Sunday, February 26, 2012

stolen valor, uncertain life

Intellectually,  it is as satisfying as a chocolate drop, the old Chinese saying, "Do not ride another's horse; do not draw another's bow." Using others' accomplishments as a basis for personal satisfaction is a poor, if common, way of doing things:

If the Bible says so and I can rattle off biblical assertions, I am as wide and wise as the Bible. If I know baseball statistics and history, I have earned the right to pontificate from a bar stool or shout epithets from the stands. If I know Shakespeare from muzzle to butt plate, then, ipso facto, I stand upon a platform that others may look up to and I can bask in that limelight. The list goes on and on and is so common that ... well, if it's common, and if I fear loneliness, then I too may partake in this second-hand world and be content. Everybody says so, so it must be OK. But if it's so OK, how come I don't quite feel OK?

This is the contentment of beggars. Things are never quite 100% because I have placed my bet on someone else's life, someone else's horse, someone else's bow.

I am not interested in criticizing the social phenomenon. I am interested in what works or what works better. In what mirror can anyone look and not feel endlessly incomplete, mildly or sincerely fraudulent, and never quite in balance?

When I was a kid, my upbringing was such that I became neurotically afraid of claiming accomplishment or success. I did not deserve it. And even when I did accomplish something, the presumption was that it would be taken away. The glass was half empty ... always ... and I worked and worked to fill it up.

Nowadays I feel that, as a matter of contentment, there is not a hell of a lot of difference between "half-empty" and "half-full." Neither acknowledges the other half ... the glass ... and the life that fills it. Even as I write, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of a man who claimed to have won the Medal of Honor (America's highest military award). It is an extreme example of claiming what is not my own ... of riding another's horse and pulling another's bow. An extreme example of what, I think, is commonplace and sad... they're calling it a case of "stolen valor." It is easy to feel the outrage of the case ... and less easy to pull away from the Greek chorus of theft to which any of us might belong:

I lie, you lie and since we both lie, it must be the truth ... until, looking in the bathroom mirror, it is not.

The antidote to this scenario, bitter as the pill may be, lies in experience.

Your experience is enough. My experience is enough. Your thoughts are enough -- agreement is not necessary. My thoughts are enough -- no need to seek validation or claim some wider 'meaning.'

This approach requires practice since other practices are so forcefully entrenched. I chose Zen Buddhism as a practice. Should everyone else go out and practice Zen Buddhism? There was a time -- a wobbly and uncertain time -- when I thought so. But that's not how things work. Finding your horse or mine, your bow or mine is an intimate matter -- utterly personal -- and the discipline and effort it takes comes in all shapes and sizes.

But whatever the effort, it is an effort worth making, I think. No need to seek for friends when we are already friends. No need to rest our case on someone else's accomplishments. We have our own experience and it is enough. When we make mistakes we correct them. That is enough. When we laugh, we laugh ... and it is enough. When we kiss our friends, the tale is complete ... who kisses whom is not the point ... but a kiss ... well, ahhhhhh.

You draw your bow. You ride your horse.

I draw my bow. I ride my horse.

And in this way, we can both assure a peace without uncertain allegations.

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