A dear friend, in a recent conversation, told me that a mixup at her job was all her fault. It wasn’t (just FYI), but she’s been trained — as both a female and a good person — to accept responsibility for when things go wrong that she’s involved in.
Here’s the problem with that: sometimes, $#!+ happens. And there’s nothing to do to plan for it, nothing to do to avoid it. Because it wasn’t your fault.
But so often, my friends — and not only my female friends, although we’re the worst — bow their shoulders and accept that burden.
I’m not advocating for flaky responsibility shirking, believe me. But I wonder when it became acceptable for top-level execs to shrug off responsibilities (I’m looking at America’s big companies, now), accept bonuses even when their companies are failing, and just go on. While my friends shoulder the blame (which is how it feels) for events unrelated to their own actions.
How did things go so cockeyed?? What happened to lovingkindness? We certainly wouldn’t treat our friends like this!
My friend is not responsible for personalities, for instance. Some folks just don’t get along, so they won’t talk. You can’t make them. They don’t like each other — even if they don’t ‘dislike’ each other — and that means they are going to go out of their way to avoid communication. Is that MY fault? Or her fault? If adults don’t act like adults, are you responsible for that?
Me? I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I assume you’re grown-up until you show me otherwise. So usually, something unpleasant-ish has to happen before I realise I will have to ‘manage’ you differently.
And that’s my point: we are NONE OF US ‘failures.’ Sure we ‘fail’ at activities, projects, events, whatever. But I see a homeless kid tackle an app to Harvard, a former drug addict put together a drug therapy program. My sister works at Goodwill Industries, where ‘failure’ is just not operative. Every day she could tell you a success story.
I’m just saying: quit beating yourself up, America. Except for those flaky execs, who could use a bit more mea culpa. And we could all use more lovingkindness.
Recently someone asked me why I hate capitalism. I don’t. I do hate greed (and I wish I could — with accuracy — use a less violent verb).
There’s nothing wrong with an honest living. We all deserve a home — shelter — food, clothing, and medical care. An education. Skill sets. Independence, in other words. And that requires an income.
Today I read a review on one of my favourite websites, brainpickings.org. It’s a GREAT site, in case you aren’t familiar with it: running reviews of current, classic, even antiquated books and other media that are thought-provoking in the best sense of the term.
The review I read I’ve been saving, as the title spoke to me: Buddhist Economics. And yup — there was my old friend right livelihood. It’s the sticky wicket for a lot of my non-Buddhist acquaintances (even, I’m sure, some friends & family). It’s the principle underlying my refusal to buy Chick-Fil-A, or shop at WalMArt. Their practices hurt people. Attack people I love. So to encourage that ongoing harm with my $$ is, at least according to my interpretation of right livelihood, to participate in the harm.
Here’s the thoughtful Thích Nhất Hạnh on right livelihood:
Right Livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects all of us, and vice versa. The butcher’s children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood of killing.
In other words? It’s not only what we do for our own ‘job,’ but whom we support — whom we buy from, pay to, watch, vote for — as well. With our actions, our $$, our attentions. So for me, right livelihood is one of the anchor threads of the Buddhist ‘web.’ You believe in the Buddha’s teachings, sure. And you try to live your life according to them. Which brings you smack uppaside of right livelihood. 🙂
Now here’s the deal: I like my work. I ADORE teaching. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t need to pay my bills. Feed myself, any family I have. So I am NOT saying that Buddhists should accept crap wages because we’re ‘above’ all that. As the review quotes E.F. Schumacher arguing, it’s not wealth itself that’s the problem. It’s the craving for wealth, the attachment to what it buys.
This is pretty obvious when you look at American business today (and we return, circuitously, to the accusation that I hate capitalism): there is never enough profit for some folks. Workers are let go, other workers required to do more, vacations and benefits cut, and entire companies gutted by the desire for more. Desire, attachment, greed — it’s all taṇhā, translated as ‘thirst, desire, craving.’ The hunger for more.
