Bossy vs. making space

Sixth on the list of imperfections/defilements of the mind is “a domineering attitude”. Not everyone has this flaw. As with all of the imperfections and virtues, each of us carries many seeds of wholesome behavior and unwholesome behavior. We can’t choose to have only positive qualities, we only get to decide which seeds in our own hearts we’ll nurture and which we’ll starve.

A domineering attitude happens to be one quality I work with regularly. I was an adult before I discovered this flaw, though the clues appeared early, starting with my first grade report card stating that I was “bossy”. Luckily, I’ve been part of a group of strong women for over twenty years, and in that context I learned, gradually, how to subdue my instinct to take over and set things straight.

It was a shock to discover that my “efficiency” was perceived as aggressive and insensitive. This attitude felt inborn to me; I’d never been without it. It was a big lesson in the practice of keeping silent, giving a chance to others who were slower to speak.

A domineering attitude may take different forms, but we know it when we see it. Most people don’t enjoy being subjected to this attitude; they might turn off or turn away, or they might get prickly and reactive. It’s worth recognizing this negative quality for what it is – an imperfection of the mind, a form of self-regard, or a lack of regard for others, even a blindness to the needs of others. But like all of our imperfections and all our virtues, they are only expressed, one at a time, through our actions. They are part of the soup, and not the only ingredient. So it behooves us to work on our own imperfections and let those of others be treated as lessons in what not to do.

As with many of the imperfections, we can check ourselves: how are our actions affecting others? Have we considered the rights and wishes of others who might feel the impact before we act? Are we thinking only of what we want to accomplish and not of how our actions are perceived by others? We can look for degrees of selfishness vs. making space for other people.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

3 Comments

Filed under Imperfections

3 responses to “Bossy vs. making space

  1. The imperfections are variations on the basic themes of greed, hatred and delusion, the three karmically determined unwholesome roots that we all have (along with their opposites) in our minds, to some degree. The Buddha advised against asking the “why” question. He was (and we should be) more focused on the questions, “What am I doing right now?” and “Are my intentions and actions wholesome or unwholesome?” Once we move out of that sphere, we may get stuck talking about (unknowable) theories, and we are not actively training our heart/minds.

  2. Tom Appel

    Sometimes I think there is a double standard at play here. Women seen as bossy and men as ambitious.

    Tom Appel

  3. Excellent blog post–thank you for sharing!

    A question regarding the 16 imperfections that defile the mind–is it even worthwhile asking the question concerning the origin of these imperfections? Do they arise through our consciousness due to the ego’s false sense of self? Or, is(are) there some other mechanism(s) at work? Thank you.

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