This post is about compassion and looking inwards- call it mindfulness, self-help, or a spiritual lesson we all need at times, or call it whatever you wanna call it . I feel I need to preface this by saying that this is not a political post-it is not meant to divide, attack nor defend any “party”. I don’t believe any one short quote or story (told by one person or “guru”) has the capability of holding the universal truth for all people at all times. And strictly adhering to quotes or verses, using them as ammo for, or against something, to always live by- well, that’s trapping ourselves or others in a box. And that is not what quotes are for. However, I think quotes and analogies can give us nice inspiring lessons if we turn them inwards and let ourselves get quiet and humbled for a moment. So when I came across this, I appreciated this for what it can remind me.
I came across this lesson by Dr. Dyer by accident.
When you squeeze an orange very hard, what do you get?
Not lemon juice right?
You get orange juice.
It’s never vinegar, nor KoolAid, it’s always orange juice- because that is what is inside.
And the same metaphor is true of us, of me, of you. When we are squeezed hard or put under pressure, what comes out is what is inside (and sometimes what is inside can be a long-term thing, sometimes some acute stress). Our anger, our stress, our fears, our need for control, our judgement, our discrimination, our self-righteousness, our loudness, our limited or limiting beliefs, our bias, our dogmas. That is what can come out loud and clear.
Or it can be our empathy and open-mindedness. Our need to seek a deeper understanding or further context. Our peace with ourselves and others. Our gentleness. Our love of our neighbour as ourselves- granting others the kind of understanding we give ourselves, having lived through our struggles long enough to understand the complexity and nuance in many of those life problems.
And if we are in a bad place emotionally with ourselves, or let our ego go unchecked, we likely project criticism and judgement onto others too. So we need to guard our hearts and our thoughts and get quiet and question ourselves from time to time. Even to acknowledge our own level of hypocrisy or judgement, however small. To let go what doesn’t serve us, nor others.
And as I said this isn’t a blanket statement. It isn’t to be used against someone (though it can help us understand others partially- of course, it may not apply in all scenarios, such as when people can’t tolerate the intolerable and when innocent people are getting hurt such as a victim of rape, abuse, etc. This isn’t for these types of extreme cases which undoubtedly can bring out different strong reactions, and where Fight or Flight mode are natural reactions for self-preservation. Nor is it to be used in victim-blaming or being indifferent to people’s struggles). This is mostly to be aimed inwards. Most spirituality is to be introspective, while gaining some understanding of others. And to also remind ourselves that in 2020 most of us have been in Fight or Flight mode (aka. the sympathetic nervous system which we are only supposed to be in for short bursts) for too long, and it is causing everyone to be very reactive even in situations that don’t warrant it.
So it doesn’t mean staying in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, or not standing up for yourself or vulnerable people. It doesn’t mean being indifferent to injustice. In fact when a building, for example, has structural integrity, it isn’t something that sways every which way. We don’t need to be a pushover, nor to feign positivity, when real issues are at hand. We can stand for something- but is the way we stand for it possibly hurting innocent people, even if through our judgements, assumptions and words?
I think the orange metaphor just means if someone (be it on social media or in real life or in a relationship) is getting reactive and then overwhelming you or applying pressure to you with loud, offensive remarks (be they aimed at you or another person or group of people)- you have the chance to speak softer, to pause and clear your thoughts, ask questions, and to seek context, evidence, and a deeper understanding, instead of just getting overwhelmed by someone’s machine-gun remarks and feeling the need to immediately reply to them all, or to get defensive or reactive. “When they go low, you go high”. In fact if we are looking to get closer to the truth and get it right, rather than being right, then usually further questions and evidence are needed (which may not always be available during a debate, especially during a heated debate where someone is firing 10 different attacking ideas at once and neither party is a specialist in the field). Often as society, we trust the person with all the answers from the start. But if there is anything that getting older has taught me, it’s to sooner trust the person who hesitates, tries to weigh different sides, seeks context, and fills in the cracks with empathy. The kind of person who can admit they are not an expert in a certain field and says it is may be best to refer to credible expert opinion, or who says they need to research further on that particular topic- more so than the person who is pushing something with 100% certainty and aggression, especially with something that not even an expert can be certain in. In a scientific context, Doctor Mike points out the danger of IKA (I-know-all) experts who have all the answers (often with agenda tied in) when the rest of the scientific community has questions. (Aside, Conspiracy theorists are the 2020 example of people who from day 1 have had all the answers when there wasn’t even enough data or evidence on this novel virus and situation for the scientific and medical communities to have much difinitive answers. And unfortunately, the scientific community’s form of responsible, educated hesitation to speak, say about masks, etc when they didn’t have enough evidence at first, was seen as weakness or confusion for some. Doctor Mike’s Ted talk video and work is a good way of understanding why evidence-driven people hesitate before they state something. In the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, “a proper skeptic, questions what they are unsure of, but is open to changing their mind when valid evidence is presented.” But unfortunately, sometimes people want to be self-righteous and don’t allow room to change their mind if it is about something that runs contradictory to what they already believe. In which case, sometimes with time, after having tried to engage in reasonable dialogue, we may learn that nothing we, nor any specialist in the field (who would be equipped with evidence, and whose work can often be found with research into credible sources) could say would change their idea on that subject because of a dogma or pre-conceived idea that they have set their mind on- so our energy could be better spent.
