It’s tough being human

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The Zen master, Katagiri Roshi speaks throughout Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. His presence makes me doubt the writer. She quotes him in and out.

Just as I read Roshi’s name for about the fifth time half way through the book, I stop to do a Google search. Who is this man? Is he for real?

He is real of course, albeit dead. He died in 1990 at the less than ripe old age of sixth two and Natalie Goldberg could not believe it when he died.

Reading through some of her thoughts at his death, I find myself thinking about my own obsession with psychoanalysis. Goldberg is into Buddhism and shows total love and devotion to her Buddhist master. For him, she will do anything.

She will sit for hours chanting, bare feet on cold floorboards. For days, she will get up early, at 4.30am then work at prayer and reflection all day, with only a short lunch break until 10.30pm, all in the name of Buddhism – the serenity, the inner peace and calm that Buddhism offers.

I read the story and shudder, and then think twice about my own preparedness to do extraordinary things in the name of my obsession, psychoanalysis. To travel daily for years for my fifty minute session twenty plus kilometers from home and back at great expense.

I did this because I believed it was good for me. I believe it has been good for me, but at the same time, I wonder whether it might have been better for me had I not become so enthralled with the process, had I not fallen so helplessly in love with my analyst for all those years.

The Google site describes how Natalie Goldberg later felt betrayed by her father and her teacher Katagiri Roshi for being human. Roshi, Goldberg later discovered had breached boundaries with another student.

The child in us wants to believe we have perfect parents, or substitutes for them in other forms – religion, Buddhism, psychoanalysis – only to discover later, that our parents are flawed, as are we by association.

Idealisation shifts to denigration all too easily if we are not careful.

Ah but the comfort of these ‘-isms’ is alluring when it’s so tough being human.

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55 Comments on It’s tough being human

  1. Marylinn Kelly
    December 4, 2010 at 12:48 am (6 years ago)

    Some of our disenchantment may come, not so much as children, but as adults, from, in essence, giving our power to someone else. The human condition, to which we are all subject, requires imperfection…flawed is our natural state. I have been enthralled with processes of (as it is called) recovery, yet over time know that what works is learning that the teachings, the tools, are what help us find our own wisdom.

    Reply
  2. lakeviewer
    December 4, 2010 at 2:59 am (6 years ago)

    OH, we keep hoping, we keep hoping and trusting. Yet. if we listen to our own instincts, we know the truth about our nature.

    Interesting conundrum!

    Reply
  3. Ocean Girl
    December 4, 2010 at 3:11 am (6 years ago)

    I think as a child, we dream of things grown-ups do. As an adult, we wish we have the freedom of a child. I think we also wonder, as we grow older, what will happen to us in the afterworld.

    Reply
  4. Glenn Ingersoll
    December 4, 2010 at 5:27 am (6 years ago)

    I've never trusted anyone so thoroughly that I did everything they told me to do – or even tried to. Not even my mother. I wasn't a disobedient child. But I couldn't sit still long. Still can't. Which makes sitting meditation a challenge. My body gets uncomfortable quickly.

    Reply
  5. Windsmoke.
    December 4, 2010 at 5:36 am (6 years ago)

    All human beings are flawed some are more flawed than others. Putting somebody including parents on a pedestal is a big mistake.

    Reply
  6. Alberto Oliver
    December 4, 2010 at 6:40 am (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth!! such quotation of yours is one of those which makes the difference "Idealisation shifts to denigration all to easily if we are not careful"
    It happens with our parents, it happens with love. It happens with religions and with the most perfect of the gods and all their mythology. Moreover, and of course dangerous, it can happen with the very life. The only purpose of the Utopia and thus, any fantasy, i read once, is only to keep us going, despite knowing that we will never find it and in the journey, discover the real meaning and importance of the things of life. Tough to be human, tough to be alive, without the relief, like a drunkeness, fantasy gives. But yes, it can lead to unexpected consequences, so better to keep the eyes wide open and see the world as it is, or at least, as it is with each of us, with all the bitter and sweet things it may has to offer.
    And may be the idealism only a good and sometimes necessary compass, in the vast ocean of life.

