Sunday, October 14, 2018


I find the development and evolution of self to be endlessly compelling. What I have often lacked in spite of a fair dose of self-awareness is the development of true self-compassion. I like to keep myself on the coals, so to speak; to hold myself accountable for both the things I have done and the things I could have prevented, and sometimes even things that have absolutely nothing to do with me, but if I can get a creative enough angle, I can MAKE them about me. Once hung and pilloried, with the blood of martyrdom coursing down my face, I internalize my shame and keep myself humiliated; bad, wrong, failed. I am, after all, a Horrible Human Being.

Or am I?

In most (dare I say all?) religion there is an element of compensation for "sin". In Christianity in particular those sins are hung on Jesus, who takes the abuse for us and thereby allows us to live free and clear, coming forth "white as snow" or "sinless". Go, and sin no more. Some have taken this idea to it's extreme - "If Christ is in me, I cannot sin. Therefore what I do, I do without shame." This same philosophy seems to infect the minds of radical Muslims flying into certain buildings, or kidnapping and raping into subjugation young women, or blowing up perfectly nice villages. Oh wait. That was us...

But I digress.

The primary piece if information that I believe we are supposed to glean from religion or a spiritual path is really more about self-compassion. Learning to see our failings, fallings, "sins" (and those who have sinned against us); learning to accept our collective fragile humanity, and then - and this is the part where I think most of us miss the boat, let the boat go, shove the boat way, way far away - not in the sense of denial, but from the perspective of liberation - CHANGING. GROWING. LEARNING.

This weekend we went to Charlotte VegFest, which was an amazing thing for me on a lot of fronts - certainly preaching to the choir, but there's always new songs to learn. We listened to a few speakers - most notably Dr. T. Colin Campbell (swoon) about whom I will speak in a later post. But for now I want to focus on the idea of compassion, expanding on it's presentation by Shabaka Amen, who was the first speaker of the day, and who said something that stuck with me: "You cannot be passionate about animals until you are compassionate to yourself". This may not be an exact quote, but that isn't the point. The point is that unless we are able to be compassionate with ourselves - really nitty gritty down and dirty open and honest about what we are and how we could be better, we cannot be truly, deeply passionate - or compassionate - about "others" (animals, people, bugs, etc).

That thread from that morning speech bled into the rest of my day. Ronnie Tsunami mentioned, in his talk, a few documentaries that I had not seen before (and here I thought I had them all covered!). Specifically he mentioned Earthlings, which he said he got about ten minutes into before converting to veganism. After last night I know why. I don't recommend it unless you know yourself to be self-compassionate, because your complicity in what you see on the screen could have you needing therapy or possibly an inpatient stay. How bad is it? Well. It had me up for a couple of hours trying to figure out how to feed my carnivorous pets ethically. That bad.

But again, I digress.

Near the beginning of Earthlings the screen is alight with quotes, some known, some not. One that stuck with me was this:

The Stages of Knowing:
1.) mockery
2.) violent opposition
3.) acceptance

That's what I woke up with in my head today, questioning, ruminating. Where am I on that scale? Am I truly accepting? Am I externally compliant and internally mocking or opposing? Am I justifying the actions of myself and others, which I think might be in-between opposition and acceptance?

In further research this morning, I came across the work of William G. Perry, an educational psychologist who developed a detailed theory (The Perry Scheme) of intellectual and ethical development in college students, the framework fo which is a nine-step progression from dualist thinking ("right is right and wrong is wrong and that's that!") to relativist thinking ("right and wrong change with perspective and awareness") to commitment ("I believe this or that, but I am open to learning and changing as I go.")

Further (extremely) simplified, those nine stages or progressions become something, from what I have read so far, like this:

1.) The Garden of Eden:

In this phase, we believe a thing is true because we have been told that it is true. This is your basic garden variety religious or cultural education and inculcation. At times there are dualities within the scaffolds of our assorted indoctrinations, but they are usually justified or explained away by some intellectual sleight of hand. Think: "Mommy, if God said don't kill, why are we at war?". The adults fabricate some rationale, vaguely aware that they are spewing bullshit, or perhaps truly believing the righteousness of the cause, depending on where they are in their own journey of self-awareness and development. Also in this category are such nuggets as "But Pastor said..." and "The government entity knows best." The corollary from Earthlings would be mockery. I now what I know, and what you know is wrong. Idiot.

2.) Anything Goes

This phase is where I think most of us get stuck. In this phase, we are deeply - maybe unconsciously - aware that there are no right answers, that right and wrong are entirely dependent on the perspective of the individual - but in order to conceal this little fact from ourselves we engage in denials and justifications for our thoughts and behaviors that range from deeply held religious beliefs to strong secular attachments to any bloody effing thing that keeps us from looking at the thing that makes us culpable, PLEASE DEAR GOD DON'T LET ME SEE. This I think brings us - this need to keep the self unaware and "innocent" of who/whatever's blood, to justify our actions - to the point of violent opposition. We are the most adept at denial, and will use whatever skills come to hand to indulge that denial.

3.) Critical Thinking

Or, you know, acceptance. If I objectively and without rancor to self or others evaluate the facts and the sources of those facts, then I am able to approach all new information with an open mind - a mind that seeks knowledge and awareness, a mind unafraid of change and unafraid of truth. The alternative is, of course, a mind that continues to be slapped shut and rejects all new information that might result in expansion of awareness and understanding.

You cannot progress to acceptance without self-compassion.  If I am truly forgiven, if I am truly and deeply compassionate with myself, then the new information is not a threat. It is merely a window that lets more light into my world and clarifies my beliefs and awareness.

Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Interesting! As a long-time vegetarian/mostly vegan and a Christian this rings true. Resisting the temptation to apply the three stages of "knowing" to what is going on in the country and world around me, as I can only control myself, not anyone else..