Sunday, June 20, 2010

buttons being pressed

There's a Bay Area community that I'm sort of on the edge of, one of many groups I met through Rachel and JD. They're a bit older than me and I missed out on the serious bonding years, but we like each other well enough and I stay on the mailing list.

Recently, one guy, who I've never met, started spewing venom at people, in a disproportionate response to a forwarded roommate ad that was looking for an artistic female to share an apartment with. It was clear he was speaking from a lot of built-up anger about his life as a black man, but since these people have been his friends for many years, and were giving him every opportunity to tone down his languge and try to be heard without being a complete jerk, he seemed to be in considerable mental distress. I sent him a private email pointing out that people were trying to be nice to him, and he said I didn't "get it". Then he sent a vague, mental-illness-laden email to the list about how he was on his higher plane of understanding, invoking Discordianism, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, and Charles Manson to justify using what he saw as "crazy wisdom" to try and enlighten this group of people. I would have stayed out entirely, but it turns out I have a raw nerve that will not be ignored.
"Doesn't anyone have zen/aikido training?"
Yeah. Once you use my two favorite things to justify being a rampant jerk, you've apparently crossed a line I won't tolerate.

I worked on the response about as long as I normally work on a blog post, so I'll just drop it on you wholesale, including quoted parts of his original message.

> of course I "love everyone"

Actions, in this case courtesy towards people who are trying to be nice to
you, would make this credible.

> i Once say a interview show with Charlie Manson and he said:Pain is great!
> Pain teaches you things!
> get it?

I'm not sure Charles Manson is a great role model.

Everything teaches us. Pain isn't privileged in that respect.

> Doesn't anyone have zen/aikido training?

I have many years of both. Given their focus on caring and respect for, and clear communication with, other people, I think you're misinterpreting something. It's not about "I want to do this technique, how do I apply it to this situation"; that's seeing everything as a nail because all you've got is a hammer.

The practice of both Buddhism and aikido is "What is the *appropriate* response to this situation?". How can I change what *I'm* doing, to help people communicate, to increase understanding and caring among people, to encourage harmonious relationships? How can I set aside what I think should happen, how I think people should perceive me, all of those things that are about ME ME ME--how can *I* adapt my response to the *situation*? Rather than trying to arrange people and events the way I want, how can I set my wants and desires aside and really connect and respond to what's happening right now?

The way you've been trying to talk to this community didn't work for me 20 years ago, and it's not working for you now.

Are you willing to set aside your ideas of how you think the conversation should go, and adapt your response to the situation? To the reality that people are not understanding what you're trying to do, and they're not reacting the way you want?

If not, I would suggest that your ideas about how this conversation should go are more important than the relationships with the people who are feeling hurt and angered by how you're talking. That's a valid choice, if a different one than I would make; but I think it's not honest to listen to a bunch of people saying "You're saying hurtful things" and insist that you're actually spreading love and understanding.


We all have our raw nerves, I guess.


  1. It was a good, necessary response. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, although since his mental stuff is the issue, I think it mostly just went off into the void.

    One of the funny things about that list is that my contributing usually means the end of the thread. =)

  3. Your response was for him, but also for everyone else. Not to mention a noble defense of aikido and zen as not supporting such behavior. Also, I think that every measured response to a person-out-of-their-mind gets filed away somewhere and serves as a model for that person if/when they come down off the top of the flagpole. Then again, I'm an optimist when it comes to people...