    Reply
  7. Zuzana
    December 4, 2010 at 11:01 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, it is first in my adult years that I indeed realized many things about myself, my family and my parents. I did come to the conclusion that we are all flawed, but we are also all very unique. I take consolation in the fact that as long as we are good people, the faults create only an intricate detail in a prefect pattern. And that is so appealing.;)
    Have a lovely weekend,
    xoxo

    Reply
  8. Jim Murdoch
    December 4, 2010 at 11:30 am (6 years ago)

    There is a great danger in idealising anyone. That’s why it’s best not to meet your heroes. Of course we can’t avoid all people and that means we can’t avoid witnessing their failures and having to face our own disappointments. We, of course, can’t do anything about the failings of another but more often than not we can do something to minimise our inevitable disappointment by not setting people on pedestals in the first place. Part of the blame can often be directly attributed to those who haul out those pedestals and say to their heroes, “Climb on up.” One of the dangers pop and film stars face is how easy it is to believe their own hype. This is why I’ve been very keen online to keep people’s views of me in perspective. I was once introduced by one of my bosses as, “Probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met.” I suppose some people would have let that go to their head. I crumpled inside because I knew it was only a matter of time before I let him down which I did: I burned myself out and ended up off sick with depression. When I returned (earlier than I should have because the company was threatening me with my job, and to reduced duties) I remember the look on his face, the disappointment in his eyes. I had never pretended to him I was unbreakable. And yet to this day I feel that I let him down.

    In addition to Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg has another book, The Great Failure, which sounds like it might be worth investigating. I read about it in an article on beliefnet here. On the second page she makes an interesting quote worthy remark about writing. She says, “You're meeting your own mind,” and I think that’s a good way of looking at it. I don’t think you always see that at the moment of writing but once you’ve had a chance to distance yourself from it you most certainly can. I remember picking up the hard copy of my third novel, The More Things Change, a while back, opening the binder at a random page and reading this paragraph:

    Finding yourself is not the same as discovering Africa or lighting upon some decrepit old artefact. Imagine you have this contraption, an odd assemblage of cogs and pulleys and all kinds of mechanical bits and bobs but it won’t go. It looks interesting enough poised there on the mantelpiece but it clearly needs a key to make it do whatever it was designed to do and you haven’t got one. Every day you look at it and try and figure out what possibly use it could be to man or beast and every day you draw a blank. You solicit the opinions of your friends and relatives; it becomes quite the conversation piece for a while till everyone – yourself included – loses interest in it. Then one day, not a particularly special day, a Tuesday most likely, by accident you knock over the ugliest vase you ever did see which smashes so perfectly that one might have thought it had been made just for that moment and, as you’re cleaning up the pieces, there you find a funny-looking key and you say to yourself, “No”. Well, you decide to have a go. What’s there to lose? You locate the contraption, which by this time has been relegated to a shoebox at the back of your wardrobe, dust it off, insert the key in the hole, take care not to over wind the thing and, well what do you know, it does that. Who would have thought it could do that?

    and I remember wondering afterwards where all that came from. I think much the same applies to our perceptions of other people and it is often years before we find the key to unlock their (often dark) secrets. Sometimes all we need do is reach a certain age at which point they start seeing us in a different light and we see them in a different light too.

    Reply
  9. Rachel Cotterill
    December 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow, this is a very strong post. Extremely thought provoking.

    Reply
  10. Laoch of Chicago
    December 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm (6 years ago)

    "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"

    Zen Master Linji

    Reply
  11. Ms. Moon
    December 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm (6 years ago)

    It's funny- I was just thinking about this very same topic this morning. How as children we think our parents must be correct about everything and then, slowly, we discover they are not.
    Well.
    I have always held as my own heroes the self-admittedly imperfect. I have never been enchanted with the idea of perfection in humen OR god form. One is as absolutely absurd as the other in my mind.
    What good does it do to "follow" the "perfect" when it is so obviously not possible?
    I think that humans are like fine leather goods- the imperfections denote the genuine.

    Reply
  12. Christine
    December 4, 2010 at 8:31 pm (6 years ago)

    How often, now the analytic sessions have finished, I see myself in the mirror of my mind. Hmmmnn!!! I say. Life is beautiful, hard and tough.

    Reply
  13. Kirk Jusko
    December 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm (6 years ago)

    Dare to be disappointed!