Anyways, to me personally, the person who speaks gently, wisely and empathetically, will always be heard clearer by others who reason at that level (and probably they will be able to think clearer rather than getting reactive). Most of us don’t want to be loudest guy/gal in the room nor the person who speaks divisively or degradingly. In fact, though many people like the idea of “dominating a debate”, realistically if we cannot have a dialogue in a non-reactive, non-controlling, respectful, and reasonable way that seeks context and clearer understanding, and wants to reason with people (aha! the meaning of being reasonable is the ability to be reasoned with afterall) then that is our weakness, and it afflicts us and those close to us. The way in which we present our beliefs often works the opposite way that we want it to. And it is also often blatantly visible to others, in spite of what words we are saying. As my mom would tell me when I was a kid, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” She would also say that rather than trusting the mean or rude things people would say about others- that those words would usually be a bigger reflection of the character, education level, or state of the person saying them, than the person that they are about. It is what comes out of their own mouth, and the way it’s said (because people can misspeak when pressed for a quick reply and immediately regret it, so context and approach is key) that speaks more volumes of the speaker than the words themselves. It is what comes out of the orange when it is pressed afterall.
In a very good book by Jeffrey Archer, Kane and Abel (not at all religious, it’s a fiction novel about two men), there is a time when a university debate is scheduled and the representatives are partnered up. When the actual debate takes place, the partner of one of the main characters started speaking in an extreme, dogmatic and hateful way. At that point the main character became ashamed for his own party and delivered a statement that I still remember a decade later. He stated that the extremity of his party is what ultimately undermined his own party. He felt it was his extreme partner, not his opponent, who sank the ship for his party and his cause, because of the dogma and hateful approach. (And that can be incredibly hard to admit, because people usually welcome anyone agreeing, defending or supporting them, and sometimes they will take it wherever they can get it, even if the person or politician completely misrepresents their cause). Of course, this could be extrapolated and become a whole other discussion on how extremes are unhealthy; how sadly historically and even currently, religions have been abused and power hungry people have deterred more good people from religion than they have converted because of the way they represented the religion, letting their need for control dominate; or how extremes can actually be seen as a horseshoe rather than a linear spectrum, and that people at polar opposite extremes can actually be closer to eachother than they think, by the personality trait or unhealthy mental state that brings extremism and the want of control over others. Extremism, also often creates a lot of room for hypocrisy. And it is often lost on the person, but visible to others. So we have to be careful to not end up being that way ourselves.
So let’s be honest with ourselves. Is there any possibility that when we spoke passionately about a belief we hold (and even amidst a few of our own choir agreeing with us- preaching to our own choir is no feat after all, many of them may already have the bias to receive what we said irregardless of how we said it) that to some other reasonable people, what we said was purely polarizing, divisive, or reactive? Are we sinking our own ship?
Are we becoming the change we want to see in the world? Even in a humble quiet kind way on the middle path (not hurting anybody through our judgemental assumptions, and standing up for those who can’t for themselves when we are able to.) Or did we get blindsided in trying to “win” and be self-righteous?
Our reaction is something that we have to catch ourselves on, in the same way as catching ourselves when we are thinking in a judgemental way or jumping to assumptions. What thoughts we allow, especially what thoughts we allow to dominate, is a choice. And how we channel our emotions is another choice. Thoughts and feelings are important, not just our words, because they shape our reality and character, and often when squeezed hard enough by life, what is on the inside all along comes out. Of course I, like everyone else, have my weaknesses and I hope a lifetime will be enough to grow out of them, rather than become set in them. “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life.” (Muhammad Ali.)
So if/when someone questions or squeezes us, what usually comes out? (And would we be OK with everybody seeing that?)