Saturday, June 18, 2011

nice guys finish ... or do they?

Some years ago, my sister, whose kids were quite young, and I were lounging on a beach and chatting. My sister was and is a social worker, but she is also a feet-on-the-ground person. She was relating a school-day incident at her son's school and then assessing the school's overall approaches, which, in general, she liked.

"But the one thing that drives me nuts," she added, "is the overcompensating 'niceness' that is politically correct and purely stupid. When some Johnny hits some Peter, you don't say, 'Now Johnny, why do you think you hit Peter?' You say, "Johnny, don't hit Peter!'"

Overcompensating niceness. Imagining that someone's feelings might be spared. Imagining compassion. Imagining a world that is good-er than good.

Yes, I can be guilty of that.

In spiritual practice, I have always preferred to be among those who would slap me upside of the head when I was being a jackass. Practice was too important to me to want to evade issues with a glossy warmth or touchy-feely hum. I wasn't always happy about feeling the lash and I was subjected along the way to teachers who abused the function, but in general, I found something true and valuable in Ta Hui's (approximate) observation, "I have always taken a great vow that I would rather burn in hell for all eternity than portray Zen as a human emotion."

This is just my preference. If you find a spiritual practice useful, then go for the throat. If you don't find it useful, that's OK too. But I am uncomfortable among those who insist on making spiritual practice too nice, too caring, too compassionate, too virtuous. This is hard, flinty work. Let's do our best just to do it. If you want hugs and kisses, talk to your mom.

Of course, nothing happens overnight, whether it be seriousness or accomplishment. Everybody wobbles along the way.

But as a preference ....

1 comment:

  1. I think it's a little like military or martial arts training. At some point it has o become realistic. Live rounds, real hits, real emotions. Nice features in this but so does not-nice.

    To stick with just nice is showing a lack of respect. A lackof faith in anothers ability to deal with the full range of human emotions, to be authentic. To stick with nice means playing with half a deck.

    With permission.

    In martial arts training both agree the level of contact that is allowed and that sometime accidents happen. Intent is key. Intent is either 'we are training together and respectfully trading real blows to gain skills" or "I want to hurt you".

    This week ITRW I've dealt cards from both halves of the deck. With respect hopefully!