This weekend, I had some friends over to watch football, and during a news-break update, my friend’s girlfriend got upset at a heart-breaking story and said she’s starting to hate humanity. She seemed to lump football in with her hatred, insinuating that it was distracting our attention from the real problems of the day. I agree we ignore the real problems of the day, but that’s not football’s fault. Getting upset about football is like getting upset about capitalism while watching “The Price Is Right.”
So, I told my friend’s girlfriend, “Whoa, Dude! You can’t go around hating humanity. I swear- trust me, I used to hate humanity. All the sick shit we do, all that inhumanity used to break my heart. I yelled at the news, I cussed out reality television, I thought everyone had blood on their hands, and were ignorantly choosing to avoid the real important shit in life- wars, famines, murders, all the –isms people willingly engage in and use to harm others… y’know what I’m saying, all of the capital B- Bullshit. But y’know, what? After living like that for a few years- I found that anger, all that hatred, was eating my insides. I totally understood Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. I couldn’t enjoy anything any more. I was thinking and feeling my way into an early grave. I couldn’t just enjoy something simple like a football game. Other folks will tell you ignorance is bliss. But fuck that! I’m not telling you to ignore all the reasons to hate humanity. There’s way too many! I’m saying there is a way NOT to hate humanity. And it’s sooo much better than letting the bastards get you down. Y’wanna know what it is?”
At first she just looked annoyed that I jumped on her statement when I said, “Whoa!” And normally, I’d think- Who the fuck am I to correct anyone? After all the dumb shit I’ve done I’m just lucky to be alive. But that’s why I share what I’ve learned that works. And I knew what she was feeling. I’d traveled the road she was headed down. I had to risk being one of those annoying fucks you meet at a party, you know the kind, they corner you and tell you all about something that’s totally changed/saved their life. It could be yoga, veganism, Jesus, Amway, day-trading, tantric sex, early Dylan or last night’s Steven Colbert, they want to share that shit with you, and thus, save you. I didn’t want to be that insufferable asshole. But she’s a smart woman. She sensed I genuinely wanted to help, so she listened.
I told her two words. Plenary indulgence. If you’re not a Catholic, or a recovering Catholic, you may not know what plenary indulgence is. It’s simple. It was a tenet of the church for centuries (and still is). It basically stated there are two planes of existence- the earthly realm and the heavenly realm. And the Church spoke for God and God spoke for the Church. If God gave a law to Moses, true believers were expected to keep it. “As above, so below.” And God had, apparently, agreed that if his Holy Church, lead by its infallible pope, made a law on Earth, God had to honor it in heaven. “So below, as above.” That meant if some priest absolved you of your sins, they were erased from God’s big book, too. Neat trick, right?
Of course, since humans were involved this lead to a culture of corruption. Eventually, one priest, who was heavily in debt, began selling plenary indulgences. This meant, anyone could go out, kill their neighbor, then go to the Church and ask forgiveness, the priest would tell the murderer the price for an indulgence, the murderer would pay it, the priest would give them absolution, have them say some prayers and then their sin was wiped clean. And there was nothing God could do about it. Selling indulgences to white-wash sins is what set Martin Luther off and started the Protestant Reformation. Interestingly, his 95 Theses were one of the first viral protests in history, spread rapidly by the newly invented printing press.
Once again, because humans were involved, the Protestant Reformation didn’t lead to greater spiritual purity of practice. Instead it led to centuries of war in Europe. Neither plenary indulgences or the Protestant Reformation solved any problems. They only made more. This is the frustrating legacy of humanity. We have a hard time solving our problems without making new ones. And this is what I told my friend’s girlfriend. Her problem was she saw a problem.
Of course, yes, there was that terrible story on the news that (like Martin Luther) set her off. I pointed out it wasn’t her problem. At least, not at that moment. I wish you could’ve seen her face when I said that. You would’ve thought I said, “Just kill the baby, and the crying will stop,” or something equally cruel. But to clarify, people have been brutalizing each other for all of recorded history, and presumably long before football was invented.
None of this is new. It’s not a problem when an eagle grabs a rat, or a lioness kills a gazelle, or an infection kills its host. That’s what we call nature. Well, apparently humans have a beastly nature, and all our iPads haven’t diminished our beastliness. Rather than get into the philosophy of Rousseau, I told my friend’s girlfriend what I must constantly tell myself:
The world is, basically, run by teenagers. You must expect cruelty and selfishness rather than be surprised by it.
