Generosity, kind words, beneficial help,
& consistency in the face of events,
in line with what’s appropriate in each case.
These bonds of fellowship [function] in the world
like the linchpin in a moving cart.
– AN 4.32 (tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
We’ve looked in some depth at all of the following roles:
Parents and children
Teachers and pupils
Spouses and partners
Friends and colleagues
Employers and employees
Holy people and seekers
In all of them, the verse at the top summarizes the Buddha’s guidance on how best to nurture these relationships, from either side. The image of the linchpin speaks to me, because if that central point is not secure, the whole wheel wobbles.
So it all comes down to being consistently aware of the needs of others, and applying kindness and consideration appropriately. I believe the word compassion fits nicely here, and that the holiday season is a good time to plant this idea front and center in our minds.
For myself, this has been an uphill climb. Some people naturally tune in to the needs of others; I however, am not one of those people. My own drives, needs and fears sometimes make me quite blind to others. Even after years of being aware of this shortcoming, I still have to consciously remind myself to (try to) imagine how others are perceiving the situation and what their needs might be. I have learned that more often than not, the most important need is to be seen and heard. Hospice volunteering has allowed me to practice listening in a focused way, so I’m getting better at it, but it’s still work. Also, in a variety of situations, doing less is often better (for me) than doing more. Just stay calm, listen and wait to see what is revealed, I tell myself.
Another important lesson I learned from my mother-in-law was to keep in touch. It does take effort, but without someone reaching out on a regular basis, relationships simply fade out and die. So the weekly or monthly phone calls, the emails, etc. are essential to keeping my network of relationships alive. I also really appreciate the people who make an effort to stay in touch with me. By the way, by communicating, I don’t mean posting on Facebook. It’s nice, but it’s one-way. You can’t really ask all your friends at once, “how are you today?” and get responses that mean anything.
This is also an arena in which to practice generosity. Staying in touch with busy people means sometimes a very short exchange is all that’s available. That’s OK. But I do make a practice of seeing my friends, family and teachers in person as often as is practical. There’s no substitute for live theater, live music and live relationships.
In the coming days I’ll be saying some general things about the Buddha’s advice to laypeople, and then I may start at the beginning again, with generosity, and cycle through these important topics for a second time – in this second round drawing more parallels among the topics as I go.