“For some reason she was committed to robbing a bank–the only truly reliable explanation for which is the simpleset one: people do rob banks. If this seems illogical, then you are still judging events from the point of view of someone who’s not robbing a bank and never would because he knows it’s crazy.”
–Richard Ford, in Harper’s Magazine, June 2012
Someone we’ll call Mike and I used to fight over things that to him were “small” and to me, “big.” We used to find ourselves spewing things like, “Ugh! That’s not how I said it at all!” or “How can you think that?!” I would reenact something I said with the gentle voice of Snow White–how I remembered saying it!–while in his reenactment I was more like the Harry Potter’s blithering, hateful uncle. We could go around and around that hamster wheel until we collapsed. One time I thought I was very keen as I explained himself to him with, “If something doesn’t make sense to YOU, then you just dismiss it!” to which he countered, “No, not if it doesn’t make sense to ME. If it doesn’t make sense to the WORLD!” dramatically flailing his arms in the air (I imagine…the debate was over the phone…widely agreed to be the best way to argue, right?? ) Not one of our better moments. All in all, though, a sound example of our norm…a good number of our conflicts were tied up in a simple and unavoidable difference in perspective. That’s all. Just like Phil said.
When two people are interacting in the same time and space but from completely separate vantage points (namely, our senses, our brains, our memories, our souls), it’s really miraculous that understanding, compassion, and putting on of the proverbial “other’s shoes” occur at all! In one of my recent posts, Stir Up the Love, I suggested that recognizing our connectedness is key to transcending perspectives and moving on to understanding. We are all part of each other’s experience, right?
But then I had a second thought about that. I think loving your enemy is also about being able to recognize our separateness.
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
Don Miguel Ruiz
I am not Mike. He is not I. And when I can surrender to the fact that his experience is just as valid as mine….that he is trying to do his best with what he has, just as I am….that my reality is just different than his, that it’s just like that 30 Rock muppet episode where you get to see the world through Tracy, Jack, and Kenneth’s eyes…
… then I can actually feel the compassion begin to quell my anger.
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
So in some strange and beautiful way, my compassion seems to rely both on connectedness AND separateness. I haven’t gotten it all straightened out yet, and I’m probably reinventing the wheel with all these words, but maybe it’s that honoring our separateness lets us disentangle our emotions enough to feel compassion and acceptance for the Mikes in our lives from a safe distance, while honoring our connectedness to Mikes compels us to not forsake them altogether and infuses us with gratitude for sharing a time and space with them at all. For whatever grander purpose that encounter served.
To be continued of course…