Monday, November 22, 2010
Mom and Pop Psychology
There is a little shop in Portland that is part retail sales, part art gallery. It has an outstanding collection of Dia de Los Muertos (day of the dead) objects and is particularly good for finding off beat holiday items for any major, and a few minor, holidays. But last week, none of that caught my eye. What did was a little volume shaped like a ruler and titled The Golden Rule.
The book takes this culture's version of the Golden Rule-Do unto others as you would have them do unto you- and translated that axiom into various languages/meanings in many, many cultures. In other words, most cultures have that little saying in some form or another.
If you like to think that you are a rational person, living in a rationale world, then you no doubt believe in this little ditty. Like me, you may have been taught to do unto others early and often. It's safe to say we need a book to remind us of this important principle these days, but that's not my message here, or is it always a reasonable expectation.
"You teach people how to treat you," is a favorite phrase of TV psychologist Dr. Phil. We all know what he means, and he is quite right. Isn't that another version of The Golden Rule? I offer a small example here. Last night we got in to the Bay Area from Portland. 12 hours straight through to Berkeley, through rain, sleet, a little snow, just like the USPS. As this is written, I've been here 24 hours and my mother-in-law is teaching me well. Oh she's teaching me how to treat her all right. I'm going to avoid her as much as I can because she has taught me to; she's treating me right now like her errand boy, handy-man, naive, son. I am none of the above, so I have learned to make myself scarce. In a day or two, other family members will arrive from all over and there will be grand kids and much ado and some of the nephews will inherit the chores and demands of the grande dame. Till then, I'll keep learning. I will take out the trash, the recycling, and run a few other errands for her. I am not a rock and after all she is 85 years old. But first she'll have to find me. It's not the list of tasks, it's her manner, pure and simple.
The Beatles said it well too. ...And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make." Like Eliade's "Myth of the Eternal Return," it's a final summing up on the cosmic scale of justice, isn't it?
But like most things, it's complicated. Of course it's important to treat others as we would like to be treated, but it is not always possible to do that, I submit. There may be circumstances, because of who we are, that discretion is the better part of fairness.
I remember anti-war activist David Harris trying to explain to a group of inquisitive students why each person has the responsibility for ending war by looking deep into themselves first. To say war will only end when each individual chooses not to participate certainly is understandable, but it is difficult for many to understand. Yet the principle is sound.
"Look," Harris would say, if you do shit all your life, what you are left with at the end is a big pile of shit."
Some say dharma, some say justice, some say a lesson taught, some say "what goes around, comes around."
It's all golden.