Us and Them

Two thoughts. The first is from George Leonard, sometime writer, editor, and teacher — perhaps best known as cofounder of the Esalen Institute, a centre for the study and practice of alternate therapies, founded on the principles of Human Potential.

When confronted by any attack or problematic incoming energy, the Aikidoist doesn’t strike, push back, pull, or dodge, but rather enters and blends. That is, he or she moves toward the incoming energy and then, at the last instant, slightly off the line of attack, turning so as to look momentarily at the situation from the attacker’s viewpoint. From this position, many possibilities exist, including a good chance of reconciliation.

The second is a seminal principle from the teachings of Shinzen Young, an established mindfulness teacher and author. His writings are largely centred on the application of meditative interventions in the management of and co-existence with chronic pain. Young has constructed an equation that, in its elegance, embodies an essential truth about relationship in general.

S = P x R

A bit like E = MC2, some elaboration might be needed: Suffering = Pain x Resistance — with the emphasis on the R, Resistance. Push back, opposition . . . as an automatic and immediate response. Like Leonard, Young is underscoring the self-evident: that there are options, there are ways of mitigating, reducing our ‘pain’ — literal and metaphoric. We simply pause on the push back. In essence, taking the ‘R’ out of ‘suffer’. The felt discomfort is not eliminated. But neither is it amplified, unnecessarily, often arbitrarily, by the results of our own, ego-driven actions.

Sadly, George and Shinzen seem to be beating a counter-intuitive drum. We’re evidently programmed not to pause and reflect, observe and consider, conciliate and cooperate when challenged. We’re primordially preloaded to strike or skedaddle. Nowadays, more commonly, the former. Absent any middle ground.

My wife and I currently live in what is euphemistically called ‘community’. Loosely, this is a collection of GITs (geriatrics in training) with a healthy (or maybe not so) sprinkling of those that have passed the bar — into full blown geriatricity. Our compadres have paid their dues and been provided their share of entitlement stamps — by virtue of having been contributing and generally successful members of various business and professional circles. In short, a respected and worthy lot, just on the south side of best before dates. Not so far over the line that the savour of power and influence is lost; but far enough to be left more with the memory than the substance.

The container for said community is a stylish, twelve storey condominium on the edge of Lake Ontario. Now three and a half decades young, the building’s frayed collar and shiny elbows are starting to show; necessitating some significant (and costly) refurbishments. The expectation, for both building and occupants, that of an easy ride into complacent sunset years, has been drawn up a bit short. And, with a new sheriff in town (aka, a smart, young, property manager with an economics degree and more than a flicker of OCD), some hard truths are being introduced.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, with imposition of said truths, sides have been quickly drawn up, colours shown and flown. We’ve all been round the course a sufficient number of times that (virtually) no one has entrenched in a ‘no way!’ posture. Life has taught that sticking out one’s lower lip and flatly refusing is not an option.

That said, a distinctive Hatfield and McCoy tenor has emerged; albeit expressed in diminished ways. A loss of control is no more palatable in this ‘community’ — than being told to pony up a bunch of cash. And so the great divide began (or perhaps was already there, just hiding in the wings). And that critical variable in Young’s equation, the multiplier ‘R’ rears its discordant head.

The decorating committee is pared from five to three to two. The carpet that no one wanted (save the Hatfields) is ‘selected’, arbitrarily — once the resistance is banished. The result: variously described as army fatigues, yogurt left too long in the fridge, or a dog’s comment on a poorly digested breakfast. In the interest of ‘the hotel look’, seasonal door decorations are banned. Pitched battles over a tenant’s access to ‘common elements’ trigger epithets from octogenarians roused from torpor and hurled over Zoom airwaves (is that still a term?) — before nodding off again. Petitions are circulated. Mutterings of rebellion animate quiet chats in the recycle room. Passive aggression is rampant. And ‘our side of the street’ defines one’s allegiance. Entitled impotence is evidently a force to be reckoned with.

But I may have digressed. The compulsion to oppose has become a universal ‘tic’. A reflex that informs most every aspect of human interaction. To allow, to pause, to ‘sit with’ and consider and reflect continue as options. But evidently ones that are synonymous with a surrendering of ‘one’s rights’, a relinquishing of control (which may never have been present in the first place, more delusion than reality — and certainly a choice that flies frequently in the face of common sense and even self-preservation). Our institutions (if it’s fair to even identify them as such) have increasingly become about domination and holding power. Getting one’s way. Less about ‘community’, compassion, and the common good. Debate is healthy. Derision, dismissal, domination are not. Perhaps time to quote another John: ‘All we are saying, is give peace a chance’.

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