    Reply
  14. Kath Lockett
    December 5, 2010 at 4:54 am (6 years ago)

    I was always too skeptical to ever allow myself to be lost in any 'ism' and, after many years, have begun to realise what you put so much than I could:
    "Ah but the comfort of these '-isms' is alluring when it's so tough being human."

    It's tough. Really tough but it's better to get in there and live it than hide behind too many 'isms'.

    Reply
  15. R.H.
    December 5, 2010 at 7:38 am (6 years ago)

    Schizophrenic delusions are unshakeable, you can't shift them, I keep trying. The latest from my impaired friend is his next life will be perfection: no crime, illness, sorrow, everyone rich. But then I said, what a dreary world. And for the first time ever, he looked rattled.

    Reply
  16. TaraDharma
    December 5, 2010 at 7:47 am (6 years ago)

    you said it, E. And yet, it's what we've got. So, how do we get on with it, in the middle of all the scandal, the evil, the craziness? One foot in front of the other, dear. I'm always so heartbroken when humans betray one another – Catholic priests and Buddhist priests and therapists and family members, and…and….

    But I want to go on, despite all this, and I search for the good stuff that makes it all worthwhile.

    Reply
  17. christopher
    December 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm (6 years ago)

    The dream of perfection is itself a fault. The failure of perfect symmetry is in the core of things, such that redundancy covers the ills when it becomes critical to approach perfection, like in DNA, brain function, bodily system regulation, survival of species. This is true in the inorganic too, though it is hard for us to care about it.

    To expect perfection from any "one" thing is insane.

    Similarly, excellence is routinely achieved among us in all the fields. We are musicians and artists, doctors and scientists, dancers and lawyers, dreamers and poets. We are also, some of us, gurus, mystics, mages, and saints. These capacities are not negated by shortcomings in other areas, though we may be hoist by our own petard if we expect perfection in any area.

    My boss insists on expecting a higher standard from me in conflicting paradoxical areas of job description and he has for years. I do the best I can and simply accept the criticism and move on, despite the reputation I get, because I know he expects this out of HIS job description, not as a human. Otherwise I would have been fired long ago.

    The dream of perfection is persistent, though, and helpful when we strive for excellence and to minimize the rate of error, like a musician in performance, but part of excellence is to incorporate error and turn it seamlessly into performance. In that case the performance is transformed by the error, and refreshed by it.

    Reply
  18. Woman in a Window
    December 6, 2010 at 2:47 am (6 years ago)

    What is it in us that wants us to be so saved, and too, to be chosen? We're pitiful and gloriously human, I suppose. It makes us both ugly and beautiful.

    Were you really so driven for so long? And in love? It does make me wonder on the nature of love, as well.

    I always enjoy a journey into you and your mind, Elizabeth.

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  19. A Cuban In London
    December 6, 2010 at 9:58 am (6 years ago)

    Damn, this is such a powerful post! And you know what? I can see the Scorpio in you coming out in droves in this post. The extremes, the doubts, the scepticism about Goldberg). Yes, you're absolutely right. We want our parents to be perfect, and yet, they're not. And we're not, as parents, either. We have to live with it.

    Thanks for such an honest and powerful post.

    Greetings from London.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:06 am (6 years ago)

    Disenchantment is a good word, Marylinn. It helps to move beyond it, to reduce our expectations but also it helps, I think to keep up some of the enthusiasm of our childhood states. Imagine what it might be like if we
    expected nothing of one another or if we ceased to look forward to our times together.
    Thanks, Marylinn.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:08 am (6 years ago)

    Hope and trust, Lakeviewer they can overtake our instincts and cause us to make mistakes in our judgments and expectations. It all comes down to finding some sort of balance I suppose.

    Thanks, Lakeviewer.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:10 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Ocean girl. When I was little i longed to become an adult imaging that as an adult I would be free to do as I pleased. How wrong I was.

    Thanks, Ocean Girl.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:11 am (6 years ago)

    I'm not good at sitting still for long, either Glenn. Except when I'm writing, funnily enough. Then I can sit for hours.

    Thanks, Glenn.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:13 am (6 years ago)

    To put anyone on a pedestal, as you say, is a big mistake, Windsmoke but it's one many of us make from time to time. Thanks.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:46 am (6 years ago)

    We all have day dreams, Alberto and as you say our fantasies are part of what keeps us going.

