Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Black and White in a World of Color

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

“I’m a nice person,” he says.

Is he right in saying this?

He thinks he is. But it might be worth his while to do some self-inquiry as well as ask for a second opinion.

Maybe a third and a fourth.

And consider these opinions seriously.

The Partiality of Polarity

Consider these dualistic poles:
  • nice/mean
  • smart/dumb
  • good/bad
  • selfless/selfish
  • saint/sinner
  • pretty/ugly
Can anyone really be described in such simple terms?

In certain cases it may be subjectively so.

I can think of a number of utter psychopaths within the U.S. government, for example, who are phenomenally “mean” and “selfish” and are basically walking definitions of these words (and worse) in every way imaginable (and unimaginable). Every move they make is an attempt to benefit themselves while harming the rest of humanity. Even toward their own kind, they would stab each other in the back in a heartbeat if they deemed it for the best outcome.

But regarding the average person, judging ourselves and others in such a polarized manner isn’t very useful.

After all, we’re more or less choosing one word to describe a whole; we’re choosing a single, intensely polar descriptor to define someone who very most likely exhibits a variety of characteristics depending upon his or her circumstances.

Circumstantial Evidence

There’s a guy I used to work with who had made me (read: who I had allowed to make me) utterly miserable. I’d held a hard set judgment that this man was nothing but a self-serving jackass. Almost a decade after I’d left the job I happened to have a brief conversation with a stranger who also knows the guy. The stranger said to me, “Oh, you know [So-and-So]? He’s a real friendly guy. I know him from [such-and-such].”

To this I just sort of smiled and nodded. I didn’t quite know how to respond. A few years prior I’d let go of my resentment and anger toward the guy from work and acknowledged his authentically friendly and well-meaning side; but knowing his shady work ethic and having had some less-than-kosher intuitions about him, toward the stranger I was left feeling like, Well, if that’s what you think…

Their relationship and the circumstances under which the guy I used to work with and the stranger interacted were completely different from those of the guy from work and myself. Due to this, the stranger and I had both come to very different assessments of the man.

I imagine that you’ve had this experience: If you’ve not eventually broken down after holding a strong judgment of someone—this “someone” possibly being you—and then seen them in more detail, then you’ve at least judged someone for better or for worse only to talk to somebody else who judged the opposite.

My early judgments against the guy from work were heavily skewed toward the negative. I’ve heard many other people in my days who have exhibited similar: every time a certain person’s name comes up, they get grinding away at that person as though he or she is evil itself. Conversely, there are those who may judge positively—way overly positively as if the ones judged are without flaw.

To this we need to ask: What makes us so “sure” that those we judge have no other noteworthy traits, positive or negative, that would expand our narrow viewpoints?

Seeing More of Less

Some folks might answer this question by saying that they acknowledge both the positives and the negatives of others. This claim could be valid, but caution is advised.

For instance, I’ve had many experiences in which people have acknowledged my positive traits, yet only when acknowledgment was convenient to them.

In other situations, for whatever reasons any given person may have had, although they’d acknowledged my positive traits, they were still subconsciously carrying a cover-all notion of them as “better than” and me as “less than.” This inhibited them from truly accepting the fullness of both my positive traits and the totality of me as a person. Their view was like looking at me outside on a sunny day but with sunglasses on—I was seen, but dimly.

Similar can be said of racism, classism, partisanism, theologism, and so on. These are internal filters that strongly skew our ability to see life realistically. This can be so even if we haven't subscribed to such ideologies but our parents or grandparents had. Generational separation offers some of its inherent time-based healing, but as children we're likely to still find remnants of these programs within ourselves.

So just because any of us may seemingly see more clearly than those who are magnetized strongly to either pole doesn’t mean we’re free of thorough perceptual distortions. Indeed, our perceptual dimness may be so all-surrounding or subtle that we don’t even realize the dimness exists.

Self in Every Other

To generally answer the above question differently, we’re so “sure” that those we judge lack other noteworthy traits—positive or negative—because we perceive others as we perceive ourselves. We cannot do otherwise.

For example, if someone deludes themselves with ideas of “all is love” and “everything is perfect” because they fear facing repressed inner turmoil, they’re necessarily going to see others as “loving” and “perfect.” Although others hurt them, their mind distorts their perception in order to justify non-action since calls for action require the uncomfortable inner notice of I hurt and am afraid to stand up for myself.

