Yesterday evening, I sharpened my drawing pencils — graphite and carbon — and laid them out on my desk. I’ve decided, beginning today, to practice for an hour each day. That shouldn’t be too much of a commitment to keep.
It will be a long time before anything comes of it though. So, perhaps, I will learn a little bit more about patience.
Tonight, I’m amused that, at 54, I am still trying to learn patience. And even more amused that I want to hurry up and learn it fast.
Individuals learn. But every generation repeats the same learning mistakes.
We like to remind each other that the net is deceptive. We say, “You cannot tell, over the net, whether the person who claims to drive a Mercedes, and to own stock in 40 corporations, is telling the truth”. But in what way does that matter?
My friend, Arun, has a different take on it. He says, “The net strips away several of the more superficial ways in which we are accustomed to judging people. You cannot tell how rich or poor someone is. You cannot tell what caste, clan, or race they belong to. You cannot tell how good looking they are. You cannot even be sure of their gender. So you are not distracted so much by those things unless your imagination gets the best of you. And that lack of distraction allows you to more easily concentrate on other matters. How well they think and reason, for instance. How accurately they listen. Whether they make an effort to understand you.”
In the end, most — but perhaps not everything — that we believe to be true about other people comes down to what we know about ourselves. When we think, “Jones is compassionate”, we are usually, on some level, reasoning, “If I had done what Jones did, it would be because I was feeling compassion”. And that sort of reasoning is so convincing to us!
We might now and then doubt that we got our conclusions right. But we seldom, if ever, doubt our procedure for arriving at our conclusions. We seldom ask ourselves, “Can I really trust this procedure?’ Yet, it sometimes fails us.
A favorite example of that failure concerns erotic dance. I used to think along the lines, “Anyone who watches erotic dancers quickly learns not to imagine themselves having sex with the dancers because looking at the dancers that way could, in any normal situation, only lead to feelings of frustration. And how can you enjoy the simple beauty of the dancers if you are feeling increasingly frustrated?”
Yet, after some time discussing erotic dance with people, I have slowly come to the conclusion that a sizable portion of the people who go to erotic dance clubs must not only be imagining themselves having sex with the dancers, but must also be trying very hard to imagine themselves having sex with the dancers. Nevertheless, it took me a ridiculously long time to recognize that fact because I kept assuming that my own attitude was a sure footed basis for understanding other people’s attitudes.
Perhaps someone else would have caught on sooner. But I think there must be many times in each of our lives when we have been blindsided by the apparently universal human tendency to assume that we can know what is going through the hearts and minds of other people based on what we know of ourselves.
On a couple of occasions, young, heterosexual women have asked me to take them to erotic dance clubs. Both times, the women used the same word to describe their experience: “Liberating”. (Perhaps oddly enough, “liberating” is how I think of the experience myself.) But the thought occurs to me that neither of those women would have found their experience liberating if they had spent the evening yearning to have sex with the dancers. Frustrating, perhaps, but most likely not liberating.
Stephen Mitchell somewhere writes to the effect that much of the world’s best religious literature — such as the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita — self destruct. By which I think he means they purposely undermine their own authority. They make claims but then say, “But, of course, our scriptures are not the reality; and if you know the reality, then you don’t need our silly scriptures.”
I think it can be hard for many Westerners to understand that attitude.
After all, we almost always take it as a mark of seriousness — if not even a mark of holiness — that we believe in our creeds, believe in our theologies, or believe in our various holy books. And often enough, the firmer our belief, the better we feel about it. But is anyone who goes no further than beliefs — no matter how profound those beliefs — spiritually serious?