So, this is about a person, a t-shirt, and a difference in attitudes.

There’s this person I know. I’ve known them for years. I’m not going to say who it is, or even drop any hints about their gender, age, or relationship to me in any way. Because this daily think is about me, and only tangentially about them. I need to call them something, so for the duration of this post, I’ll refer to them by the wonderfully androgynous name Storm.

I’m not going to bandy about here. Storm is conservative, and more than just conservative: hatefully so. I’ve heard Storm refer to liberals as snowflakes, express glee over getting into arguments with them, say hateful, essentialist, reductive things about women, black people, and transgender people.

Over the many years I’ve known Storm, I’ve seen these attitudes go from just peeking above the surface, a little glimpse, to full on hate-iceberg floating above the water, ready to crash into my boat. (It’s not a great metaphor, work with me here.)

As this hateberg has made itself more apparent, I’ve gradually distanced myself from Storm, as well as some of Storm’s family and friends. I just don’t have the space in my life for that sort of toxic hatred, irrationality, and anger.

“Fuck Your Safe Space.” Lovely.

“Fuck Your Safe Space.” Lovely.

Recently, I bumped into them again. They were very proud of a new t-shirt they’d bought.

This isn’t the exact t-shirt, the slogan isn’t the same, nor the color. But the sentiment is very similar.

When I saw this thing, it really bothered the heck out of me.

I got a look on my face, that surely conveyed how unthrilled I was by it. I heard Storm comment to a friend, “Some people just aren’t gonna like it. Too bad for them.”

I didn’t confront them directly. I did stew about it.

Hence, this blog post.

I have this daily practice. Each day, I spend some amount of time in meditation and contemplation about some aspect of my life, human consciousness, emotional intelligence, and our relationship to one another. I study, for lack of a better term, being. This is something I’ve done for about 17 years or so now. Sometimes, I will ponder the same thing for many days, weeks, months, even years. (Compassion was one of my longest ones - I spent a good 18 months on it, several years ago.)

Lately, hate has been on my mind. What is it? Why do people do it? What can and should I do about other people’s hate?

I’ve been working on this latest contemplation for several days now. A few things have jumped out at me.

  1. That shirt, and the sort of attitude it espouses is inherently paradoxical. “Hey,” it says, “pay attention to me not paying attention to you!” The very thing it protests, it also demands. Ridiculous.

  2. For a long time now, I’ve held the belief that negative action is both more expensive and less useful than positive action. It’s human and natural to get angry. But to go out of one’s way to be negative costs a lot of energy. And it doesn’t really yield worthwhile results. Whereas positive action is the very opposite.

    I’ll use an example from my own life. I used to have this very negative boss at an old job of mine. He was horrible. Racist, judgmental, snarky and dishonest. I tried over the course of a year or so, to point out to him what an insensitive jerk he was, and to get him to do better. Eventually, I realized it was fruitless. So I found myself a new job, and quit. That was more than a decade ago. My career has blossomed since then. He’s a distant memory.

  3. I think hatred is a manifestation of a form of discomfort, or perhaps fear. “I don’t like this thing that is happening, so I’m going to react to it in this way.” It’s reactionary.

  4. Whether they realize it or not, hateful people serve a purpose that they themselves cannot avoid. They’re instructive. Every time I hear Storm open their mouth to say some terrible thing, it furthers my own resolve to be as little like them as possible. Not just that I want to be kind and compassionate, but also that I strive to be self-aware, self improving, and not blind to the ways I might harm others through my own actions and beliefs.

There’s a taoist precept, wu-wei, the “action of inaction.” It’s not passivity. Rather, it’s a form of detachment. Do that which is necessary, and only that.

There’s a particular verse from the Tao te Ching, #2, that describes this very well. (Stephen Mitchell translation)

When people see some things as beautiful,

other things become ugly.

When people see some things as good,

other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.

Difficult and easy support each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low depend on each other.

Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything

and teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come;

things disappear and she lets them go.

She has but doesn't possess,

acts but doesn't expect.

When her work is done, she forgets it.

That is why it lasts forever.

Kindness and hatred also define each other. So, Storm’s attitudes, and actions have furthered my resolve in some very important ways. More than ever, I’m committed to my default position of being kind to others. More than ever, I look for opportunities to help other people. In my voting, politics, charitable giving, I’m committed to pass laws to minimize the ability of hateful people to harm others, and to help out the little guy when and where I can.

On a personal level, I can see that, as has been my previous course, I’m steering clear of Storm. If the occasion arises for me to compassionately tell them why, I will. But I’m going to do my best to not fret about it, because it’s not necessary.

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
CategoriesDaily Think

Te is a major concept in Taoism. It means about 20 different things (see the wikipedia article), but most often is translated as “virtue.” Not so much virtue like exceptional moral fiber, but more like “the virtues of a cold glass of water on a hot day.” Still, it’s a maddeningly difficult concept to grasp, never mind practice.

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Having te means using the power and nature of what’s in front of you, to the best of your ability. Every so often I have a really goofy, stupid experience that helps me remember what it is, and how to use it. Take this mustard packet.

