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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Living Religion VIII: On Judging Our Fellows (Walking The Walk II)

[I have decided, with dubious wisdom, to continue the LR series. Or, rather, I find that some of the things I feel compelled to chatter on about seem to best fit under the LR rubric.]

[Some may want to catch up with parts I, II, III, IV , V, VI and VII.]


I have spoken of the illusion of the self, and I would here like to explore one of the many implications of the fact of this illusion. Of course, if the reader has quibbles regarding the fact of the illusion of the self, none of this follows, and so one should either go back to Living Religion II: The Self or simply move on.

The ethereal nature of the self naturally implies that when one meets another, one is not meeting a fixed entity. Our companions, family members, and strangers are in a constant state of flux. There is an appearance of consistency of character, but I would submit that this consistency is a very high maintenance effort. We are all in the business of self-definition, obsessively propping up a vision of ourselves, and this has a spillover effect on how we are perceived by others. (Perhaps ironically, what actually takes purchase in other peoples' minds regarding our character or personality rarely matches what we intend, but there is a consistency, however unintended.)

As one who is aware that the self is a fiction, what then is our obligation or responsibility when we encounter the other? Do we assist the person in their self-illusions, or are we required to leave space for the full flowering of their human nature? Is it not immoral to be coconspirators in any illusion which may be held by those around us?

In asking these questions, I would like the reader to consider the full range of human relationships and problems - from marital relations to the criminal justice system. When I am confronted by someone who has established themselves to be of "bad" character, what is my responsibility to this person? If my characterization of the self as illusion is fact (and I argue that it is), then why should any judgment borne of past memory regarding an individual have any weight at all?

One could argue here that once a person has caused injury or insult or some-such that it is very reasonable to protect oneself from further injury. Under the circumstances which prevail in our world today, I would certainly concur that this is reasonable. However, I would argue that what is "reasonable" is a poor standard for human relationship. Frankly, the adherence to reasonableness results in a perpetuation and reinforcement of character, whether it is deemed "good" or "bad" character.

What I am shooting for here is simply what I term "effective action," in the arena of human relations. If I am aware of the illusion of the self, what, again, is my responsibility to the other? Do I not have the moral imperative to free the other from his/her own self image? If I see the immediate and present danger of self image, does this not compel me to suffer any injury and insult which may come forth due to this self image? After all, there are two parties who are responsible for the creation of any self - the individual himself, and the community surrounding that individual. That a person has a self image is bad enough, but am I to commit the sin of furthering that image, of buttressing it?

As regards insult or injury, it would be well to at this point reorient the reader by asking the question, who is it that is being insulted or injured? If one is aware of that he, himself, is an illusory being (please - I am not being mystical here. Of course we exist, just not in the way that we imagine ourselves), then there is no "self" in which an injury can take purchase. When I wake up tomorrow, there is simply no reason to remember at all any action which has happened today. I can face the day afresh, ready to respond with my naturally loving concern.

Going back to "effective action," let's hypothesize a "goal" to "make the world better." I say "hypothesize," as I find goal-making to be paradoxically counterproductive to goal-fullfillment (hmm... I think that may require a post all on its own.) However, in order that we may talk about things, let's just agree that we would like the world to be "a better place." This is obviously restricted to human relationship, since it is we who have made the world, to whatever degree, "bad." I baldly submit that any attempts to manipulate the behaviour of our selves or the others' have proven to be woefully inadequate - as a matter of fact I have found that the "blowback" from such manipulations only exacerbate any problems we may have. This is as true with interpersonal relationships as it is with the criminal justice system or international relations.

No - effective action, in interpersonal relationships, is only possible when there is a space left for preconceived "selves" to step outside of the illusion. And this is only possible when the effluvia of illusion is simply ignored, and one remains steadfast in love with the other. This is where a transformative effect results, when there is effective action.

Many have been witness to this, and it is our only hope.

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