Words and intentions

Daniel’s comment on the last post got me thinking more deeply about expressing and receiving appreciation in a way that connects rather than separates us.

One thing Marshall Rosenberg points out (see previous post) is that often we aren’t aware of our own motives and intentions. Even when we think we are being nice, we may be setting ourselves apart from others. Some people feel “above” everyone else, some feel “below”; most of us feel “above” some people and “below” others. As a result, we approve or disapprove the actions of others whom we feel free to judge, and we look with different eyes (possibly hoping for acceptance or approval) on those we feel are our peers or betters.

These categories may be entirely subconscious. A sense of inferiority could show itself as frustration or resentment or envy, or something else. A sense of superiority might be our normal mode of interaction with the world. Even if we don’t recognize it, others do.

We can ask ourselves: are we connecting, person-to-person, or are we creating a barrier? Are we dismissing or protecting ourselves from another person by judging her, even if we’re judging her as “OK”?

Words of the Buddha:
Bhikkhus, there are these three discriminations. What three? The discrimination ‘I am superior’, the discrimination ‘I am equal’, the discrimination ‘I am inferior’. These are the three discriminations. The Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these three discriminations, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning.
from AN 45.162, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This sense of “I am superior” or “I am inferior” is deep and difficult to dislodge. The development of the eightfold path is one way that the Buddha says we can uproot the tendency to compare ourselves to others, consciously or subconsciously. The “discriminations” are ways in which we set ourselves apart from others, and in so doing, form and harden the boundaries of our sense of self. By practicing with the eight-fold path, we may start to see the fluidity of the self, its rise and fall.

Meanwhile, when we are able to acknowledge that each of us is a bundle of (only partially knowable) virtues and flaws, we will understand that that there is no reasonable ranking system, and that judging others is an unwholesome way to interact. We can strive to meet every person, even people we know well, as a new experience, greeting them with fresh eyes and an open heart.

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Filed under Compassion, General, Speech

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