 I got it when I bought my lunch today, at a little deli near my office. (Baked fish and a side of steamed broccoli.) I picked up several packets of this and mayo, with the intention of pouring them out and mixing them up into a sauce to dip my kinda boring lunch into.

The first couple of packets opened up super easy. I got ‘em all emptied out and stirred together, it was a party. But THIS bugger, I just couldn’t get it to tear. So I put it aside.

Eventually, I ate up all my yummy sauce, and wanted more. So I picked up the troublemaker and tried again. It just kept slipping from my fingers, and wouldn’t tear.

Then I realized I’d been trying to tear it at the wrong end, the one without the little arrow.

Duh.

Or, more appropriately, te!

I turned that sucker around, laughed at myself, and tore it open.

It’s amazing how much easier things get when you’re paying attention to how you do them.

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
CategoriesgratitudeNow

I'm pretty beat.  I've got some heavy stuff on my mind, which I'm not going to get into here on the blog in detail, because Internet.

But the good news is, I've got tools to deal with my heavy stuff.

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I've been engaged in my mindful practice of Taoism  for over 15 years now.  It's not a magic solution that solves all problems, and leaves me floating in midair.  Rather, it's a discipline, a practice.  And it doesn't mean that I live in a state of perpetual bliss, either.  Really, it's just the opposite.  I don't particularly feel any one thing all the time.  Rather I'm committed to stay and feel everything.

Over the years I've been doing it, my understanding of that practice has grown and changed.

But my fidelity to it has not.  

Today I'm focused on a key tool that's part of that practice, wu wei, the action of non-action.  It's not laziness, or indolence.  It's a kind of relaxing surrender.  

Think of how water is.  When you pour it into a glass, it takes the shape of that glass.  It surrenders to gravity and form.  And yet water is among the most powerful things on the planet.  

Storms and floods can erase mankind from places.  And nothing grows without water to help it along.  But water's power comes from its quiet nature.  True, raindrops can hollow out a canyon - but not all at once.  Just over time.

This is where wu wei comes to bear.  I can make myself spun up and anxious and out of sorts over things - and it will not change them.  What will change them is me, being present and moving through time, one second per second, into the future.

I can obsess over how things were, or may yet be.  But that's not real.  Instead, I can make the conscious choice to be present, and do nothing.

Posted
AuthorMako Allen

So, recently there's this particular someone I've found myself saying no to a lot.  

"No, you can't borrow my shark shaped hyper spanner."  

"No, we're not cleaning the EPS conduits."

"No, you cannot take an away team down to the planet's surface."

(I've also, consequently, been watching a lot of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I really enjoy, but that's a whole separate topic.)

Often when this particular ensign (go with me here, Star Trek metaphor) kept coming to me, I got the distinct impression that they saw me as the Captain of the ship, or maybe ship's counselor.  Some sort of senior officer, anyhow.

But I'm just a crewman, like anyone else.  Sure, I put together the shark dive on the holodeck, sure I'm willing to take a few minutes out of my duty shift to tell people an awesome zen story in between servicing warp coils, sure I led that infamous game of fizbin in the mess hall that went on for 72 hours straight.  Yes, yes, yes.

(Are you getting that I really like Star Trek here?  Because I really do.)

But I'm still just one guy on the ship.  Not THE guy.  And sometimes I need my sleep.  Or to catchup on my personal log.  (How the heck do star dates even work?)  I'm just a person.  

Still, saying no to Ensign Needhelp over and over was starting to feel really bad to me.  

Here's an infamous 15 minute long compilation of Security Chief Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation getting told no, getting shut down, over and over in various ways.

When I first saw this thing, years ago, it made me howl with laughter.  Lately I find I can watch about 5 minutes of it before I have to tap out.  Go on, give it a try.  Or feel free to tell me no.

I've been realizing something important, working on it for a bit, about that No I keep giving the ensign.

The no for them isn't about them.  It's the complement to a yes for me.

A who-what now?

A complement.  A thing which of necessity is required for balance and wholeness.  Like the way a coin has a heads side and a tails side.  You can't have one without the other.  "Oh but head and tails are opposites, mako?", you might say.

Sort of.  But also complements.  When I say no to something, I'm saying yes to something else.

So, everybody knows the yin-yang symbol, the taijitu, or "supreme ultimate."  Big swirly circle, two sides, two dots, Yin and Yang.  The reason the dots are there, the reason the sides are swirls is that they contain one another, extend one another, and define one another.

Kinda like this:

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

This is much more what I'm going for.  During the whole year there's not one instant where you're not heading toward midsummer and away from midwinter, or just the opposite.  Every minute, of every day, you come closer and closer to that pivot point.  

Just in the same way, when you say no to things you don't have the energy, time, interest, or whatever-is-required-to-do-it for, you're also saying yes to other things.  Everyone is.  All the time.

It's beautiful.

Today I explained some part of this to that particular ensign, and made sure I was clear because I wanted to be understood.

It felt good.