Freedom from Judgement the Beginning of Compassion
There is an old saying: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and hes not the same man.
And isnt that just so true? The textbooks never call a river a raging river, for one day it is calm; another day it is wild. A river, thats all we call it. We know better than to label it permanently the river is a living thing, it moves with nature.
And yet, we label a human being ever so readily. A man is alive, even more so than a river. He changes and grows and throbs with life. And yet after a minute of knowing him, after an hour of knowing her hes a liar, shes a thief.
In doing so, weve killed them, ever so subtly. The moment we judge a man, weve put a straitjacket on him. Weve stuffed her into a laboratory bottle, and put a sticker on it. He can no longer grow; she can no longer repent or find salvation. He cannot be anything else to us but the label. And this label, this mask, is all we ever see and interact with.
I am not saying leave your doors unlocked. I am not saying let the woman with the knife into your living room; give your credit card to the con-man. Please use your common sense, be wary, be shrewd. But is he a con man? Or was he? That is all I am saying.
I heard a great story a long time ago. I cant forget it, even now: Young Samuel, a poor country farm boy, once got really drunk. On a dare from his best friend, he proceeded to have sexual intercourse with a sheep. It was something he regretted deeply; and he tried to put it behind him as he grew older and went to the city. Once there, he put himself to work for the good of humanity he built hospitals, schools, and countless shelters for the poor and disadvantaged. After decades of such work, he even won the Nobel Peace prize. And at a ripe old age, Samuel died a satisfied man. His best friend, who was still living in the old country town, received a call with the bad news. The man put the phone down, and shook his head sadly as he turned to his wife. Bad news, honey. That little sheep-f*$erhes dead.
The labelled and the condemned
And so we go through life, bound by layers upon layers of restrictions. We are constricted by these invisible ropes, twenty-four hours a day and they wonder why depression is on the increase!
Where do these labels come from? The biggest culprits you can already guess. Society our peers, friends, the mass media. And when we were soft and malleable our parents, caretakers.
And this is one of the biggest lessons developmental psychology has for those who work with children condemn the action but not the child. When a child runs into a busy road to follow his ball say his actions are wrong, unwise, dangerous, but not him. Never bring him into it never say that he is wrong.
Denounce the action, and the child will play responsibly from then on. Condemn the child, and there already, youve begun to tighten the first strap on his straitjacket.
Parents and authority figures they are almighty to a young child. Their entire world depends on their parents their survival, their well-being, and very often their happiness depends entirely on the whims of those who take care of them. And so, in their little universes, those very human parents are elevated almost to deities.
And there, the father says his daughter is timid, and so she has to be. He has spoken how can she be otherwise? How can she know more than he does? That is how a young mind operates and that is how many adult minds operate too.
There was an experiment that was conducted in the pursuit of positive psychology. It was quite a famous one, and gave life to the term learned helplessness. A group of dogs were restricted, and given electric shocks. Like any animal, they sought a way out, but finding none, slowly began to learn despair. In the next phase of the experiment, the shocks continued, but this time a way out was made clear obvious and easy simply jump over a low barrier. And yet the despair and the helplessness remained. All the dogs could do were lie down and whimper.
I remember reading the resulting outcry on the Internet with interest. Inhumane! Animal cruelty! Horrifying! Indeed but everywhere around us, we perpetuate the same crime.
I was a quiet child by nature. My head was always in the clouds. I saw nothing wrong with it I liked to read, to play on my own, to get lost in my own imaginary world of heroes and monsters. My parents saw it as a sign of weakness, and in their love, wanted to protect me. Timid, they labelled me. Shy. Unable to take care of himself.
And for years, I laboured under this category. How could a child conceive of the possibility his parents were wrong? If they said I was weak, then weak I was. And the more I behaved that way to meet their judgements, the more vocal they became with it. To anyone who would listen almost as if they were proud of it, right in front of me.
I was nearly twenty when I realised it wasnt my true nature, that it was learnt. And years after that, of martial arts and boxing training getting choked, punched, and slammed before I freed myself of this label, and returned to my true nature quiet. Just quiet, without weakness, shyness, timidity.
When you label someone, they feel inclined to support it. Child, or adult it doesnt matter. And the strangest thing is every label is a condemnation.
Saint and Sinner
You call one man a saint, you call another a sinner. And yet both of them are suffocated in equal proportions.
