We're All Idiots


       I heard wisdom from a young man the other day in the form of these words:  "We're all idiots."  I found it refreshing to hear!  And he laughed as he said it while his eyes sparkled.  

     There is something very freeing about the statement:  "I am an idiot!" and "We're all idiots!"  I find these statements very inspiring!  

     You just know that if Fred, Joe or Peggy Sue were finally able to utter these words:  "I am an idiot!" that there might still be hope for them! 

     You could exclaim to friends and family:  "What an idiot I've been!"  All kinds of people would be grateful to hear you say it.  They've been longing to hear your confession for years and finally you've come through.  Say it again:  "I am an idiot!"  People will respond with flowers and donations.  

     You could literally change your world by saying it with emphasis: "I am an idiot!"  The world is able to relax now.      

     Of course you cannot say such a thing in some circles.  You'll be told that you're being too negative.  "You need to be thinking positively," someone is sure to say. 

      I experienced this censorious spirit not long ago when I stated a point that Joseph Campbell used to make.  Campbell used to express his sense of alarm about the number of couples he knew who had raised their children and then got divorced.  His sense was that these couples had failed to create a spiritual relationship with each other that would sustain them through their later years.

      It's a sad fact, indeed a tragic one, about what goes on with a good many couples.  They fail to create a relationship that is primarily about a shared search for the Ultimate, for God.  In fact, their relationship may be about everything but such a quest!  

      Well, I barely got Campbell's point out before I was told that I was being too negative.  And that was the end of any exploration of the thinking of Joseph Cambell, in whose presence and through whose writings so many people have found enormous inspiration!

     The conversation about Campbell was over.  The light of inquiry had been put out.  The 'positive thinker' had put the kibosh on the discussion.   

      I am reminded of Family Therapist, Virginia Satir's point that in troubled families, where there are of course troubled relationships, the rule is that you can say only 'nice things', 'pleasant things.'  You must never point out that there's an elephant in the room, a skeleton in the closet or that the emperor is naked.  The rule in these families is that you are not at liberty to describe 'what is.' 

     It's the opposite, of course, in a fully functioning, 'healthy' family.  The rule in this kind of family is that there is 'freedom to comment.'  

     Why is it okay to comment in the healthy family?  Because something 'is.' That's the reason why.  You need no other rationale than that.  The thing is there.  It may not be pleasant but it's there and it's effecting everybody and everything!  So blow the whistle and bring it out into the open.  We are no longer going to 'play games' by pretending that something is not there when it darn well is there!'   

     Well, in my young friend's terms - it's an idiot who talks in a flowery way, who says that we all need is just to be more hopeful and optimistic.  It's an idiot, according to my discerning friend, who fails to take into account human imperfection.  It's an idiot who fails to discern that even in the greatest masterpiece there is a flaw in the painting, if you look closely. 

      It's how things are.  It's the way the world is.  The tragic dimension is ever with us and your showy demonstrations of positivity are not ever going to alter that fact.  

      Today's Mr. Positivity is the sort of person who doesn't want to face or know about 'what is' but who wants to talk in pollyannaish language about how we're all getting better - 'things are getting better' and 'it's getting better all the time.'  

      It's a reality-denying posture of blind optimism.  It's an excessive spirit of optimism - unreasonable, illogical and dreamy.  It's the fantasy that there's a revolution coming.  It's the foolishness that we've all been evolving to get to this point.  The great day, the new age, is just around the corner.  Utopia, a new world, is possible if enough people are really, really, really positive and 'feel the love' together! 

      Which is an attitude that does not square with the facts.  Such an attitude needs to be mugged by reality. 

      As in Egypt where the disconcerting news is that the revolution in the streets has resulted in the majority of people voting in the Muslim Brotherhood.  Today's headline is Islamist Wins Egypt.  Women, Jews and Christians would be well advised to make a quick exit.  The so-called 'Arab Spring' appears to be on its way to re-creating another Iranian-like tyranny. 

     There were dreamy expectations based on an undiscerning hopefulness.  Now we see the outcome.  The vast majority of dreamily hopeful media people - idiots, every one!  

     Thus my feeling is that all kinds of idiotic, optimistic houses of cards need to come crashing down.  We need to be reminded of our strong tendency to be idiotic! 

