I had a comical read this morning that instantly reminded me of Dharma Wheel and a couple incidents I've had...
So, I was reading a book on the subway this morning and there's a chapter on self-pity. The author points out that it is the one emotion that knows it is reviled and causes instant disgust, but it doesn't care because it exists for the self, to baby itself in the face of harsh reality. As I begin to read this, I'm thinking already, "this is what people accuse me of on Dharma Wheel, but it's utterly inaccurate..." and I become eager to see what he says about self-pity.
He then he goes on to explain that self-pity is something we learn early on to revile when we are toddlers. At six years old, we begin to distinguish ourselves from babies who skin their knee on the pavement and then milk it for everything it's worth to get sympathetic adults "to heal it with their magic kisses." In school, he says, when some other kid hurt our feelings, we turned to the teacher to make things right and force them to apologize. An apology doesn't really solve anything, it just contributes to the idea that injustice should
be corrected and things should
be fair. Basically, this self-pity is something we associate with babies and children who turn to someone ELSE to solve their problems for them rather than bucking up, realizing life isn't fair, and taking responsibility for our own lives. When we begin to become independent, we learn to be disgusted by this self-pitying behavior because it's weak and begs assistance from others who are in the same situation but self-sufficient enough to solve their own problems.
YES! I finally understand the reactions I'm getting!
This is EXACTLY what happens on Dharma Wheel. Some people who are presumably trying
to be compassionate get disgusted by what they perceive as "self-pity" and interpret it as though someone (me) is looking for someone ELSE to solve their problems for them. Or that some whiny baby (me) just wants some attention and for you all to make my pain go away with your "magic kisses."
There are some key phrases I've got from individuals on Dharma Wheel that give their attitude away. People have told me to "stop whining and do something about it!" They also ask exasperatedly, "what do you want us to say?" and "what do you want us to do about it?"
In these instances, my reaction has always been the same: mild surprise followed by a very simple and direct response: I don't expect you to do or say anything. If you have something to contribute, feel free. Otherwise, buzz off; I don't care. What's with the attitude?
Don't put yourself in the position of problem-solver and you won't have this little dilemma. Just because you can't solve a problem doesn't mean you have to contribute to it by piling on your own emotional garbage.
In my mind, I'm having a discussion, not a pity party, and I'm expressing the situation as accurately as possible and to the best of my ability. I'm analytical by nature and try to be brutally honest with myself, which may come across as "self-pitying," but it's really not. I put the problems of reality in the context of my own experience and don't consider myself to be particularly worthy of pity. I am just looking for honest feedback which may or may not be helpful. I am navigating the labyrinth of my own mind.
The interesting thing about this chapter is the author finishes off by stating exactly what I've said many times: nobody owes you anything, you are born alone and will die alone. Even in our compassionate Buddhism, I have read that if a mother has a baby in a field and leaves it for dead, she has accumulated no negative karma by abandoning the baby. She is simply not
doing something. She is not required by law to care for the baby. By the act of caring for the baby, however, she generates positive karma. The point the author is making is that this is reality: self-pity is not a solution, take responsibility for your own self. Yet just talking about this very fact seems to urge some people toward harsh speech. It's happened to me discussing this very topic, e.g. "I know the solution, I know it's my responsibility, but for some reason I just don't do what I need to do..." elicits a response of "So stop whining and get on with it!" I mean, is such a response even necessary? Or helpful? If you think so, I don't even know what to say about that. It suggests to me you're not very detail-oriented and probably shouldn't be trying to help someone else sort through their thoughts.
I think some of the angry responses amount to "stop making me think about this!" It seems usually these people initially try
to help by offering what helps them
(or what they imagine might help them if they were in such a situation), and then they get exasperated by the lack of closure on the topic when the discussion drags on beyond what they can bare. This is probably when they should just leave the thread, no? That's what I would do, personally.
There are many, many ways to come at the dharma. As an analytical type of aggregator personality, I have spent quite a while experimenting with and thinking about the various ways of approaching reality and one's mental attitude toward it. And I have also confused myself in the process. So what? Whether or not it does any good to intellectually analyze things the way I do is not for you to decide. Everyone's mental make-up is different. I'm not sure why dharma students often take it upon themselves to be such "tough love" hardasses when you'd be hard-pressed to find a monk, lama, etc. who behaves this way.
"Use what seems like poison as medicine. We can use our personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings." Pema Chodron