Sometimes fear-based naiveté may be the cause. Politicians and citizens are a great example of this. Everyone knows that most politicians are scumbags who can’t help but destroy everything they touch. And yet, every year, people still vote for the same idiots who don a smile while lying through their special-interest teeth and trash-talking others during their campaigns. “They mean well, but we’re all flawed,” some may rationalize. Or, “It’s a tough job.” No! These people are sick, and the common man is still self-victimizing and savior-seeking.

A third potential (and the final one I’ll mention but not the last) for polarized judgment is the fear of change. To the extent that we’ve built our lives on faulty ideas is the extent to which we will have to change our lives in order to accommodate what is true for us. For instance, we find that we’re much “safer” when we judge ourselves “good,” “nice,” “loving,” etc. while judging others by their resonance or dissonance with this bogus polar-positive self-image. This allows us to deny what is in the mirror, so to speak, and thus evade our fullness.

Due to this same fear: By denying ourselves the space to change, we cannot but be offended when others change. “How dare you not be the person I’ve identified you as in my mind! How dare you do your own thing and unwittingly shine light on my faulty beliefs!” In extension, when others change contrary to our beliefs about them, for fear of having to change our own thinking, we may stubbornly maintain them as the statues of gold or stone that we’d initially made of them in our minds. Or, because we’re simply unable to occupy a space of variability, we may flip completely from one judgmental extreme to the other. “You don’t want to eat meat and drink beer the American way anymore? Well, eff you!”

Should you look within, I’m sure you will see what I describe here. You will see that the way you perceive others is simply an extension of your own inner world. You create self-judgments just as you’d been taught, and you project them, or some derivative thereof, out into the world around you.

Universal Blame

I have to stress that this topic very much concerns the average person.

I don't doubt that many people would read this and quickly think, Me? Nah. I'm not that extreme. Perhaps you're right. But it's also quite possible that your non-contemplative denial is your unwitting admittance.

Aside from the other strongly dualistic judgments as noted here, several times I've heard people go to an even greater extreme. When speaking of humanity and global events of the last few centuries or so, people have made despairing comments such as, “God needs to just drop a bomb on everyone and start life all over again.”

This phrase may sound socio- or psychopathic, but the people who I've heard say these things are not hellbent on evil, as such—they're just average people who have very poor, powerless/helpless self-images and thus see all of humanity in the same tragic way.

Which means that God doesn't need to drop a bomb on everyone and start life all over again. We simply need to stop imagining that people are who we imagine them to be.

We can accomplish this by ceasing to imagine ourselves to be who we imagine ourselves to be.

Polarized Education

We’ve come to inhabit a state of consciousness in which intense polarity of judgment is a defining trait. Yet because we’ve had to repress to get here, our perceptual distortions are unconscious to us: we see and judge accordingly, but we have no actual awareness as to what our perceptions are according to.

This polarization begins with what we’re taught by “authorities” when we’re children.

If we pitch a fit or don’t do our homework, “You’re a bad girl!” or, “You’re a failure.” On the other end of the spectrum, if we get good grades or do just as mommy and daddy say, “Oh, you’re so smart,” or, “You’re such a good boy.” We’re blessed and cursed in such a dualistic way.

Not that this is any better, but it’s not like we ever hear either, “You got a ‘C’. You’re such a mediocre boy.” Or, “This is our 8-year-old, Stephen; our most par-for-course child.” Indeed, at least by my own perception and as one who struggled through school, my sense was always that a “B” is reasonably acceptable—but you better keep studying!—while a “C” is effectively an upper-level failure—you’re “maybe sort of okay-ish,” but your worthiness of love and your potential to not be a complete failure in life just took a major hit.

Tack on to all of this the influence of issues such as sibling rivalry and other potential childhood traumas and the result is an intensely repulsive force pushing one’s thoughts and perceptions far out of balance.

Left unchecked, this aberration of awareness perpetuates as all I’ve just described and then some. It hangs around our whole lives and clouds every interaction (direct or indirect) that we have.

In this state, it’s difficult-to-impossible to accurately evaluate one’s self, and thus equally or more difficult-to-impossible to accurately evaluate others.

Seeing Real People

By all means, we can all have a subjective view of life: we are each the subjective eyes that experience our individual worlds and we will remain that way however we may change.

But we would be very wise to separate the wheat from the chaff within our minds.

First and foremost, this will remove the mental shroud of sharp polarization that we've been perceiving life through for so long. With continued cultivation our perceptions will clarify and the less we will have any desire or apparent need to judge others at all.

We will come to know a balanced subjectivity with a strong, non-judgment-based foundation of objectivity. This will provide us with both a well-honed discernment and the ability to compassionately see other people, not as black and white, but as the colorful beings they truly are.