If you happened to see last week’s blog, I was pretty hot under the collar. I have plenty of beliefs about anger, but none of them seem to show up when it’s flaring in my system. “Anger rises up in defense of something sacred,” I’ve been told, which was certainly true in this case – AA is precious to me, and I felt it had been attacked. But that anger’s gone now. Gabrielle Glaser makes some good points. AA is not for everyone. Some heavy drinkers do have a mere “bad habit,” and no clear line distinguishes their condition from the sort of fatal alcoholism that has ravaged so many lives – which I do believe only a spiritual experience can conquer.
In other words, for some, Glaser may be right.
“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” That question, often voiced in AA and Al-Anon meetings, has always bothered me a bit, because I don’t experience the two as a direct trade: being happy may not come in exchange for releasing my grip on rightness. Today I settle instead for the peace of being uninterested. That’s why I prefer to frame the choice in these terms: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to just be?”
In the heat of anger, my world shrinks down to two dimensions: right and wrong. Only one of us can claim the “right” end of the stick, and the loser is left with the “wrong” end, because they’re… well, a loser. But life is way more complicated than that! If I can keep my mind open, I can drop the stick and say, “I have this perspective, which differs from yours.” That way, I open an avenue to peace. I argue and stay pissed a while, but either way my goal is to move on, to continue with the business of living my life while you live yours as you see fit.
The largest single organism on earth is currently thought to be a colony of honey mushrooms living in the Blue Mountains of Oregon which occupies an underground area about the size 1,665 football fields. It’s a system of genetically identical cells communicating for a common purpose – i.e. one living thing. Now, if I were to pick a single one of these mushrooms and contemplate it as an individual entity – that would be analogous to assessing the behavior of a person in a particular situation.
Because behavior is only the tip of the shroom colony! Sprouting that person’s choice is the vast underground network of family, culture, and life experience that has cultivated that person’s principles and beliefs, along with the vast simultaneity of feelings and motives churning beneath their surface in the present moment. But I don’t consider all that. I see only something that contradicts my own ideas.
What do I want to do when I feel someone else is wrong? Judge and gossip. But, no, wait! I don’t judge – I morally evaluate. I don’t gossip, I process verbally with people I trust. The temptation, in any case, is to “prove” that my truth beats the hell out of that asshole’s skewed rationalizations. In the process, I can get downright mean. In my Glaser rebuttal, for instance, I resorted to sarcasm: “Gosh, Gabrielle, that’s right! …Oh, I see!” I could have made the same points without mockery.
An even crazier response is try to change the person, also known as “trying to talk some sense into” them by driving home something that will make them see they’re wrong “for their own good.” What I’m trying to do is uproot the entire underground spore system by yanking the “right” way on a single mushroom: it’s just not going to work!
I do wish my boyfriend would give up his traveling job and go to AA. I also wish he’d quit saying “oriental” and badmouthing Obama. Having told him these things, I get to decide if I want to accept him as he is – or leave. In the same vein, I wish my siblings would live by the principles of Al-Anon, practice loving kindness, and respect my sobriety, but I can’t make them do so. What I get to decide is whether I want to hang out with them.
My job is to build my own meaningful life. That’s it. You get to do the same.
In Herman Hesse’s novella, Siddhartha, the young Siddhartha abandons everyone close to him in his search for truth. He leaves his father, the monks who’ve taken him in, his best friend, and even the Buddha himself, eventually landing in a life of material and sexual indulgence that slowly sickens him. A few decades later, after having “awakened” from this stupor, he’s built a new life of spiritual purity assisting a simple river ferryman when his illegitimate son comes to live with him. The son is a major asshole: spirituality’s a bore, dad’s a loser, and he runs away as soon as he’s old enough. But when Siddhartha anguishes that he can’t teach his son how to live, the ferryman sets him straight: “Have you forgotten that instructive story of Siddhartha…? Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path?”
I take two points from this story. The first is that I can’t impress my views on anyone who isn’t open to seeing them. But the second is to live my own life fully, to blunder ahead at times as I blaze my own path of learning – along which, really, there are no mistakes!
There’s nothing wrong with being “wrong” sometimes. Accept difference? Are you kidding? Of course I’ll still get pissed off! Of course I’ll think I’m right and those assholes can stick it where the sun don’t shine! Screwing up is part of being human – part of how we steer the course of who we do and don’t want to be. That’s why Step 10 exists – because the process never ends.
I’m certainly no saint. But loving tolerance remains my North Star, the direction in which I seek to move a little further every day. That’s the point.