Metaphorically, that’s who I imagine runs the world, a bunch of teenagers. Most every adult you meet, including you, is basically no different than a teenager. (Just think of the U.S. Congress, if you doubt that statement). Would you be surprised our world is the way it is if you found out it was designed and run by teenagers?
My friend’s girlfriend and I both mistakenly expected adults to act like grown-ups. Ha! Once you lower your expectations to teenager behavior, the world makes perfect sense. Now, I’m more forgiving when a person fucks up. And that includes when I fuck up. That’s crucial because I fuck up more than anyone else. I mean, I fuck up a lot. And if I can forgive myself, I can also forgive others. And when I can forgive others, I can more easily and honestly forgive myself. It’s like a neighborly indulgence.
As you treat others, so you treat yourself. And as you treat yourself, so you treat others.
A friend of mine once told me when we relied on horses for agriculture and as our chief means of conveyance, we understood horses and we used that relationship to make sense of the world. We knew horses needed to be tended, to be cared for, that we couldn’t drive them to the breaking point because they might not fully recover, they could die. When we invented automobiles and modern agriculture, we replaced horses with cars and tractors, machines.
Now we understand our machines, and we use our relationships to them to make sense of our world. Modern (Western) medicine acts like our bodies are machines. Surgery is often a matter of swapping out parts. These days we look at the whole world like a system of machines. We replaced tending horses with maintaining machines. We replaced shoeing and feeding and brushing horses with oiling engines, gassing up motors and retrofitting machines with new parts. And we lost something in that transition; because we’re animals. We die. We need to remember the life in everything, not just think of its function. We need to keep our animal nature central to our understanding of everything, including ourselves. Otherwise, we risk losing even more of our humanity.
Pretty wise, right? Well, this same friend also recently wrote rap lyrics about how his dick is everywhere. So, you know, he’s still a dude. He’s no saint or meditating monk. If anything he’s a holy fool, a drunken kung fu master. He embraces the paradox. He also taught me one of the best questions ever:
“Would you rather be right… or happy?”
He stumbled upon some real wisdom with that one. Rarely, do we get to be both. None of us ever knows if we’re “right.” Even facts are misleading. Just ask two baseball fans who has the professional career home run record. You’re likely to hear two different answers, depending on if you include Japanese pro baseball or not. When it comes to knowing the objective “truth,” well, shit… we definitely fail. We each have our own truth, and it dies with us.
When you can forgive yourself you can be compassionate with yourself. When you learn to look past your mistakes and blunders and poor choices without forgetting, ignoring or rationalizing them away, you won’t push your fuck-ups aside to feel better. Since we all make them, it’s important to remember how it feels to make bad choices. And then, in the future when given another chance, you might make a choice you’re proud of. But first you have to be compassionate with yourself. This is difficult. So you need to practice- with others, every day.
You’ll never be elected King or Queen of the World and be able to fix all our problems. Hell, most times, you can’t even fix your neighbor’s problems. But if you can be more tolerant with them, maybe your example of compassion will inspire them. I think of the mothers of murder victims who visit the prison on the day the murderer is executed, those women who pray for the forgiveness of the person who killed what was most important in their lives, their children. That’s some heavy shit right there. I marvel at those parents. They are some of the only adults I see on the news. So, I focus on them.
If you wanna be happy, keep in mind you live in a world that’s being run by people who act like teenagers, and just like teenagers, they make horrible mistakes, do and say dumb shit, and care way too much about all the wrong stuff. People often fail to recognize what matters most in life. But what do you expect? We’re fearful, hormone-driven animals. You’ll be far happier if you don’t expect adults to act like grown-ups (just think of Congress).
When you see the world as if it were run by teenagers, you’re free of unreasonable expectations. Like a Zen master, you can endeavor to enjoy the here and now. (And meaningless stuff like football.) We’re all flawed creatures. And unfortunately, this means we must expect suffering. But acts of compassion and forgiveness are what save us all. They give us the energy and insight to look past human failings, to inspire ourselves and others to attempt to do better. That’s all any of us can do. We need joy and laughter and love (expressed as compassion and forgiveness) to carry on. And to occasionally tell ourselves:
Fuck the teenagers! Don’t let those bastards get you down.
It’s been said that music soothes the savage beast, so here’s an awesome bouncy new Euro-gypsy song called, “Here and Now.” Consider it a little reminder that if this is all we have, enjoy as much of it as you can. Selah.