Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Better Not Best

In my life I have been both condescendingly called a ‘do gooder’ as well as, I think, called this out of affection. Usually, the first of this group, feels it necessary to call me a condescending ‘do gooder’ because I challenge their thinking in this area. Recently it was a discussion on whether there should be a bottom to where a person can fall. I said it should include housing, safety, access to health care and an education. They scoffed and called me a ‘do gooder’ and despite my in depth discussion on how it wasn’t going to cost more money, they still said it was ‘too expensive”. The second group, usually, see what is being done by all the wonderful people I have been able to touch and know and my really small part and they say, ‘you’re a do gooder’ and move on from this. They don’t usually want the details. Recently, it hasn’t been the two groups that have weighed on my mind but the title of ‘do gooder’.

In its basic definition it is a person that does good. When we identify ‘good’ it is in juxtaposition with some identified moral good. And when a person adheres to this identification we call them good. When we either think it is excessive or praise it in a teasing way we come up with the term, ‘do gooder’. When I contemplate this, or have, there has been a level of unease at it. This unease I have, I think, found the root of.

I am uncomfortable with praise. I love to give it, to see the strength that I have the blessing to witness in most all beings I have met. As I practice I see that this ‘sight’ has widened and deepened and what was lost to me, previous to this, is not revealed. This is something that I have found to be remarkable in my quest but also a sustenance to try harder. It has also deepened my conviction on the near total infusion of suffering for beings and that it need not be so. My empathy and, at my best, my compassion grows and deepens with my feelings of sorrow and tragedy.

This sorrow that is coupled with the understanding that the situation need not be drives me. My teacher goes to bed at 9pm and gets up at 12am and begins his studies/service, driven by the need to help all beings. I cannot match this but I know it is possible because I see it. I know that I can grow my proverbial shoulders and when I am tired I can think on the suffering of beings and my energy is infused with the critical nature of the situation. By being a Buddhist, and being convinced in the eternal nature of existence all these beings have been those that I have loved dearly, who have loved me dearly, and of whom my duty should be unending. From just a mundane view of love, a tit for tat sort of love, one should serve.

How can I serve? In my life it has been surrounded by the efforts of a ‘do gooder’. But what I realize now is that this actual service has been infused with an error. This error is the basis for what I understand is the catalyst for my suffering, our suffering. That is the belief in inherency. What this means in the lens of a do gooder is the mistake that what I am working on, for, is, in itself, an entity that can bring about the Best e.g. Happiness. It cannot.

From a basic understanding of reality we know once something is posited there is something outside of that sphere of knowledge as well. For example, if I posit a ‘here’ there must be a ‘there’. On a more subtle level we see that with any imputation, even the word ‘the’ from the standpoint of being a concept, at the very least, there is a ‘the’ and there is not a ‘the’. Existence and Nonexistence.

In the more gross level of work in Human Services, as my life has been dedicated to, hinges on some deep philosophical implications. What am I really working on? When I hear myself extolling our students to gain some sort of quantifiable education within the system that we live in I find myself in sorrow. I am not even purporting, honestly, an education. I want them to have one so that they can take care of themselves because it has become increasingly more difficult for students to do this without this certification. However, really, what I am trying to do is to lift them up to a level of relative privilege. There is the ‘haves’ as are defined by some organization that churns our ‘requirements’ and stamps it on a piece of paper. By its very construction, this organization and the system that lends it its powers, we create the ‘Have Nots’ because they are the one’s without this certification. Once we have identified this certification as a measure of exclusivity, for that is what a bachelor’s degree and postgraduate degree is, we attach to it the material benefits e.g. jobs.

If this was just in a more just society that decided that there was a bottom that we would allow anyone to fall to, or choose to be in e.g. access to healthcare, education, housing, food, clothing being something that I have thought of before. These also have been practiced as the base level communities would allow their neighbors to have. Ours is not this society.

In our society with no floor we see that this imputation of concepts is so insidious. Again, if we didn’t attach so much exclusivity and separation (the opposite of inclusive non-conceptual thought) it wouldn’t matter. But what I have heard in practice and seen is when a former level of exclusive bestowal e.g. bachelor’s degree becomes too common then the next level of exclusivity is accepted as the norm. I have seen this with social workers at my work where a Bachelor’s degree was preferred, and then required, then a master’s degree preferred, and then required, now a very specific type of master’s degree in Social Work or education.

Our system as it is, is not in the business of eliminating the ‘Have nots’. It says it is by upholding programs that try to support students to privilege who were previously not within those bounds, but it does not try to move toward Just, at the least, not to say benevolent. By not having a bottom it can only be in the business of trying to foist as many people into privilege that the system can manage and then continue that process as the next level of exclusivity is used to identify privilege.

I can continue with my ‘do gooder’ ways, mostly because I am ignorant, but also because I have it within the context of a trajectory of life. What my duties are, are to support students and to help them gain skills enough to find meaning in their lives. For the vast majority of humanity that has ever existed in order for this to occur one must have met a modicum of material stability. But this material aspect is only a tool, a necessary tool but a tool nonetheless, to be able to craft meaning. Now that I think about it I think I must put Transcendent as a qualifier for meaning. The meaning for one’s existence, from my vantage, must arrive at a place where it become transcendent. That it arises above the means to get to that understanding but does not invalidate the pathway to it.

It is this calling that I have when I am trying in my ignorant ways to be a good man, good husband, teacher, child, friend-to try to live up to the sacredness of my existence through action, and also, to help support those, serve those, so that they can attempt the peaks that were our own to conquer.

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