That’s sooo not Buddhist economics. Yes, I need to make a living. And if I’m verrry good at what I do, it’s fine if you pay me lots. In fact, I would LOVE that! 🙂 But it’s NOT fine if I make a living by hurting anyone else, because I thirst, or hunger, or just plain WANT more stuff. More Benjamins. A bigger, faster car. Whatever. That’s not okay.
So it’s not capitalism. It’s not even capitalists. It’s greed, and inhumanity that set me off. Because those are NOT ‘good business,’ despite what the Koch brothers would like us to believe. They’re very bad Buddhism. And I’m NOT okay with that.
These are two of the lilies growing against a rather derelict fence at my son’s & DIL’s. Beautiful, pale yellow, with only a light lily fragrance. Not the heaviness that always seems to suffuse funerals.
I love them, of course. Cut them while my DIL was away at a working retreat, and placed them in her blue glass vase to welcome her home. We hadn’t thought we’d be here when she returned — we expected to be on the road this morning — and I hoped she’d know I thought of her.
Love is full of small gestures, and I’m afraid I don’t make them often enough. I’m pretty good to lend you a tenner if you need gas, or help with a reference or a resumé question. But I don’t always think to do the small things — I’m actually not a very thoughtful person!
As it turns out, the universe had plans for us. The guys (my son & best-beloved) are still in the throes of house chores: frosted glass in the bathroom, shaving two doors so they no longer stick. Building sawhorses and then worktables. So we were already considering leaving tomorrow.
And then my grandson woke up with a fever. It went down bit by bit, but he obviously didn’t feel well. So we’re here another day, and I can try in other ways to let my son & DIL know how dear they are.
Love’s kind of like lilies, isn’t it? There’s the concrete — the flowers — and the ineffable, the fragrance. I love them both. But the fragrance, I confess, is my favourite. Of course, you can’t have it w/out the physical lily, I realise. Still — I can smell these in the kitchen, when the fan moves the still air.
Kind of like love.
We dream of houses the way other people dream of jewelry, or vacations (note: we also dream of those 🙂 ). This past week-plus, spent where summer days are NOT 100+ in the shade, and evenings dip below 70, have been idyllic. Add the lure of son, DIL, and grandson, and it’s a big draw, Virginia.
So today we went to talk with the exceptionally knowledgeable Jeremy, who was the realtor for my son & DIL when they bought their house recently. It reassures me when someone is obviously very smart — I know, that makes me a bit of an intellectualist, but what do you expect from a writer & former college professor??
As it turns out, it might be a good bet to build. Now, I have to share something: my husband used to build houses. We went broke doing that. TWICE. So he doesn’t have good memories of building houses. Given, he was a framing company. But still — it’s not his favourite thing. And I had heat exhaustion more than once, those many years ago, just being a gofer at the building site. Need I mention again that building isn’t a huge draw for my beloved?
Me, however? You get to play house for real! Get to choose wood floors vs. carpet (yup), tile vs. wood (bathrooms only), wall paint (cream/ ivory/ watercolour blue/ grey), moulding, roofing, trim… WOW! How cool does that sound?
So a smallish Craftsman bungalow was one of the possibles from a local builder. Well, actually it wasn’t small. But it could be! (We do NOT need a house as big as the one we currently rattle around in, even if my beloved doesn’t agree…yet. 🙂 )
This is a part of everyday living that’s wonderful: dreaming of a perfect house, that would — of course! — be filled with a perfect life, and perfect days. As my meditation teacher Sister Ellie would say, these are castles that may well be nothing. But at least they’re not worrisome castles (you know: the kind you haunt in your own dreams).
And really: doesn’t a small-ish Craftsman bungalow, not far from the kids, w/ a spare room for the traveling son, sound wonderful? It sure does to me.
Someone asked me once if Buddhists shouldn’t be grounded in the everyday world. And sure, we should. But daydreams don’t contradict that (in my not-humble-enough opinion 🙂 ). Beginner’s heart can live very nicely in a dream house. At least mine can!