Friday, September 5, 2014

really stupid, really smart

Sitting down with a nurse whose job it was to take a drop of blood from my finger, I commented on the newly-acquired suntan/burn on her face. We're chums in the sense that I check in with her from time to time, so a little personal banter goes with the medical proceeding.

"It was stupid!" she said emphatically. "I fell asleep in the sun. Really stupid!"

Her face, especially below the eyes, looked painful. But her insistence on chastising herself struck me as extreme.

"If that's the stupidest thing you've ever done, Anne, you're miles ahead of the other guys," I commented lightly, hoping to alleviate some of the acid criticism she was heaping on her own head.

My verbal nostrum had minimal effect: She made several other comments to indicate how disappointed she was by her "stupidity."

When I was a kid, I had a deep devotion to cap pistols. They were the top-drawer possession in my cowboys-and-Indians imagination. Today, of course, I look back on that affection with an indulgent nod: What was smart and credible at one time had lost its luster. Now, perhaps, it had an element of "stupid" ... but how different was "stupid" from its shadow "smart?"

Twenty-twenty hindsight is pretty easy. Everyone has got a laundry list of things that were adored/despised but now no longer have the same impact.

But the ease with which the past is viewed and assessed is not so easy when applied to present gods and demons. What might it be like, for example, if today's affections and beliefs were assessed with the same ease as cap pistols and sun burns?

Later in the day, I was chatting with an old chum who had likewise done some pretty serious Zen Buddhist training. In the course of assessing a letter written by a one-time Zen teacher, we were brought up short by an assertion that there was a deep karmic connection the between the writer and two other teachers who happened to have been born in the same year.

"Can you believe there was a time when we believed that shit?" I asked my friend. "Yeah ... hook, line and sinker," he chuckled in response. Both of us had "been there and done that," and in hindsight we had been "stupid" about what once had been "smart."

I guess it is wise to use the template of "sun burns" or "cap pistols" to assess current enthusiasms. Sure, it's important. Sure it deserves care. Sure it may be "transformative," though it's a little hard to name something that is not transformative.

Just a gentle question: To what extent does this devotion partake of what is bound to become a cap pistol or sun burn? It's no good to simply dismiss it ... but is that a reason for adoring it? Sure, it may be bullshit, but is there a way to know bullshit without walking the bullshit walk?

Is there something better than bullshit for making the flowers grow?

Is "really stupid" really stupid ... or "really smart" really smart?

1 comment:

  1. I'm willing to dismiss all claims of having ever been or of ever being smart in exchange for having never been or of ever being stupid. But i'm a little concerned that this deal might not let me off the hook for taking responsibility. Even though free of the label, there's still chores looming. And some sort of judgments may happen anyway. Oh well.