Monday, 29 November 2010

Perfectly Unreasonable

Moment after moment things happen around us, to us.   To each we only have three possible responses1:
  • Occasionally we may be able to change something, but the number of moments when that is appropriate, or even possible, is really very small compared to the rest.
  • An extremely common response is to reject what IS. There are many ways to do this. We feel resentful, not liking the situation. We grumble or complain. We dwell on what's wrong (having our minds on what isn't). We imagine how it could be otherwise (spending that moment in some imagined place that cannot exist now).  We know better.  We daydream or simply be bored.
  • By far the best choice is to accept this moment for the reality it is. By continually doing this, we continually embrace life and live it to the full. By contrast, indulging in one of the myriad ways to reject what IS, is failing to live at all.

A Reasonable Man

Consider someone who has gone through life learning its lessons.  He now considers himself something of an expert at this life game.  He will have accumulated many experiences of things that didn't work and knows what to avoid.  He has tried to understand the principles by which the world works, and will probably have developed a strong moral code as a result.

This man has all but dug his own grave.  It is a most unenlightened way to live.  The sad thing is how many people choose it.

Most of the things that happen to him he has either seen before or has a rule that "applies here".  He has no need for the present moment reality: he already knows what to do before it even happens!  He has successfully insulated himself from the only thing that can help him: the world outside himself.

His strong moral code means most people fall short one way or another.  Those who pass muster are flattered to be included in his circle, though secretly careful what they say for fear of being ostracised too.  United in what they know to be right, they agree severe punishment is the way to teach all who fall short a lesson.  Secretly, he fears dying alone, but never wonders about it: all right-thinking people will obviously feel the same.

But with each "learning experience" of his own, his world has shrunk.  There are now more things he won't try than things he will.  Fear of what might happen haunts him.  Cynical and pessimistic, he believes "they" are to blame: how could it ever be reasonable people like himself?  He grumbles things aren't as good as they were in "his day", as if his days are already over.

As Good As It Can Be

The optimist looks up and laughs, saying to the pessimist, "We surely live in the best of all possible worlds".  The pessimist shakes his head and agrees, "I fear you are probably right".

All of us have a certain range of things we can accept; when things happen outside that range, we cannot cope and reject them in one way or another.  Peaceful co-existence can best be maintained by ensuring no-one is pushed into their "rejection zone"2.

When anything happens, we can be sure it is the best thing for everyone.

Of course it is possible to imagine an alternative universe where things seem better.  We easily forget how ridiculous it is to wish for the natural world to be different: it is what it is.  We might wish people were different, though.

But our imaginings cannot possibly take everything into account.  By their nature they are from our (limited) point of view; how can we incorporate the hopes and fears of others when we cannot even know them?

Such alternatives will almost certainly require someone to have acted differently. But they were already doing the best they could (see Meekness).  To expect more would force at least someone into their rejection zone.  No violation is without repercussions, so how could the overall outcome be an improvement?

Whether we agree with the optimist or the pessimist the truth is the same: this moment is the best moment that can be (for now).  When we reject what IS we do our bit to make things worse!  How can any good come to you, if you've cut yourself off from what is real?  We can only change things for the better by first accepting the conditions we wish to change.

There is a certain irony here.  Whichever way you look at it, rejecting what IS is futile.  Yet nearly everyone needs to do that at one time or another, so the only sane response is to accept it.

Moment by moment, the right thing is always to accept what IS  if we can, even the bad choices3 we and others make.  Which is simply compassion at work, this moment and the next and the next, forever.  But as everybody knows, limitless compassion (compassion without an end) is perfectly unreasonable.  Isn't it?

1  We think we have more choice because we believe in that pernicious illusion, time. That issue deserves a blog in itself. For now it is enough to recognise that only what we do this moment can ever be real.  So there is much less to decide than we imagine.

2  At first that might appear too soft.  Surely we all need to be pushed out of our "comfort zone" (for that is what it is) from time to time?  Yes, I agree.  But I believe the human spirit is, by nature, adventurous enough.  Our appetite for life will make us explore new territory when we are ready to do so.

Forcing people is not the way.  Jesus' Kingdom and Communism both believe in the equitable distribution of the world's resources.  The only difference is where the Communist way says, "I want to redistribute your wealth, Jesus's way is to say, "I want to redistribute my wealth.

The voluntary status of the act means the difference between heaven and hell.  See Meekness for why good actions can only begin at home.

3  Bad choices and rejecting what IS are synonymous.


  1. Being optimistic or pessimistic is about the future. You make scenario and you can look it through the good face or the bad. What IS is the present. When you expect someone or something to do as you which, it is going out of your range.

    How can't you expect that thing that are not the way you like it are not changing ? I think you miss treat the changing thing. Being aware of what IS is really good in a way. But don't under-estimate the power of change. Accepting all is around you is seem a bit fatalist to me.

    Putting the changing thing into your reflexion will be a bit more complicated. In what case do we have to change thing ? In what case do we have to accept it ? What is the power that drive us to change thing ? Is this change pessimitic or optimistic ?

  2. Good point, Baptiste, And not one I have a ready answer to. I suspect change happens as the natural (unthought) response to what IS.

    So although acceptance is a necessary mind-set (allowing us to perceive) it is a fleeting, moment-by-moment thing. Each moment we are also living a response; a choice with the power to change what IS, as you say.

    Thank you, once again, for prodding me and making me think. I will have to reflect further on this.