    If we were faced only with the harsh stuff of reality I imagine we would be very distressed indeed.

    Day dreams and fantasy are also triggers to creativity. There's merit in these things, if they are tempered with mindfulness.

    Thanks as ever for your thoughtful comment, Alberto.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 10:48 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Zuzana, our faults are important and not just in negative terms. They help to shape our individuality.

    What a dull world it would be if we all were perfect. There'd be no need for growth and struggle. I expect without human imperfection we'd stagnate.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:00 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for such a wonderful comment, Jim. I say this at the risk of elevating you to impossible standards.

    I have this great quote by Margaret Atwood from her book about writing, Negotiating with the Dead. She writes:

    ‘Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate.’ We are almost invariably disappointed when we meet the famous because ‘they are always shorter and older and more ordinary than you expected.'

    I use this quote in an essay I wrote about my once favourite female Australian author, Helen Garner. I called the essay Groupie because my daughters had accused me of being one.

    I was so in love with the idea if Helen Garner because her writing spoke to me – for a time.

    I have a tendency to fall head over heels for my heroes and then later when the scales fall from my eyes to feel that deep disappointment you mention.

    It's okay. I know it now and I caution myself.

    I suspect this sort of 'falling in love' is a trap within the blogosphere too, and one me must all be wary of.

    We've written on this topic before, Jim, the all too easy throw awuy line you read often – I love you so and so.

    We need to find more words for our enthusiasm, words that spare us the impression of being head over heels.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:01 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the kind words, Rachel C.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:03 am (6 years ago)

    I've not read that book, Laoch, but it's a title we all know, I expect. I'm not sure about killing the Buddha, though. Terrible reprisals, though I suspect the admonition is merely rhetorical.

    Thanks, Laoch

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:05 am (6 years ago)

    I rather enjoy the idea of humans as fine leather goods, Ms Moon.

    And the idea that our imperfections are marks of our genuine status is wonderful. Thanks.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:07 am (6 years ago)

    You're right, Christine. After all the analytic work, 'life is beautiful', hard and tough.

    Now where did I hear that before?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:18 am (6 years ago)

    I'll try to dare, Kirk, to be disappointed that is. I suppose if we never dare then we never allow ourselves the pleasure of expectation, which also has its merits. Thanks kirk.

    Reply
  33. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:20 am (6 years ago)

    Kath, you're a pragmatic soul, clearly but having read your responses to those sixty questions from Manchurian today, I have a suspicion that you also have your 'idealistic side'.

    Soft as butter I'd say. Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  34. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:24 am (6 years ago)

    RH the next life for your 'impaired' friend sounds mightily like that place we learned about when I was a kid, that plave the nuns called Heaven.

    I'm not surprised your friend was rattled. It doesn't take that much to shake such fixed beliefs, not only are they questionable in their own right, you also have to be good as good i to get there, in fairly rigid terms as I understand it.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  35. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:26 am (6 years ago)

    We have to keep on searching for the good stuff, TaraDharma despite all our disillusionment and awareness of the imperfections of ourselves and others.

    Otherwise, what would be the point of it all?

    Thanks

    Reply
  36. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:30 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Christopher, that part of excellence is to incorporate error, flaws, imperfections, however you describe them.

    I know of a young man, a brilliant and promising, young medical student who committed suicide because he could not reach his own high standards.

    To me this is tragic indeed. Perfectionism in this sense is worse than slovenliness. At least with the latter there's some room to move.

    Thanks, Christopher.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:32 am (6 years ago)

    I'm delighted to have you along for my journey, Erin, you of the most beautiful writing.

    Yes, I was able to sustain those loving feelings for my analyst, even now when we no longer speak regularly.

    It's powerful stuff – the transference.

    Thanks, Erin.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    December 6, 2010 at 11:35 am (6 years ago)

    I'm glad the post resonated for you, Cuban, this struggle with our human frailty.

    We'll never get to the end of it, until we die, but at least we can enjoy ourselves along the way, however painful at times.

    To me the mix of emotions are what make for the richness of most human experience, however fraught.

    Thanks again, Cuban.

