainly not mine. And it suggests a lot about Kyl and people like him in their opposition to say things like health care, and other programs that are designed to help the less fortunate among us.