Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Turning the Other Cheek

"Late Spring Wilderness"

In my reading yesterday I came across something Ken Keyes once said a few years back:

More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense
than by people intending to give offense.

I find a great deal of wisdom in that statement, and it gives me pause to do some self-reflection.

Throughout most of my life I was a pretty "thin-skinned" type of person. It didn't take much to offend me, and I was always on the alert for anything I perceived as a "negative" judgment against me. I pretty much wanted other people to always think well of me,  and whenever it seemed like someone didn't, I immediately went into a defensive posture.  After all, I had "my honor" to defend. 

As I think about it now, many if not most of the time, I exaggerated "perceived" attacks against me.  In fact, I have now come to realize that, for the most part, people were hardly ever thinking about me at all. 

Yet, even when people did intend to "give offense," my defensive responses always made matters worse. My defensiveness was in fact the beginning of a "Ping-Pong" match. I would negatively respond to an "insult;" an of course, this put the other person on the defensive, often leading to a further attack. And thus the battle had begun. 

More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense
than by people intending to give offense.

I have come to believe that "taking offense" is always an act of the "false self" - the "ego." It's almost impossible for the "true self" to be offended.  Whenever I feel hurt or used or rejected by what another person said or did, it is my ego that takes offense - an ego that pays so much attention to what other people think, an ego that believes others are always paying attention to "me." 

But my "ego" is not my "true self." My isolated separated ego is, in fact, a myth and a delusion. My true self is a relationship with others. My true self can't be offended by others because there are no different others. "I am all those others and the others are me." 

A profoundly wise teaching of Jesus comes to mind:

You have heard that it was said,  'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.
If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.

It took me a real long time to understand this teaching and to accept its wisdom. It always sounded kind of "wimpy" to me - why should I allow other people to step all over me?" But Jesus was a great wisdom teacher. He understood the difference between the "false self" and the "true self." He knew something about the greater suffering brought into the world by people taking offense.

"Turning the other cheek" is always a better response when your "ego" has been offended. 

An ancient 4th century desert monk put it this way:

Evil cannot drive out evil. If anyone hurts you, 
do good to him and your good will destroy his evil.

Turning the other cheek is a "powerful" way of taking offense. 

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