    Reply
  39. R.H.
    December 6, 2010 at 3:28 pm (6 years ago)

    Well how would you expect a nutty bloke acquitted of murder under the Mental Impairment Act to ever be swayed by logic? It's okay for you.
    I think you should go back to school, you don't know what delusional means; there's never self-doubt with these types, their instructions come from the highest power. And it's not even about religion, it's about power, materialism; you CAN take it with you, all your dough, and be given lots more besides! Everyone gets a Harley Davidson motor bike and a mansion full of dancing girls. There is no crime, no illness, a utopia I guess.
    Well it's not heaven, not for me, heaven will have challenges, things to achieve, plus dancing girls absolutely.

    Reply
  40. Christine
    December 7, 2010 at 5:23 am (6 years ago)

    'twas from my mind, my post. Not the words of another. I was thinking to get past ideas of 'reality' and the civilising process as being gruesome, hard work… the idea that it it's painful it must be good for you. I was reading somewhere that the discipline and some theories of psychoanalysis which emerged in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, co incided with the period during which emergence of the more 'puritan' aspects of child rearing and or religious observance – eg evangelical christianity – as well as colonialism etc. Julia Kristeva's biography of Melanie Klein
    ( pp.35-38)I am having a bit of a re think – reaction to that school of thought…

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    December 7, 2010 at 9:56 am (6 years ago)

    I wasn't thinking psychosis when I wrote this post, Robert, more neurosis, that which most of us suffer.

    Pockets of madness are in everyone everywhere, but I think I know what you mean about the severely delusional in those whose beliefs skip over reality.

    I can sometimes exaggerate to make my point. As much as I hope people take me seriously here, I don't want them to take me too seriously.

    We need room for a touch of levity, though not at all times. It's hard to communicate exactly as I intend in the blogosphere.

    Thanks for putting me straight, Robert.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    December 7, 2010 at 10:00 am (6 years ago)

    It makes sense, Christine, the idea that the beginnings of psychoanalysis took place in that 'puritanical' period of child rearing. I too shall think more about it. Thanks.

    Reply
  43. R.H.
    December 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm (6 years ago)

    I can't see where you've been humorous.

    But never fear, levity is my middle name.

    Reply
  44. Kass
    December 8, 2010 at 12:59 am (6 years ago)

    It's hard not to be disappointed in almost everything, but maybe it keeps us striving or at least skirting around the edges of some illusion of perfection.

    Reply
  45. Art Durkee
    December 8, 2010 at 3:39 am (6 years ago)

    I like Jim's comment here, and your reply. You've already read my reply, on my own blog. (Although I don't know if you read my reply to your comment there.)

    I've read three of Goldberg's books, and two of Katagiri Roshi's. His book about the Zen conception of time, Each Moment is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time, is brilliant.

    The whole thing about pedestals and expectations and imperfections—well, it's important to remember to separate the work from the person, too. For example, Richard Wagner was a terrible human being, who also managed to write some sublimely beautiful music. In the arts we're used to separating the person from the teaching, because a lot of great musicians and artists are not great people—some of my own mentors had serious personal flaws, but were nonetheless great mentors to me, and to others.

    As imperfection is only human, so is forgiveness.

    Reply
  46. Elisabeth
    December 8, 2010 at 10:01 am (6 years ago)

    Perhaps humorous is the wrong word, Robert.

    What I mean is that I don't intend to be too 'serious' most of the time, Robert.

    I can't bear to use those LOL type comments but I can understand why other people use them. It's so easy to be misunderstood on line.

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    December 8, 2010 at 10:03 am (6 years ago)

    There's that song, Kass, 'Is that all there is'. It comes to mind now when you speak of 'disillusion'. Different sources perhaps but you're right, it's hard not to get beyond our disappointments. I hope all's well with you.

    Reply
  48. Elisabeth
    December 8, 2010 at 10:09 am (6 years ago)

    I've been thinking about forgiveness a great deal, Art and I'm a tad wary of premature forgiveness, or the forgiveness that people get into because they can't bear to hold onto their rancor for too long. There's this idea of what Melanie Klein calls 'false reparation'. I think on it often. Too often we're encouraged to forgive before enough work's been done. As well, I think to forgive requires some shift in the party that has done the offending, some sign of remorse or recognition of the wrong that's been done.