Have you not seen this for yourself? A saint, a leader, a guru. He cannot relax; he cannot allow himself a moment of humanity. He is afraid to laugh at a dirty joke; he cannot let others see him cry, he cannot show anger. And on it goes just like a bonsai tree, he cripples himself, breaks off bits and pieces of himself, hiding them, denying them, just so he can fit the ideal of the people around him. What torture!
And on the other side of this imaginary spectrum what about a man who has made a mistake? In the depths of my anger, years ago, I was the loudest, rudest, and most abusive guy I knew of. The things I screamed in my rage I still cringe when I think about it now. But I was lucky I wasnt labelled in that manner by those who supported me. But if they had what would I be now? Would I still be the same? Or would I have descended that spiral, become worse, louder, ruder, more hurtful?
When you condemn someone, justly or unjustly they feel punished. And since theyre already punished, why not do it some more? Grade school logic when the punishment has already been administered why not commit the crime?
Youve probably heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It has often been taken out of context, but it is an actual psychological phenomenon, if applied to human behaviour. In a well-known study, two groups of people were interviewed by trained interviewers. Each group was presented with a different set of subtle, nonverbal behaviours from the interviewer. One group was treated in a friendly manner. The other group was treated coolly, and kept at a distance. You can guess the results the interviewees responded accordingly. The lesson was clear people will behave in the way you expect them to, and its often your fault!
One finger always points back to yourself
And the last pitfall of judgement. Judge ye not, said the Bible. Lest ye be judged. And again, so true but who judges you in return? The man you judge, the woman you condemn, the child you spank?
The most insidious thing the moment you point your finger, when you point with your right hand, your left hand is pointing to yourself. You bottle them up, you cramp them under your label, under the spell of your one word and then you sit back from the outside of the jar and you point at them. But you dont realise it one day you look around, and you realise that youve stuffed yourself in the same jar. Judging others is judging ourselves they are inextricably intertwined.
Can you see it? You sneer at the unemployed woman, and at the same time you are telling yourself that you can never leave the security of your job. You cannot take risks; you cannot follow your calling if it comes; you should always be employed. And if your luck takes a bad turn, as it well might? How would you feel?
Any should is just another form of self-violence, a close cousin to the label. Too many shoulds, and you become a perfectionist. And psychoanalysis knows well that perfectionism is a form of neurosis.
Goals, yes. Set them, achieve them. But when a goal becomes a should that is the start of self-criticism. I was reading a list of the symptoms of self-criticism bad moods, depression, lack of close friends, aggression, people pleasing, boastfulness. The list was huge and varied, but it was highlighted by what the author called the ultimate form of self-criticism: Suicide.
Become a great man, a holy woman, yes. Become just like them, no. There is the paradox! The great men and women you admire they followed their own path and thats the reason they became who they were. There is only one of them never again, never before. Flower as you are, flower into who you are.
Ceasing the judgement
And so the first step towards compassion is to cease the judgement of value. This man is a butcher, yes. That is not a judgement. That man is a doctor, yes, and most likely he earns more than the butcher. But when we judge the doctor as better simply because he earns more that is when judgement has crept in.
And it is a habit that is so deeply ingrained in us. Try it open a newspaper, turn on the evening news, and see your reaction to the people they cover. The rich, the beautiful, the famous automatically they are better. Then watch yourself as your eyes move over the poor, the wretched, and the criminal watch closely what feelings do they generate?
Let that be your practice, then looking at someone without judging, without labelling. Read the papers, and put yourself in their shoes. With their upbringing, their background, the pains and the sorrows, the times Life has knocked them down are they really that different from you? And then look at those you see as above you. What makes them better? Are they that different? Beyond the trivial externalities what is the difference?
One of my favourite Zen stories:
Kasan, a Zen teacher and monk, was to officiate at a funeral of a famous nobleman. As he stood there waiting for the governor of the province and other lords and ladies to arrive, he noticed the palms of his hands were sweaty. The next day he called his students together and confessed he was not yet ready to be a true teacher. He explained to them that he still lacked the sameness of bearing before all human beings, whether beggar or king. He was still unable to look through social roles and conceptual identities and see the sameness of being in every human. He immediately resigned his post as a teacher and became the pupil of another master in order to devote himself to greater practice.
And isnt this the hardest thing to do? Butthat is the start of compassion true compassion. But enough for today. Please stay around for more, coming in a few days.