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Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Downside of Self-Righteousness

Stuart Miles for

I know I should learn from my mistakes...  but I actually prefer learning from other people's mistakes.  (Much less painful!)  

That's why I love this story from Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron:
"I had been practicing [meditation] all day, after which you might think I would be in a calm, saintly frame of mind. But as I saw that someone had left dirty dishes, I started to get really angry."

Of the eight people on the retreat, there was only one person who would be selfish enough to leave a mess for somebody else to clean up.  Pema was sure she'd see that woman's name on all the dirty dishes.  Instead,  
"When I got to the sink, I looked at the plate, and the name on it was 'Pema' and the name on the cup was 'Pema' and the name on the knife was 'Pema.' It was all mine!"

I remember that story every time I’m about to complain about something like my husband leaving his damp towel on the bed and, well, you can guess whose towel it turns out to be.

In fact, whenever I'm starting to feel self-righteous, I try to remember how ridiculous it can be...

  • Because someone's doing the exact same thing they're criticizing:
  • One of my Facebook friends recently posted a lengthy diatribe against people who post lengthy diatribes on Facebook. 'Nuff said. 
  • Because they're doing something even worse than what they're criticizing: 
  • At a dinner party, the host scolded my husband and me for drinking black tea with honey, and lectured us on the benefits of unsweetened green tea. Sound health advice, perhaps, but we would've taken him a lot more seriously if he hadn't been sitting there with a glass of Scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. 
  • Because they're jumping to conclusions: 
  • When I posted the link to Compassionate Image Visualization on Google+, I got an outraged comment about "inducing visualizations," which was no better than "advocating the use of hashish or cannabis." Er, no. If he'd read the post before commenting, he'd have seen that it has nothing to do with hallucinating; "the purpose is to imagine what complete compassion might feel like so we can access that feeling during difficult times." 
  • Or because they're making assumptions about other people's motivations: 
  • A colleague chewed me out because "I know what you were really thinking." You do?! Oddly enough, I thought that I thought what I said I thought. Silly me!

Of course, we shouldn't be too hard on each other (or ourselves) for feeling a bit self-righteous every once in a while.  The important thing is to recognize the feeling as soon as it arises, and to stop ourselves from criticizing someone else until we're sure our assumptions are correct.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I see some dirty dishes in the sink.  I'm not sure who put them there... so I might as well just go wash them.