    To me forgiveness is not necessarily a one sided affair.

    I'll get back to your post, Art. I may have missed your response to my response. I blog between times and often miss valuable communications. Thanks.

    Reply
  49. R.H.
    December 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm (6 years ago)

    Don't take me seriously it's the last thing I want. You mean well, I know that.

    Reply
  50. Art Durkee
    December 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm (6 years ago)

    The Most Excellent Human Quality

    If forgiveness has to be dependent on the offender changing his ways, or showing remorse, it's no wonder it happens so rarely. Really, making forgiveness conditional on the other party showing remorse gives them way too much power over you—by merely withholding their sign of remorse, they can keep you on the hook forever.

    Forgiveness, it seems to me, is about cutting that string and taking your power back. It's about letting go of the string that ties you together, and that ties you up in knots. Forgiving is a releasing of my own energy back into the world, so that it is available for me to use again, rather than being tied up in knots over something I can't control. Forgiving is something I do to free myself, not the offender.

    I think the biggest mistake people make is thinking that forgiving the offender means that what they did was okay. Not at all. Forgiveness simply means that it doesn't have power over me anymore. I can forgive someone, free myself, and still not believe that what they did was okay. Depending on what the offense was, which is often a matter of scale, some things seems too trivial to waste that much hatred on. It's bruised ego at that point.

    People really do like to hold onto their grudges. Why? Because they like to be in the right, to be proven to have been right all along. It's a form of self-righteousness to refuse to forgive: which means it's ultimately a form of ego: my ego righteousness means more than anything else.

    "Premature forgiveness" seems to me to be an oxymoron, for the simple reason that so many people never forgive at all. It's like saying that it's still too soon to say if the French Revolution has a good outcome: that horse left the barn a long long time ago.

    Certainly some people can feel coerced into being asked to forgive before they're ready to. But the idea of "false reparation" seems nonsensical to me, as reparations can happen without forgiveness—you can pay somebody a debt while still hating them for causing you the debt. Again, how is that different from self-righteous ego-inflation? I'm unclear that it is.

    I don't urge people to forgive before enough work's been done. But who gets to decide how much work is enough? It seems to me that holding onto a grudge for several years is too much work. After a certain point, it festers into a woundology that never heals, and becomes self-sustaining long beyond any original insult. This is how feuds can go for generations, long past when the original insult has been forgotten. Again, it comes down to proving oneself right and the other party wrong. Again, it's about ego.

    As a species we sometimes bend over backwards to avoid doing what we know is right, simply because we feel humiliated if we admit any failings. Admitting we're wrong is even harder for some people than forgiving—but the two things are connected. There's the right way to do things, and there's the easy way, and they're often different. I've often found that practice in admitting when I'm wrong about something has led to empathy about when others screw up, too, which has made them easier to forgive.

    None of us are perfect. That's what this is all about: perfectionism. Not forgiving is the same as demanding perfection.

    Reply
  51. Art Durkee
    December 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm (6 years ago)

    The Most Excellent Human Quality

    If forgiveness has to be dependent on the offender changing his ways, or showing remorse, it's no wonder it happens so rarely. Really, making forgiveness conditional on the other party showing remorse gives them way too much power over you—by merely withholding their sign of remorse, they can keep you on the hook forever.

    Forgiveness, it seems to me, is about cutting that string and taking your power back. It's about letting go of the string that ties you together, and that ties you up in knots. Forgiving is a releasing of my own energy back into the world, so that it is available for me to use again, rather than being tied up in knots over something I can't control. Forgiving is something I do to free myself, not the offender.

    I think the biggest mistake people make is thinking that forgiving the offender means that what they did was okay. Not at all. Forgiveness simply means that it doesn't have power over me anymore. I can forgive someone, free myself, and still not believe that what they did was okay. Depending on what the offense was, which is often a matter of scale, some things seems too trivial to waste that much hatred on. It's bruised ego at that point.

    People really do like to hold onto their grudges. Why? Because they like to be in the right, to be proven to have been right all along. It's a form of self-righteousness to refuse to forgive: which means it's ultimately a form of ego: my ego righteousness means more than anything else.

