The “Near Enemies”


In a recent post on the  subject of character, I suggested a practice tip to the effect that if, in conversation with person A, A is telling you something about person B, listen carefully, because you are learning a lot about (the character) of A, but very few facts about B.

This practice tip generated some pretty wonderful and useful comments, one in particular from Dana, which is the cause of this post. First though, I want to share our exchange. She wrote:

“I loved the quote and what you did with it. I am not so sure about the practice tip, though. If the message is not to be concerned about what others think of me, then why is it important for me to be judging the character of others, as you seem to suggest in the practice tip?  I was hoping to see a tip that could help me keep track of the character I am creating.”

And then my response:

“I don’t disagree at all with your comment about the practice tip, except that  for me, it’s something I try to “practice” when I’m listening to someone telling me about someone else. In that way, it’s really helpful to me, to NOT rush to judgement. I believe that learning something about someone is not the same as judging them, (altho I readily admit it’s a pretty small step from “learning” to “judging”, and a pretty subtle distinction too.)”

And then her’s back to me:

“I think I get it.  THAT would make a good blog – the difference between learning and judging. It is illusive – one of the “near enemies.” I think when I read that you are learning about the character of the person who was talking about someone else, I interpreted you as meaning it says something negative about that person’s character, which in my view is a judgment.”

So, Wow, thank you Dana! Firstly for the feedback itself, which obliged me to look carefully inside myself, and also for the concept (Buddhist) of the “near enemies” completely unknown by me until now.

Learning/Judging: how very close these two are to each other. How easy  to move from the one  to the other: from learning, to agree/disagree; and from there to like/don’t like – such a small step, and voila, there we are, in judgement. Doubtless, one of the near enemies we need to watch for.

Some others:

Joy/Exhilaration/Comparison: Am I truly joyful, and equally joyful at the happiness of others? Or, am I grasping (“this is great, I want more of this – but please,no more of that) on to this pleasant experience out of a sense of insufficiency, lack, or less (than someone else)?

Compassion/Pity: The “Buddhist” take on compassion is wishing others to be free from suffering. Is that where I am, or am I feeling sorry for that “poor shmo” over there? “There but for the grace of God go I”. How many times have I said that –  “thank God  that’s not me”… compassion? Not!

Anger/Drama: Another biggie. David Richo (in his book How To Be An Adult), offers many excellent distinctions between the two. Just a few:

Anger, a true feeling, informs and creates attention in the hearer; communicates; asks for but doesn’t insist on change; is non-violent; coexists with your other feelings; is brief and then let go of.

Drama, on the other hand, an avoidance of true feeling, scares the hearer; is meant to silence the other; masks the demand for the other to change; is violent, aggressive, out of control; shuts down your other feelings; is held on to and endures as resentment. Anger and drama look a lot like each other. Which one am I observing? Displaying?

Equanimity/Indifference: Or in “Michaelspeech”: letting go/what…ever. I admit I struggle with this – a lot. Am I really “keeping my balance” in the midst of everything that we are doing to ourselves? Am I truly “letting go of the way it needs to be?” Or, while our leaders, behaving like children, argue while the house is on fire, am I actually withdrawing into (fear based) indifference…into, what…ever? Which is it? Where am I with this?

Love/Attachment: This one deserves a post of it’s very own, don’t you think? I have some stuff to offer on this. Stay tuned.

So I wonder, with all of these “near enemies” which we confront daily, (and so many more)  all resembling each other  sooo closely, are we  asking too much of ourselves as humans not to succumb? Do we need to be saints to avoid these traps? Can even the saints do it? Maybe this tension is something we are supposed  to live with. Maybe the struggle itself, to improve ourselves, is what makes us human.

Practice Tip: Today’s practice tip springs out from our friend Chuang Tzu’s quote at the top: “We cannot see ourselves in running water, but only in still water.” It seems logical that if we want to transcend ourselves, we must  know ourselves, right? And, to do that, we have to slow it down, pay attention, and  honestly observe ourselves in our own lives.

Obviously, a “meditation practice” ( X number of minutes per day on a cushion or  chair) would be best, but if that’s not for you, that’s cool. There are other ways, and lots of opportunities. Next time you are in  “waiting mode” (how often does that happen?), for someone (doctor, dentist, airport, office, hotel lobby, even that line at the bank), don’t pick up a magazine or check your email on your cell (again), in order to “distract” yourself or “kill time.” Do the opposite: take a few breaths, go inside, even close your eyes, (who cares if someone thinks you’re weird, Paul Gauguin said that he saw things best with his eyes shut and he was a painter). Check in with yourself. The result will be that you will find yourself acting in sync with your intentions way more often, and not simply reacting, because of all your busy-ness.

About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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