‘Man reports prostitute to police’. Not, as one might think, an angry response to gay, pay-for-sex gone wrong; or even a straight John having his wallet lifted while. . . No, this was because said ‘escort’ was ugly. And he (that would be John, or more properly ‘the John’) was fit to be tied (or perhaps, hoped to be) that he’d been lied to. Our lady of the evening had evidently ‘misrepresented’ herself as being somewhat more attractive than the objective facts would support. And he (John, eh) was pissed (well, maybe that too). And he wanted her charged with the British equivalent of false advertising. BBC world news does have a way of getting my attention!
Coincidently, I’m currently preparing to do a second workshop with something of a hero of mine and an icon in the realm of ‘wrong speech’ — and all that goes with it. Bob Hare is the reigning expert in the fascinating world of psychopathy (emphasis on the second syllable, if you’re saying it out loud, in polite company). He has fashioned a career out of the study of those guys (oops, that may be a bit sexist — but true) we typically associate with chainsaws and cults, Bundy’s and Manson’s. And so, after some 40 years of practicing psychology, I am finally breaking my longstanding rule of never visiting Penetanguishene — or, more precisely, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Central North Correctional Centre. For those fans of UK cop drama, that would be the Broadmoor of Ontario. The place where all the seriously disturbed criminal population finds itself housed, at least in this part of the world.
My pre-workshop reading included a review of Dr. Hare’s assessment manual* built around the twenty cardinal features that define these bad boys (granted, there are a few Myra Hindley’s around, but by and large, psychopaths tend to be male — at least the ones that get caught!). Juxtaposed with the complaint of our British friend, this catalogue struck me as remarkably parallel to the precepts that define the core of a fully formed mindfulness practice. While nothing is perfect — except Buddha, Christ, and a few politicians — the fit was still pretty good. The interesting piece is that Hare’s list is the inverse of the Buddhist principles that underpin mindfulness. In short, Hare’s syllabus is a complete recipe for how not to think, speak, intend, act, perceive, . . live.
Back to the UK for a moment. Setting aside the less laudable reasons for why ‘John’ might have been meeting a woman in a mall parking lot to begin with, this man was so incensed by the lie (as he viewed it), that he remained adamant, even in the face of the bobbies not taking his complaint too seriously, that he continued to see himself as the victim in this exchange; refusing to back away from his (remarkably) fragile, dare we say hypocritical legal posture. Right Speech (clearly a guiding principle in John’s decidedly compartmentalized life) had been transgressed. And check marks on at least three of Dr. Hare’s ‘anti-mindfulness’ list: Item 4: pathological lying; Item 5, Conning / manipulative (defined as the intentional use of deceit to cheat, bilk, defraud); and Item 2, Grandiosity (bragging, presenting an inflated view of one’s self worth, egocentric in the extreme).
Before we leave our overseas paragons, together they have a few more teaching points to make. Namely, Right Action: showing restraint around sexual proclivities, use of intoxicants, generally non-harming, cherishing, respecting all other life. Now granted our ‘teachers’ are demonstrating the darker side of a few of the guidelines that attach to this precept. And at least another five tics on Bob’s List: Promiscuous Sexual Behavior (Item 11), Failure to Accept Responsibility for One’s Actions (16), Parasitic Lifestyle (9), Poor Behavioral Controls (10), and just maybe number 17, Many Short Term (Marital) Relationships.
Then there’s the whole arena of Right Intention. Buddhist scholar, Shantideva is quoted as follows: ‘All happiness in this world comes from thinking of others; all suffering comes from preoccupation with one’s self’. Often framed around compassion and caring, this precept gives rise to the powerful mindfulness practice of metta, the lovingkindness meditation. And how the anti-checklist fairly bristles with the downside of this principle: Lack of Empathy (8), Lack of Remorse (6), Shallow Emotions (7).
And so it goes, precept for anti-precept; principle set up against its antithesis. Since the inception of Dr. Hare’s work (and likely long before), a debate has ebbed and flowed around the origins of these ‘embodiments of evil’ — essentially a re-work of the old nature, nurture controversy: are psychopaths born or made. As with the heredity / environment polemic, the evidence is not particularly clear, conclusive, or black and white. What might be said is that most of us, mercifully, don’t live at these extremes. We are neither Christ figures nor Hannibal Lectors. Any number of well-intentioned, albeit naively conceived and executed plans to ‘rehabilitate’ the latter and his ilk have amply demonstrated that the ‘true psychopaths’ are not particularly amenable to change. Very good at ‘playing along’ — but in the end, still the same old villain. (For an interesting and highly entertaining treatise on these failed experiments, have a look at The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson’s — of Men Who Stare at Goats fame — account of his travels with Bob Hare.) For the rest of us, regularly practicing the principles of mindfulness, as best we can, just may reshape our life experience.
*Hare Psychopathy Checklist, Revised
Image: Miss Freddy Kruger, MeemieArt.