Tag Archives: collaboration

How turning the other cheek is a way of fighting back

I consider myself something of a pacifist. I abhor violence, don’t see the appeal of potentially bloody sports like boxing or mixed martial arts, and wish we would spend more energy on promoting collaboration rather than celebrating competition, which always involves a loser as well as a winner, and which to date has played such a central role in shaping our society.

Does one person have to lose for another person to win? What does winning really mean and is there a way that we can re-define it? Can we agree that true winning means that all parties involved benefit? Is that even an achievable goal? Is it realistic to suggest that as a society we should move away from a win/lose binary system that is so deeply entrenched in our psyches?

Christianity and I parted ways long ago, but I still sometimes ponder what Jesus meant exactly when he said: “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. Seems to me this is an invitation to be stepped on. And as someone who has struggled to stand up for myself, this is all too close to a call to passivity and apathy – which in my mind facilitated the spread of ideological viruses like nazism and racist apartheid policies. The result of turning the other cheek is that people DO step all over you, given half a chance. And they end up defining the world we live in, while we become ineffective, largely powerless pawns.

So, how to live a virtuous life without bending our will to every person who challenges us? I think it takes a change in attitude, and a move away from the individualist approach that much of Western society has embraced. It means seeing each moment, each interaction as an opportunity to build something together, to work together, to collaborate. And to recognize the humanity in the other person. It means seeing ourselves as connected.

Often I think people act in inconsiderate ways, not because they are necessarily malicious or out to get us. But because many of us are motivated by selfish impulses – if not always then at least at times. We don’t necessarily take that extra moment to consider the impact of our words and actions on those who walk alongside us. We must actively combat this within ourselves if we are serious about promoting peace and respect.

Of course, there are limits. We are each responsible for our own actions. I cannot reasonably be expected to help every needy person who crosses my path. And not every needy person has the right to expect that of me. The approach I’m proposing demands that we give up our sense of entitlement, our sense that the world owes us a living and that everyone else is responsible for making us feel good or bad. We must each take claim to our own lives and set in motion the actions and attitudes that best serve us – without infringing on the rights of others to live a life of dignity and respect.

In terms of fighting back, what does this mean? For me, it means that when I’m confronted with ignorance or a lack of charity from others, I will not resort to knee-jerk reactions of rage and vengefulness. That path has the potential to lead me astray too easily. And it benefits no one in the long term. Instead, I will “turn the other cheek”, not by giving into the hate or cynicism I’m confronted with, or by being reduced to silence, but by not fighting back with similar hate or cynicism. I will continue to speak my truth, with kindness, and love, and I will continue to be open to other points of view.

I will not see myself in adversity to others. Instead, I see us as co-conspirators in the construction of the world. The world needs more kindness. Standing up for that is my way of fighting back.

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Fear and Anger and Me

Last night was a case in point. My computer failed to load a new plugin correctly. Big deal, right? I poked around looking for a way to fix it so I could get on with watching the video I’d loaded. It was our date night and this was not what I’d had in mind.

Next to me M sat quietly until she finally said: “let me know if you want me to say anything”. I was annoyed and frustrated and when I finally gave up and asked for her input, my feelings showed. She hesitantly proposed a few options, but they didn’t work either. I was getting angrier and angrier. Until I just got up and went into my room and slammed the door.

So stupid.

Eventually I figured out the problem, on my own, in my room – but I didn’t feel good. Because the way I treated M wasn’t right. And it’s been happening more and more. I’m confronted with something, an obstacle or complex task, and instead of collaborating to come up with a solution, I lash out in frustration and we go our separate ways.

Maybe it’s because I simply don’t trust that another person can possibly want to work on something with me. Or maybe it’s because I feel, deep down, my other failures percolating and the obstacle in front of me simply reinforces the low opinion I already hold of myself.

I know when I’m being a jerk; I watch myself as if I were a third person in the room. And yet, some mental block stops me from interrupting the behaviour. Then the guilt sets in: I’m quick to anger, quick to give up, and M walks around feeling like she’s walking on egg-shells. That right there, is not good enough. I hate that I make her, or anyone, feel like that.

Lately I’ve been embracing the practice of repeating in my mind – at different times during the day – a quality in myself that I would like to develop. I was inspired by a recent Insight Meditation talk by Gil Fronsdal where he discussed the merits of establishing what he termed Reference Points throughout the day to reinforce the values by which you wish to live. This week the word I chose was ‘ease’.

By nature I’m a worrier, and one of my many diagnoses over the years has been generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t put much stock in these types of labels. Seems to me if you put a label like that on someone it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, something that a person might claim as a permanent character flaw or as something that they are rather than looking at changing the conditions that created those feelings.

But what the word captures is the sense of panic that has been present for too much of my life. I could easily spend days, months, years analyzing where the panic started and why it has been so persistent (growing up with a father who was constantly on the verge of death due to severe health issues, being raised by a mother who had little love for me, living in a country steeped in violence and hurt for a good chunk of my formative years, losing friends to suicide, losing my father and eventually the support of my family).  But at this point I think I already have a good grasp of why I exist in a state of perpetual fear.

Creating reference points is a way of putting aside the past for a moment and focusing on the present and future, on the person I aspire to be every day, and making small steps – day by day – to actually being that person. That’s the approach I’m choosing to take.

The practice didn’t do me much good last night, as the rage just bubbled over and flooded every other emotion. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes. The trick is to keep going.