     I know of a great being who loves to shatter idiotic, illusory houses of cards.  Time and again she goes after people who imagine that they've created a perfect world or, that it's soon on its way.   

     She tells the story, for example, of an ascetic named Kaushika who was very meticulous in observing his vows of purity.  The guy had been 'bringing on the kingdom' by strict religious observances.  In his own way, he had set up a perfect world for himself. 

      Be aware of your 'perfect world' idealogy.  A tornado is forming in the distance.  The storm is sure to come.   

     "One day Kaushika was sitting under a tree reciting the Vedas (the ancient Scriptures of India)   Unfortunately, a crane in the top branches chose that moment to relieve itself, and the whole mess landed right in the middle of Kaushika's shaved head."  The bird did an intervention on Kaushika just when he needed it most!   

     Well, how do you think Mr. Pure responded to having his meditation interrupted?  You're right!  "Kaushika looked up at the bird in fury, and his glance, filled with the power of his austerities, stopped its heart.  The bird plunged through the branches and fell at his feet, dead."  

     Initially, Kaushika was stunned and felt some remorse as he looked at the dead bird, but he soon got over that!  He began to be impressed with the power he didn't know he had!  He hadn't realized just how far he'd come!  Caught up in his newly discovered ability, the rest of the story is about the humbling of Kaushika as he tries to demonstrate his great powers. (Swami Chidvilasananda, My Lord Loves a Pure Heart, p. 64, 65)

     This is always how it goes.  We think we 'have it together.'  We think that we've achieved some great victory.  We're finally being recognized and applauded.  The mob on the streets downtown is beginning to shake up the establishment.  We're bringing on the revolution.  The world is getting better.  There will be peace in our time!  And some bird circles overhead and drops its load.   

     Well, the missle from above is the best thing that's ever happened.  The illusion of success, attainment, or accomplishment, is shattered.  As the Scriptures say:  'If you think you're enlightened, you most assuredly are not.'   

     Perhaps quite a few of us are trying to create our own perfect world but there is always something that intervenes.  It may be, for example, an aging parent who interrupts our comfortable world.

     As a former hospital chaplain I have vivid memories of the children of the aged trying to give pep-talks to their aging parents.  Time and time again I would hear someone say:  "You just need to be more positive, Dad."  Lists are made of what Dad should do with reminders of how happy he should be.

      But the old man can't hear the message.  He's weak and frail and knows that he's on the way out.  He's disoriented and confused.  He doesn't need a lecture on positive-thinking.  He needs to feel 'heard' and understood, not reasoned with.  

      I watched someone just the other evening, who instead of trying to give her aged, bewildered mother a pep-talk about her negative attitude simply responded to her mother's litany of complaints by tender words of assurance.  Through touch, and a gentle massage, this kind daughter helped to tuck her Mom into bed.  The mother's response was to become less and less fretful to the point of calm.    

     "There was once a sadhu, a wandering yogi, who was sitting on the bank of a river.  It was a lovely afternoon, not too hot, not too cold.  The sadhu had spent a very beautiful morning, just the sort he loved.  He had bathed in a clear stream, said his prayers, and performed his spiritual practice in a fragrant forest, under a shady tree."

     "Then he had eaten very well in the kitchen of a wealthy man.  A cook had heaped his plate full, two or three times in a row, and sent him on his way with a basket full of tasty things to eat for supper."  

     "Now, here he was, on the bank of a pretty stream, completely satisfied from head to toe.  Truly, there was nothing left to desire…"  (ibid)  Well, you know what's coming, don't you?  There's always something coming to test and try one's mettle. 

     The sadu was just about to doze off, as contented as a man could be, when he noticed a washerman walking towards him.  The fellow had two donkeys loaded with dirty clothes.  

     The sadhu thought:  "Oh, I hope he doesn't come here.  I am in no mood for small talk and he must smell awful.  All those dirty clothes, those dirty donkeys.  He quickly closed his eyes so that that washerman would think he was asleep."  

     Well, the washerman approached the sadhu for help.  The 'great' sadhu refused.  They ended up in a fight.   The story goes on and on until the sadhu, through various trials, gets in touch with his idiocy. 

      So I say it again that the first step on the way to enlightenment is the realization of idiocy. 

      It's the ability to say:  "I am an idiot!"  Say it again with emphasis:  "I am an idiot."  Now there's some hope for you!