Sometimes I wonder why the issue of same-sex anything is an issue at all. Oh I am well aware of the traditional arguments from both sides, and I feel (as usual) strongly about both sides of the issue. Just like any of the highly contentious debates in a society any discussion about sex elicits strong emotions. It is a threatening topic at an unconscious level which makes for very difficult conversations even among the most enlightened. But, since one of the qualities of a monk is fearlessness it is time to have a look at one of the many many many issues at stake.
So I run across this elegant little study which highlights what psychologists call “third-person effect.” This effect is basically a neat little trick we play on ourselves of disregarding our own weaknesses and instead presuming them on others. In short, we see other people as weaker than we are, more susceptible to manipulation, or more prone to fall into temptation and sin. Well, gee, this is Genesis 1 kind of material! Just another point in the line which traces our current behaviors to pretty much the same behaviors found across the globe since the dawn of recorded history.
It is most interesting to note that the authors have found that those of us who fall in the “right-wing authoritarian” personality group tend to be the greatest abusers of this trait. Caution! Be very careful NOT think of it as purely a political position. Listen very carefully to your heart as you read and think about this tendency to judge others as different/weak/inferior. Is your heart whispering things like “I am not like THEM!” If so this is a “Gotcha!” moment. Because that is precisely what this personality profile is like…You are welcome – now you got something to meditate about.
And lest we think this is something that only Bible Belt, gun-tottin’ grizzlie mammas are about, just read about the excesses in Anusara yoga to see this sad human tendency. Especially telling is the quote “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice.” This acceptance of external authority, no matter how temporary it is, no matter how much it allows you to achieve a little bit of objectivity, is a slippery-sliding slope.
In the end, “everybody judges themselves as a little bit better than the next guy.” This means me and you. It means that I can say “I would never fall for that charlatan’s tricks.” Hah! Much more honest to say that I am not a Wiccan so appeals to join a Wiccan coven would be ineffectual on me. But that does not mean I would not fall for the same tricks, they would just have to be packaged differently. But I digress…back to the central issue here: third-person effect.
Is there a solution to this problem? Of course there is, but you will not like it. As the article puts it: “If everyone believes that other people are more affected than they are, that’s just not logical,” said Winslow, who suggested that focusing on putting yourself in others’ shoes might help banish this bias. “If you believe you are not going to be affected by [same-sex marriage], just recognize that probably other people believe the same way, so the good news is that probably people aren’t going to be affected by it that much.”
Simple huh? There is an even more elegant way to do this work, one which I believe will be faster and more effective as a vaccine against third-person effect because all this work of having to stop/drop/roll to put out the ego flames requires a lot of self-discipline.
Isn’t there something easier?
Yes there is. Unfortunately (for some) this involves quite a serious undermining, if not total dismantling of the ego. In the Rule of Benedict, in one of its best chapters (Chapter 7), St. Benedict writes about the highest degree of humility:
- “The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always lets it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: “Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven”; and again with the Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly”.
Not to be outdone there are many rules observed by Buddhist monks which state something remarkably similar, for example from the Book of the Discipline:
- “When in inhabited areas, I will… wear the under and upper robe properly; be properly covered; go well restrained as to my movements; keep my eyes looking down; sit with little sound [of voice].”
- “When in inhabited areas, I will not… hitch up my robes; go or sit laughing loudly; go or sit fidgeting; swing my arms; shake my head; put my arms akimbo; cover my head with a cloth; walk on tiptoe; sit clasping the knees.”
My guess, from my limited reading is that you will find the same in every wisdom tradition in the world.
It is strong medicine, and tastes horrible. It makes you want to throw up, and every fiber of your being (ego) shouts at you that it is poison. If you even sip it you get fevers, get angry. There is a lot of emotional energy that is released by sipping even a drop of this stuff. Everything in you rises to combat the infection. But the truth, unfortunately, is that it is medicine, it will cure you of at least this particular “effect”, oh let’s call it a sinful tendency or lashon hara or nafsi ammara. Call it what you will, if you truly mean to be more about loving others (love God, love neighbor) and less about me-me-me, then I do not see how you can avoid it without drinking from this cup.
Indeed, there’s a cup in the Lord’s hand
full of foaming wine, mixed with spice.
He will pour it out,
and all of the earth’s wicked people
must drink it;
they must drink every last drop! (Ps. 75)
This is good news if you have the stomach for real work. Taste it and see!