To See Light One Must First Be Receptive To Light!

This favorite aphorism of mine has all the hallmarks of a stalwart maxim: it is short in length, composed of simple words and, at first blush, appears to be obvious.  But the power contained in truly understanding and practicing its meaning is virtually unlimited.  I’d been aware of this truism for decades but only in the last five years or so did I finally come to understand its significance and begin to practice its wisdom.  While often difficult to live, the rewards I’ve reaped far overshadow my struggles to remain receptive.

From another perspective this adage might be reworked as; ‘attitude is everything’.  And, indeed, it is so because to be ‘available’ to new or different stimuli one must first be receptive to said ‘new or different stimuli’ and this involves having an open mind.  In order to truly embrace the concept of having an open mind willing to assess new stimuli and ideas in as unbiased a means as possible one must engender the attitude that anything ‘new’ or ‘different’ is ultimately of benefit.  Sure, many experiences, ideas or stimuli may eventually prove to be negative and even harmful but if one can learn from these experiences the net is a positive outcome assuming one believes learning is a positive experience.  Leaving my car parked under the eaves of my steep Alaskan home’s roof was a bad idea as when snow and ice break loose they come thundering down and smash into the vehicle but by experiencing this I now know to stay away from these zones when outside during the spring thaw!  As such maintaining a positive attitude helps to fuel the understanding that since ‘attitude is everything’ if one can embrace and truly face life with a positive attitude one will be receptive to so many ‘new’ ideas, thoughts and understandings.

Key to practicing this philosophy is truly ‘living’ the experience; one can understand these words on an intellectual basis yet still fail to reap the wealth that comes from embracing their meaning.  There is a less than obvious requirement to this process; it involves the willingness to ‘let one’s self go’ such that we can experience any new ideas, concepts or understandings without influencing the process with preconceptions or biases.  This is another extremely difficult piece of the puzzle because it is human nature to be subjective and at the elemental level we are aware of our world through our experiences and learnings which are based upon reactions to stimuli yielding results of positive, neutral or negative value. The valuing of our experiences often leads to imbuing us with the belief we have control over most situations when, in fact, the opposite is true.  Over time we perceive we can control situations and we attempt to do so with the aim being to generate a positive outcome.  We succeed sometimes and fail in others but we grow the belief we have some control and since we favor ‘positive’ outcomes we continue to try to affect these results.  By doing so we are running counter to the need to keep an open mind because we now believe we know what we favor, what will work best for us and what we will like.

Going this route inadvertently reinforces the construction of mental barriers to being open to new things; we reinforce this with our ongoing ‘internal dialog’ which we use to rationalize this behavior.  Prior to relocating to Talkeetna I had a fear of speaking in front of people so I ‘knew’ I wouldn’t enjoy or be successful as an on-air newscaster and music show host.  I’d built a wall around the idea of doing live radio and fortified its foundation with memories of awkward presentations during my corporate years based on a fear of stuttering.  Yet when I opened my mind to the possibility of actually doing live broadcasting and stretched my own self-imposed envelope I discovered I truly enjoyed volunteering in this capacity.  In this sense I was a prisoner of my own preconceptions which were entirely inaccurate even if based upon experience and memories.

I definitely do not think of myself as a person anyone would want to emulate and I have struggled mightily against a surfeit of shortcomings with varying degrees of success and many outright failures but finally, in my early 60’s, I have come to truly embrace the wisdom of that simple yet so powerful precept:

‘To See Light One Must First Be Receptive To Light…’

Judging – All Too Human

A response to a recent posting of mine caused me to once again reflect upon the whole concept of judging and being judgmental.  This is something I’ve spent much time considering and testing various ideas and perspectives with regards to the term and its meaning.  There are a number of definitions in the dictionary but when people speak of being judgmental or of judging another person I believe the following definition is the one in play: to form a judgment or opinion of; decide upon critically.  I often hear people speak negatively about those who judge others and initially this would seem to make sense.  From a philosophical standpoint no human is really in a position to critically judge another person simply because we are all human and hence struggle with the same frailties and subjective perspectives as those we might judge.  Okay, on the surface this seems to make sense.

But rather than just accept this concept and move on I was troubled because the more I thought about the act of judging the less I could see how this could be so negative.  Indeed, after considerable reflection and pondering I’ve come to believe that to be human is to judge and that it is virtually impossible to live one’s life without almost continually making judgments.  This definitely seems to fly in the face of the concept that we humans shouldn’t judge. Let’s start with some simple examples involving judgment, in this case of what most would deem are inanimate objects.  This weekend I was relaxing in my living room enjoying the sunshine and middle sixty degree air temps and listening to music. I’ve been an audiophile from my college ‘daze’ and have always tried to own as good a stereo system as I could afford.  A few years back I was finally able to add a pair of Klipsch Reference Series RF-88 II tower speakers to my stereo system and they are undoubtedly one of the finest audio speakers available eclipsed only by those floor standing tower RF-7’s and, of course, the incredible towers in Klipsch’s ‘Palladium’ series.  If only I could afford the $20,000 to own a pair of those monsters!  Anyway, I was truly enjoying some Rush played at a fairly substantial volume when it occurred to me that I ‘judged’ these speakers to be far superior to say, a cheap pair of Realistic speakers from Radio Shack.  I could base this ‘judgment’ upon a whole list of facts like lower distortion, better power handling, more accurate sound and similar but that’s not the point.  Rather, I ‘judged’ these speakers superior to smaller, less expensive models.  Was this wrong?  Should I not judge these speakers at all and hence be happy with any type regardless of whether they sounded better or worse?  I immediately decided that to judge the performance of speakers was a good thing as my ears wouldn’t have enjoyed the sound from cheap speakers pushed to their breaking point by my sound system.

