It is incredibly easy to start an argument these days. Declare your allegiance to a political party, voice your opinion on an issue, talk about who you voted for or why you didn’t vote for the other person, accuse someone of not caring because they don’t share the same convictions you do.
I am amazed, but not really, how terribly divided our world, nations, states, communities and even our families are over matters of the mind and heart. We are so quick to pick a fight, defend our position, be suspect of anyone and everyone.
I was reflecting today over what it will take to bring us back together again. Then I wondered if we had ever, truly, been together. Maybe all the hate and vitriol had been under the surface all along and we couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. I don’t like thinking that way. I’d rather believe we, humanity, are going through a rough spot and, in time, something deeper will bring us back together. To be honest I don’t have much hope in what’s deeper being what’s better. Throughout human history we have hated, warred, fought against, killed and used one another to further our own goals with little thought of how it impacts the other.
Wisdom teaches humility first. Serving, helping, putting our neighbor (hint: everyone’s our neighbor, including our “enemies”) and their needs above our own. It doesn’t seem likely to happen soon, if ever, but it starts with the choice to love, be kind, refusing to see the other as separate, apart from us. We are human. If we could only find our purpose, our “being”.
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On Saturday, while burning some debris in the yard, I went to grab a stick which was near the fire but not burning. My intention was to put it in a more advantageous position. However, as I grabbed the still cool end of the stick a single burning piece of ash fell right where I placed my thumb. I quickly dropped the stick and began shaking my whole hand the way someone does when they burn themselves. For the past several days I have had a reminder of the encounter, a blister on my right thumb.
The blister is a reminder of the randomness of life. A second earlier or later and I probably wouldn’t have burned myself. In the same way, we often see the haphazard events of our lives. A moment before or after and there’s no car accident or more or fewer injuries in it. A doctor’s appointment a month or two earlier or later and a disease is detected or too far advanced to undergo treatments. A moment premature or delayed and we miss a relationship we cherish or disdain.
Whatever life brings our way there are remains that stay with us. Whether positive or negative who can tell? The most we can do is be aware, open to new experiences and cautiously protecting our souls.
Secrets can destroy lives. Secrets can make enemies of friends. Secrets have a way of eating at us, not giving us any peace and taking over all we say and do. Yet, most of us still hold on to them for fear the secret being found out is worse than the misery it causes each day.
Several years ago I had a friend who was ready to leave his current job for a “better” one. We went out to eat and he laid all his grievances out about his current job. He disliked his occupation, didn’t agree with his boss about the direction of the company and was sick to his gut every day he came to work. To others, he was the model employee but secretly he desperately wanted to go somewhere else. After he finished making his case he took a breath and we talked about the new opportunity and I told him I would be happy to give him a recommendation.
A few hours after our lunch my cell phone rang and it was my friend. We chit chatted a few moments and then he said; “I forgot to ask you, what do you think about me leaving?” I told him it sounded like a good job, the move on his family would be disruptive but manageable and to remember wherever he went he was taking himself with him. I went on to explain that some of his unease and difficulty with his present position was not just the job but were the secrets and burdens he carried with him. “No matter where you go,’ I said quoting one of my favorite wisdom teachers, ‘there you are. “
Don’t carry your secrets and burdens with you.
Ego breeds ego.
I have a friend who is dealing with the impact of another person’s giant ego. This person throws his weight around, reminds subordinates of their place in the company’s food chain, bullies, threatens and seems completely unaware of his self obsession. He feeds his ego by feasting on others. Meetings are uncomfortable because other employees aren’t sure who the target of wrath will be for the day. “It seems selfish,’ says my friend; ‘but when he chooses someone else I’m relieved that it isn’t me even though I feel the other person’s pain.'” My friend has tried fighting back, confronted his rudeness, challenged his preconceptions, pointed out mistakes, but it hasn’t seemed to matter. “I’ve found that when I begin to focus on taking him down a notch or two, proving he’s not as great as he thinks, my ego begins to grow and manifests itself in ugly ways.”
As we worked though this issue I reminded my friend that; “Ego breeds ego. When your goal is to win or someone else to lose, you both suffer.” One of the most difficult people to deal with are those with an inflated opinion of themselves, especially when they are in positions of power. Wisdom teaches us that humility, even in the face of the egotistical, is the path we should walk. Power, pride, personal gratification always slips through the fingers of the grandiose. Starve ego, don’t feed it or breed it.