It’s more about who you are than what you do.
For too long, we’ve looked at others and ourselves through the lens of an act and ignored the lens of being. Because of this habit, one of a choice of perception, we have allowed others to have a negative impact on us, our loved ones, our planet. Worse, if we think our actions have resembled those that seem to be “bad”, we lump ourselves into that category as well. Self-love takes a hit and judgement born of this kind of comparison then rules over us for as long as we are possessed of that manner of perception. This creates fertile ground for a culture that thrives on division.
This is pretty esoteric so far. So for examples sake, let’s take the Trump phenomenon since that’s my own particular cross to bear in the moment.
When I look at supporters of Trump, my first inclination is to lump them into a category. I admit that this is egoic and shallow. My only victory in this regard is that I see my ego and sense the shallowness of this view, this vast judgement of others. I am tempted to think of them as fearful people who are inadequate critical thinkers. They are sheep, living their lives – at least politically – through sound-bites and emotion. They are fans of reality TV, get their news from FOX and are overly enamored of Hollywood stars.
I'm not looking to excuse harmful or thoughtless behavior in myself or others, but this is completely unfair to them. If I succumb to my own ego, I've forgotten that the world is changing at possibly an unprecedented pace, that people are frightened as their paradigms are threatened and just wish more than anything to feel secure again. Instead, if I were to look at each individual person who is hoping to cast a hanging chad for Trump in November, I would undoubtedly see people who are loyal to their friends. They probably love their God and are trying super hard to "be good" in the midst of a radically changing world. They may be trying to raise a loving family and to make enough money, somehow, to take their partners on a nice vacation somewhere. I understand all these things. Take Trump out of it and they become people; people with whom I share many interests. I may even admire much of their lives. But if I see one of these people with whom I share some significance pick up a sign saying, “Make America Great Again”, I may become triggered. Left unchecked, my own fearful ego is wont to jump in and advise with some force that I forget what might be the unifying concepts and just concentrate on how much I disagree with them.
The baby, in other words, goes kerplunk on the ground with all that dirty bathwater.
So this is how it works with judging others, from Muslims to Californians to your local neighborhood Bible thumper: we see someone doing something we dislike and put them in the ground wholesale. Or, conversely and maybe even more commonly, we see someone do something we like and put them on a pedestal. We see this with media and sports stars all the time. We like a movie and suddenly the star is wonderful human being. A guy scores the winning touchdown and we can overlook multiple rape accusations. A religious leader gives a great speech and suddenly he's a prophet. An unethical corporation makes a donation to our favorite charity and it buys them five more years of polluting the very water you depend upon to live – and they know they are doing it. More specifically (and to choose some very low-hanging fruit), Monsanto makes a product that increases farm production and suddenly they’re “feeding the world”, never mind the poison.
Search your own experience and I think you’ll see that it works the same way with judging ourselves. We have a moment of weakness and the self-flaggelation begins. It feels good because we are punishing the bad girl who did that terrible thing. The reasons behind our belief that the act is terrible in the first place are seldom called to testify in this court. Self-righteousness toward the self is inflamed suddenly and no punishment is enough. We may beat ourselves for decades. I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve done it. Or again, we may help a lady across the street and blow THAT out of proportion. We let a little of our natural light shine – a gift in the first place - and suddenly we’re Ghandi.
Either way, we are missing the point.
We have been programmed to think in terms of right/wrong, of sin/virtue, of good/bad. But this is divisive and hollow, not to mention an eternally simplistic way of seeing the world and ourselves.
The point is this: actions are not the only issue. They are signposts. They are indicators of what is going on with that entity at that moment. It’s not that they are not important, it’s that we place too much value on them. They are income statements, not balance sheets. Income statements take a snapshot of a financial picture at a defined space in time. The end of a fiscal year, for instance. Balance sheets take into account all the assets and all the liabilities to determine a company’s worth. You can see the problems that looking at one or the other alone might create. But we are far more apt to judge worth based on the former. Since we are out of practice of seeing at a higher level, as God might, for instance, we take the one action and judge wildly based on that. Much of religion loves this. It’s how you get radical Muslims. It's how you get the Westboro Baptist Church and their “God Hates Fags” banners to appear at funerals, carried by the righteous warriors of the humble Nazarene.
However, spirituality does NOT behave in this manner, towards oneself or others. Jesus illustrated this quite powerfully in the episode of the woman taken in adultery (John 8). Spirituality wants to see the whole picture as Creator does because that is the nature of our Souls. We can comprehend more fully from the level of Eagle - the highest flying bird - rather than the level of Snake, to speak from a certain shamanic tradition. Since we are human with limitations of mind, we will never fully comprehend another human being. There is too much information encased in each of us. We are far too complex. Far better to cultivate our Connection with all of Life and sense the worth of ourselves and of the souls of the Other, apart from a momentary snapshot (or snapchat). Acting from this point of view automatically increases our ability to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. It allows us to take a moment of personal weakness and take a look at what is really going on with us, rather than exhaust all our effort in the beating. We can have a conversation with our own inner prisoner. And the things that little boy or girl will tell us… well, they can be super informative and helpful in ways we cannot imagine until we do it.
If a person makes a series of choices in the same vein - a serial shoplifter, for example - sure, you could get an idea about an aspect of that person. But you still don't know him. You don't know why he shoplifts. It doesn't mean some kind of punishment is not appropriate. It simply means you can't judge that man, nor is it your job to do so. Let it go and get to work on your own judgement and, if you can assist the man, do it with all the compassion that is your Soul's nature.
In the end, it’s about a shift in perception. A simple noticing of what arises. It’s the act of asking “what is that?” when we experience a report of some horrific thing (like Trump saying something), or if we fall below our own expectations. But it’s not about “figuring it out”, either. Rather, there is a certain amount of acceptance of the situation. Not an embrace as much as an acknowledgement. From there, yes, legislation against child pornographers may be necessary. It may take guns to protect the innocent within our care. But don’t think that you are solving anything by legislation or by guns, and don’t allow the self-righteous priest within yourself to take the pulpit. The issues are deeper than that both with the individual and the culture.
The time has come to train ourselves to see more profoundly. To stop hacking at leaves which is easy, and take up a shovel which is initially much harder but provides far greater leverage. Because it’s not only about what you do. It’s about what you Be.
(Illustration artist unknown. Still getting to know the author.)