Comparison is the thief of happiness.
Category Archives: self-esteem
Here Comes The Judge
How judgmental am I? Plenty. It’s a character defect that I’ve worked hard to change, with only limited success, ever since I’ve been sober.
It runs in the family. My granny was one of those old French women who could never give a compliment without modifying it with a matching put down. “She’s pretty, her, but look at that dress!” My mom was the same way. She’d drive down the road commenting on every fool that came across her path. An otherwise quiet, gentle soul, she never missed a chance to point out a shortcoming. Thankfully, that didn’t carry over to her kids, but any relative beyond her own siblings, or other passersby, was fair game.
So I came by it honestly, and I reveled in it. There’s nothing like the ability to look at others and see their faults to perk up the spirits of a kid with chronically low self-esteem. We won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that by the time I was a full-blown alcoholic, I was also skilled in letting you know that I knew — as Rush Limbaugh titled his book — “The Way Things Ought To Be.”
In all fairness to me, I was as hard on myself as I was on others. For many years (sixty or so) I never measured up to my own standards. An uncommonly handsome young man, I always thought I was skinny and gawky, with a big nose. It wasn’t until 15 years into recovery when I saw a yearbook photo of myself that I was able to get my head around the fact that I had been a good looking kid.
As a writer, for decades I stayed away from anything that wasn’t cut and dried. I wrote technical articles and manuals, and eventually edited the work of others, because I believed that — even though I had a passion for writing — I wasn’t good enough to do “that other stuff.” Those ideas and feelings carried over into the rest of my life in ways too many to count.
Yet I was always ready to point out where you were wrong, where he had screwed up, where she could have done better — anything that would let you know that I was on top of things, knew how it was, and that you’d better work hard if you wanted to measure up. I was the guy who damned you with faint praise; who, when offered by a wife a choice of a special meal, would say “Yeah, that would be OK,” instead of, “Oh, wow honey! What a great idea!” Who would tell a child, “Nice job on the picture, honey, but wouldn’t it have been better if you had….” (I still get tears in my eyes when I think of that stuff, and believe me I’ve made amends to both my daughters. But it didn’t fix all those years.)
And why did I do those things? Simply because my own opinion of myself was so low that I couldn’t let anyone else excel. Pointing out people’s so-called defects made me able to feel better about those I imagined were mine.
As a drunk, it got worse. I was a bombastic pain in the ass. I alienated people right and left. Simply didn’t know how to act — and didn’t care. I was the smart guy. I was the cop. I was the martial artist. I was the Mensa guy (another shot at proving I was as good or better than you). I was the one who knew The Way Things Ought To Be. I was the asshole.
Anyone relate? A lot of you should….
Years in recovery have helped. Meditation has helped. Therapy has helped. Living with a woman who tells me when I need to pay attention to my thinking has helped. But I still have the days, especially when I’m driving (of course, I used to be a driving instructor, chauffeur, blah, blah, blah…) when there are far greater numbers of jackasses out there with me than one would reasonably expect.
I’m not, by any means, the guy I’d like to be. But I’ll tell you this: every time I catch myself doing the judgment thing, it reminds me of how much worse it used to be, and that I can move onward, become more skillful, and that the program I’ve been trying to live by all these years really does work.
Sometimes I have to ask myself, “Just how big a jerk do you want to be today?” That, and the fact that I’ve come to realize that it makes me look really bad, keeps me trying.
In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is sort of like a Western saint, a spiritually-evolved person of some stature. The comparison breaks down, however, because while saints are basically agreed upon to be in “heaven,” it is a bit more difficult to pin down a Bodhisattva’s whereabouts. No heaven, y’know, and all that.
Saints are supposed to keep an eye on things Earthly, interceding with God and facilitating the odd miracle — celestial ombudsmen, sort of. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, are supposed to have deferred Nirvana in order to remain and help other beings to attain enlightenment. Since it has been taking a while, reincarnation becomes an issue.
If you don’t believe in reincarnation, saints, intercessions and so forth, things get a bit dicey in the area of both saints and Bodhisattvas. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, for example, is reputed to be the 9th incarnation of the 5th Dalai Lama, and has had ample time to get some work done. But what if (like me) you believe he’s just a Tibetan kid named Lhamo Thondup, who happens to have had greatness thrust upon him?
Don’t get the idea that I’m putting His Holiness down. You’ll note, I hope, how I refer to him — and it’s not tongue in cheek. He is an exceptional man by anyone’s standards, and if anyone alive deserves the title more, I don’t know who that might be.
But I digress.
Let’s call folks like me, who consider the Four Noble Truths and the Precepts to be ends in themselves (as opposed to leading to anything beyond a life well-lived), “secular Buddhists.” Are there, then, secular Bodhisattvas and, if so, who are they?
In order to decide that, we need to ask if there is such a thing as secular enlightenment. Obviously there can be, in the sense of Buddhist teachings, and also in the sense of helping others to see more clearly the rights and wrongs of ordinary living — helping them to find a system of ethics, in other words.
HHDL, to continue the example, has taken few formal students in his life. Nonetheless, his unique combination of mystique, visibility, charisma and — above all — approachability, have created a worldwide appreciation for Buddhism and Buddhist teachings that would have been nearly impossible under other circumstances. Just as importantly, he has opened the world’s eyes to political and human rights issues that their governments would have much preferred to ignore in favor of more practical matters.
People like the Dali Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Nadine Gordimer, Wangari Maathai and their like are indeed Bodhisattvas — for what more can a Bodhisattva do than help people awaken? What is enlightenment, in any useful sense, beyond seeing clearly and, through empathy and compassion, developing the determination to make improvements for the betterment of all?
Remembering Bill C.
I wrote this some years ago. I’m re-posting it, with some minor editing, because “There, but for the grace…”
I don’t spend much time regretting the past. There are a lot of things I’ve done that—given the opportunity—I’d probably do differently (or not at all) but you have to be careful what you wish for. The Law of Unintended Consequences is nothing to mess with.
Today I’ve been thinking about my friend Bill. I met him during a period in my early twenties when I was driving airplanes for a living. We were drawn to each other by a mutual love of airplanes, flight attendants, and the bars of the Fort Lauderdale area.
This was not too long after the Bay of Pigs, and there was a lot of stuff happening in Africa around then as well. The company we both worked for had, at one time, some clandestine connections with interests in the Caribbean, and shady characters of some repute still wandered around the small airports of South Florida and the islands to the south. I found this moderately interesting. Bill found it fascinating. Continue reading
Hope and Expectations (a blast from the past)
I hope I’ll win the lottery, but I don’t expect to.
A lot of us addicts get our hopes and expectations amazingly tangled. Most of us need to take a close look at the difference during our early recovery (and often afterward) because they can cause huge complications in our lives. Read on…