We are each products of our upbringing. Our lives to this point, mostly shaped during our early childhood and wonder years, and continually built upon each day until now. (see “Ring Theory”, ACZ Archives, February 2011)
In my line of work, that day job I have to support my life in this Techno-Monetary society, to pay for things like this blog site, we deal with a number of skills. Our jobs are half technical, half construction, half art and half people-business (sort of paraphrasing Yogi Berra). Some of the folks that try just don’t make the cut, and I tell them “it’s not for everybody”. It takes a unique set of skills and the ability to handle some difficult aspects of the job, such as frequent overnight travel.
The same can be said of Armchair Zen, or perhaps any number or all manner of philosophies, behaviors or outlooks. Someone wrote to me once and said something to the effect of “I don’t need to practice a certain belief to feel at peace, you just get there.” Well, I won’t argue with that, because that’s their belief, but I know in my case it took many years and a lot of introspection and self-imposed amateur cognitive behavioral therapy, and I’m still not done, I’m sure. If it wasn’t for a number of triggers and some writings of sages, I may never have tried to seek the path of peace.
Still, just like sushi or football, it’s not for everybody. It seems some people are comfortable in their anger or hostility towards the world, or they feel helpless and overwhelmed, drowning in their negativity. I can’t understand some of it, but it almost appears that they like being angry or bummed-out or suffering all the time.
Much of that could be considered attention-seeking behavior, and some of it is clearly defensive. It seems some people like or need to be at the center of things, and they draw attention with their tales of woe, worry and angst. It seems some people have a hard, often aggressive and verbally defensive exterior, and I can’t help but think it’s a lot of hooey covering up a great deal of insecurity.
Many times I have tried to work with someone in one of these states, pouring buckets of Armchair Zen over their heads, hoping to save them from their worries, save them from themselves, essentially. I’ve noted how often there is no suggestion that can help them, no way out of their dilemma. That’s when I say “Clearly you don’t want to consider any other options here, as it would interfere with your suffering.”
In his book Illusions, author Richard Bach wrote a bit that I have adopted and used for the past 35 years or so, to wit: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they are yours.”
So I’m partial to introspective philosophy, self-scrutiny, and all the rest that makes up Armchair Zen. It doesn’t mean I have to move to Tibet and give away all my worldly possessions. (Though strangely I see monks with cell phones on TV…hmm) It just seems to me that CHOOSING to think in certain ways, KNOWING why we think or feel certain things, QUESTIONING if this is the me I’d imagined for myself, and PRACTICING that which I think is in harmony with the cosmos is a smarter way to go.
But, you know, it’s not for everybody.
Be at peace,
Comments on: "It’s not for everybody" (4)
That quote about arguing for your limitations really got to me. I have certainly done that in the past, although I’ve learned to stop claiming defeat before I actually make an attempt. I know many people, however, who live in the attitude that “life” has handed them a bad rap. Life may not have dealt them the best hand. Fair enough. But, 99% of life is determined by how you deal with the things that happen to you. I’m with you, Paz. Introspection and the desire to grow beyond your limitations are what turn a life into a life worth living. Peace…Justine.
Thanks for your note, Justine. Perhaps some people just live their life, and don’t consider the “worth living” part. Maybe it never occurs to them that they can shape their days (or “Colour The Day”, a fave WordPress blog). I read Illusions at the impressionable age of 17, stuck with me forever. Recommended reading if you get the chance.
All the best,
I recently heard somewhere (of course I can’t remember where) that responding to others with negativity is driven by our primal, self-protective and survival instincts. If we are hurting others we can’t be hurt ourselves. Have you ever heard of this before?
Thanks for dropping in.
In reply to your question, no, I don’t believe I’ve heard that particular postulation. I have, however, heard a lot of ideas that people have that are of similar bent. The revered trailblazer in psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, said himself “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” when speaking of symbolism and explanations for human behavior.
Before our species evolved to its current state, homo sapiens, an earlier iteration was known as homo habilis. Habilis meaning to “habitate”, defining us as communal animals. We share this trait with a number of other species, of which my favorite is wolves. (In the big chain of life on the planet, wolves are barely six degrees away from humans.)
When analyzing human behavior, I often use the phrase and approach of “Take it back to the cave”, meaning we try to understand the true nature and instinct of our species as it would be in a natural state, before our brains developed complex language, laws of community, and television. It would seem unlikely that natural humans would have an instinct to first respond negatively, particularly in survival situations, as the species understands and appreciates the benefits of teamwork. Just like wolves and whales, we have a nature to take care of one another. The phrase “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is not flowery prose, and in wolf packs, whale pods, elephant herds and human settlements, siblings and aunts help protect, nurture and raise the young. (Males serve slightly different roles, but also help protect and raise the whole group.) In some cases, these animals may be territorial, but it is primarily to protect their food supply, not their safety, per se.
Humans and our close relatives are also curious, and the aforementioned animals, along with other primates, also tend to have well-developed brains, more likely to understand the nature of strangers.
It seems likely that a natural human (think “back to the cave”) encountering an unknown member of its species is likely to be cautious and curious, but would tend to be welcoming if no threat is perceived. (“Fight or flight” would be the natural response if attacked, and doesn’t really constitute negativity.)
I’m just an Armchair Zen Master, not a psychologist, but I would venture to say that responding to others with negativity would primarily be a selfish act, intended to maintain whatever one imagined was in need of defense. In our modern world this is likely to be quite petty, such as defending an opinion (particularly a hard-line one); social territory, such as a job or other position in an organization; or perhaps a knee-jerk reaction based on bigotry or some superficial offense.
There is also the possibility that there may be some conditioned response, such as in the case of a person that has been raised in an atmosphere of harsh judgement and negativity to begin with. In the same way a feral cat will hiss and bite, not approach you for affection and treats like a housecat, people raised and developed under constant scrutiny, with fears of loss or abuse, may tend to build a wall of defense. Fear of loss is probably the mainstay of this emotional state, including somewhat irrational fears (in the case of adults) of loss of self, freedom, control or the comfort represented by “the known” or status quo. Change of any kind can be stressful, and fragile people fear change. This explains why someone would stay in an abusive or otherwise bad relationship rather than face the unknown prospect of changing the situation.
To sum up, it seems fear, discomfort or perceived threat of loss are more likely to be the reasons behind excess negativity. Regardless of size or outward appearances, these types of people are likely to be emotionally fragile and insecure. Emotionally healthy people are more likely to know that the thoughts or actions of others don’t threaten their own, and are more likely to attempt to respond with understanding and compassion.
Thanks for the question!
Take care and keep in touch,