Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down
Don't let the bastards get you down."
- Kris Kristofferson
Here's an old Zen parable for your consideration:
Two monks were traveling together, an older monk and a younger monk. They noticed a young woman at the edge of a stream, afraid to cross. The older monk picked her up, carried her across the stream and put her down safely on the other side. The younger monk was astonished, but he didn't say anything until their journey was over. "Why did you carry that woman across the stream? Monks aren't supposed to touch any member of the opposite sex." said the younger monk. The older monk replied "I left her at the edge of the river, are you still carrying her?"
Fast forward to my very non-monk self, circa 2005 or so. I met a woman - she worked at the now defunct Blockbuster next to the Publix where we grocery shop. I'd balanced my shopping cart next to my truck in the parking lot, and it rolled back about two or three feet into the car behind me. But, no harm, no foul, so I reset my cart and began loading my groceries again.
Suddenly, this woman came running out of the video store. She was screaming at me about her car, her unharmed car. She let loose with a barrage of accusations - nothing profane or hyperbolic - just intense inquiries into my values: "How can you be so careless?" "Why do you think you have the right to hurt someone else's property?" and the clincher, "How can you be so selfish?" Mind you, this is all before I said much of anything aside from "I'm so sorry. It was an accident."
But, she persisted. She wanted my name, my number, and answers. Answers to the questions she'd posed about who I thought I was. Meanwhile, her car sat beside us, with nary a scratch. I tried to point this out, but that denial of culpability sent her into the stratosphere.
Then, suddenly, when she took a breath from her prosecutorial rant, out came a sentence that I have no explanation for. Not "F*#% you" or "Give me a break", but an earnest, "You must be such an unhappy person." She was stunned into silence. Where did I find the gall to make such a presumption? I followed it up with "I'm sorry for you, I really am." Then, I got in my car and drove away...but I couldn't leave her at the edge of the proverbial river.
I let her anger eat away at me for the lion's share of that weekend, even though I was well aware that I'd taken the high ground in my response, and that I'd likely never see her again. Still, I couldn't shake her from my mind. Not because I was concerned about her - though perhaps I should've been - but because she rattled me so.
I share this because, this year, I've encountered all kinds of irrationalities, from ethically challenged school board members and angry parents to a particularly embittered fellow Little League coach and the random crazy client. Add to the mix all the birthers, deathers, apocalyptors, and talking heads that make (or opine over) the headlines, and it's sorta like a Golden Corral of rage: a long line of all-you-can-swallow options, and none of it good for you.
Sometimes life tries to teach us multiple lessons at once. If the first in all this is to 'tell the truth and stand your ground' then the second is invariably the latter part of Kris' chorus, a country songwriter's spin on that Zen parable: Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down.
Leave it at the river's edge. Don't carry it with you. That's how anger wins. That's how the mean people win one more convert to their side.
I can write it here. Now, can I learn to do it? We'll see. That's part of our cosmic homework assignment, isn't it?