    "Premature forgiveness" seems to me to be an oxymoron, for the simple reason that so many people never forgive at all. It's like saying that it's still too soon to say if the French Revolution has a good outcome: that horse left the barn a long long time ago.

    Certainly some people can feel coerced into being asked to forgive before they're ready to. But the idea of "false reparation" seems nonsensical to me, as reparations can happen without forgiveness—you can pay somebody a debt while still hating them for causing you the debt. Again, how is that different from self-righteous ego-inflation? I'm unclear that it is.

    I don't urge people to forgive before enough work's been done. But who gets to decide how much work is enough? It seems to me that holding onto a grudge for several years is too much work. After a certain point, it festers into a woundology that never heals, and becomes self-sustaining long beyond any original insult. This is how feuds can go for generations, long past when the original insult has been forgotten. Again, it comes down to proving oneself right and the other party wrong. Again, it's about ego.

    As a species we sometimes bend over backwards to avoid doing what we know is right, simply because we feel humiliated if we admit any failings. Admitting we're wrong is even harder for some people than forgiving—but the two things are connected. There's the right way to do things, and there's the easy way, and they're often different. I've often found that practice in admitting when I'm wrong about something has led to empathy about when others screw up, too, which has made them easier to forgive.

    None of us are perfect. That's what this is all about: perfectionism. Not forgiving is the same as demanding perfection.

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  52. Elisabeth
    December 9, 2010 at 10:22 am (6 years ago)

    Up to a point, Art, I agree with you entirely.

    I agree that it's not helpful to hold onto grievances indefinitely but I am concerned about the business of encouraging people to forgive before they've even registered their grievance. We both seem to concur on this point.

    It's what I mean by false reparation, including creating an appearance of feeling atonement, when no real atonement is intended.

    For years in Australia our once Prime Minister, John Howard, refused to apologise to the indigenous people here, the aborigines, on the grounds that it was not, is not, this generation but our ancestors who 'may' have committed the atrocities they suffered.

    How can we be held accountable for our ancestors?

    I see forgiveness, not as the issuing of an apology for the wrongs one may have committed but sometimes more as an acknowledgment of regret that something terrible has been perpetrated on another, whether by us, through us or by our representatives, including our ancestors.

    When my children were very young I made the mistake of instituting a system of giving out 'jealousy presents' to those who were not enjoying a birthday on birthdays. I had wanted to soften the blow of sibling rivalry.

    This is somewhat at a tangent, Art, but I now realise that it would have been and has been more helpful for my children to come to terms with their mixed feelings about their siblings left to face reality- it was not always their birthday – rather than my trying to soften the pain by offering a compensation present to those not enjoying a birthday.

    I recognise this now as my attempt to soothe my own feelings. False efforts at forgiveness can be like this. They can act as attempts at softening emotional pain and bypassing the work that needs to be done to arrive at genuine forgiveness, if and whenever it's possible.

    Thanks again, Art.

    Reply
  53. Elisabeth
    December 9, 2010 at 10:35 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks Robert. I won't take you too seriously and I do mean well, well enough that is.

    Reply
  54. Phoenix
    December 10, 2010 at 1:04 am (6 years ago)

    Heh. We always put people on pedestals to convince ourselves that they are nothing like us. Doing so is a disservice to both our heroes (if we cannot allow them to be human, we will ultimately destroy them) and to ourselves (if we put those we admire on pedestals, then we excuse ourselves from trying to great works of our own.)

    There's this quote I love, from a religious leader who was exalted in the tiny village he often visited: "What I am for them, frightens me. What I am with them… comforts me."

    Reply
  55. Snowbrush
    December 10, 2010 at 2:58 am (6 years ago)

    You know, I rather think of psychoanalysis as a rich person's indulgence (Woody Allen being a prominent example). If course, I guess a middle class person could do it too if they wanted to throw a major part of their income at it. As to what one might gain, I have no idea.

    The few Buddhists I've known (who were all Westerners) dressed in loose fitting gray or brown clothes and seemed self-absorbed and at least a little depressed. I rather wondered if they were depressed anyway, and were trying–unsuccessfully, it would appear–to handle their depression through meditation. In any event, I have every confidence that meditation can be a wonderful practice, but, like most things, it can be carried to excess and become destructive.

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