Upon realizing this I was suddenly flooded with the myriad of judgments I had made in my life and continue to make.  I prefer cool weather to hot because I am uncomfortable in air temps above 75 F; therefore I judge cooler temps to be better for me.  Although I am an animal lover in general I prefer to share my life with canines as I judge them to be more compatible with my lifestyle.  And as to canines; I do enjoy virtually all breeds but I prefer Germans Shepherd Dogs because I judge their traits (intelligence, size, loyalty, protective nature, etc.) to be better than say a Dachshund.  With this said I readily accept others may prefer different breeds over my choice and that’s fine as well as their right.  I could’ve retired in many different places but I chose Alaska because I judged it to be a ‘better’ choice given my preferences for weather, population density and environment.  I even chose to live rural even though I’d never done so in my previous 60 years simply because I judged the lifestyle would be more in-line with my current desires; thankfully I was correct!  I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. To be human is to make judgments and said judgments are generally particular to the person making them although they might overlap with others and even be in agreement with some people.  Is doing this somehow bad or negative?  I don’t think the aforementioned judgments have any moral or ethical value attached to them; they are simply choices I’ve made based upon my own reasons.  I do believe it’s important to be open to re-examining one’s judgments from time to time; if I hadn’t been willing to do this then I most likely would’ve retired someplace urban in the lower 48.  So for me making judgments is almost a daily occurrence and I believe this is the same for most other human beings.  How does one ‘square’ this observation with the expectations that one shouldn’t judge?

Perhaps to be more accurate is the concept one shouldn’t judge other people as versed with just judging things or ideas..?  Again, on the surface this seems to make sense but then I began to reflect upon situations in my past and suddenly the ‘wisdom’ in trying not to judge other people was less clear.  I thought back to my rather turbulent teenage years when I made some very questionable choices; to be honest I made a plethora of really stupid decisions.  I remember hanging out briefly with a group of my peers in my early teen years that were into things like destruction of property, petty theft and drinking.  In some convoluted thought process only a teen could conjure up let alone understand I thought I was being ‘cool’.  Yet as I heard about some of this group’s ‘accomplishments’ I began to realize I was uncomfortable with what they were doing in the name of ‘being cool’.  I can thank my wonderful upbringing from my parents for allowing me to finally realize this not only wasn’t cool but it was causing harm and grief to others; as such I didn’t want to be a part of this crowd!  At this time I judged these people as being destructive and causing harm to others and hence I didn’t want to associate with them.  Was I wrong in judging these peers?  I don’t think so.  Last I’d heard a couple had actually ended up being arrested; had my judging these people and deciding I didn’t want to be like them been something that was inherently bad?  Hardly; the way they were living their lives was what was inherently bad – another judgment from me – and I judged I didn’t want to live that way.  So here I’d judged my fellow humans, found them to not be up to the standards I was raised with and hence shunned associating with them.  Was this a case of judging my fellow-man and hence undertaking something which was not good..?  While I don’t believe anyone could make a case for my continuing to run with that questionable crowd my decision to not so required I judge them by their actions.

As I’ve matured I’ve been involved in judging my fellow humans on a regular basis yet I would mostly say these acts were not bad or untoward.  During my working years I often had to fill positions at my place of employment; as such I had to interview potential candidates and using predetermined criteria judge their ‘fit’ for the position.  Without question this was judging other human beings yet was it wrong?  I never thought so at the time nor do I believe so now; I was asked to fill job openings and the only way to effect this in an acceptable manner was to review candidate’s skills, backgrounds and experience and the make a selection.  So once again I was doing what at some time seemed wrong; I was judging other human beings.  If one was to truly take to heart the concept that one shouldn’t judge another human being how could one select a candidate for an open position?  The more I pondered these concepts the more examples I found in my own life and those of my fellow humans which required judging.  When seeking a relationship with other people one must look at said people with some degree of judgment.  If seeking a partner one must evaluate a possible partner in terms of their lifestyle, likes, dislikes, morals and a myriad of other characteristics.  This evaluation by nature involves making judgments; I see no other way it can be accomplished.  But there’s that rub once again; one is judging another human being.  So now what seemed so right on the surface has, with deeper consideration and reflection, proved to be something that we humans can almost not avoid doing and, indeed, is often required of us in our culture and society.

Okay, then maybe what those who espoused being non-judgmental were really trying to say was that we shouldn’t judge our fellow human beings in terms of morals or ethics..?  Once again on the surface this would seem to be a good thing but when one really digs into the issue it’s not so clear-cut.  Philosophies abound within human civilization and many are not mutually agreeable and some are downright at odds. We’ve all heard of ‘the ends justify the means’ and for the most part this is not something that is acceptable nowadays for some very solid reasons.  Yet more than just a few people can see situations when this concept is valid.  How do those of us who feel this can never be an acceptable approach to life deal with people who do accept the concept to varying degrees?  We can choose to argue this viewpoint or not to associate with these people but in so doing we’ve judged them on their beliefs.  A large tenant of Islam is that it is the only ‘true’ religion and as such should be practiced by all.  What of the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Wiccans out there; are they all non-believers?  If so has the religion of Islam – and hence those who do practice it – not judged all people who do not practice that religion?  Quite suddenly the concept of not judging other humans based on their moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs doesn’t seem to make much sense.

As I’ve reflected and considered the whole idea of being non-judgmental I’ve come to the conclusion it’s probably a ‘nice’ idea in theory and if the world were a perfect place perhaps none of us would judge others in any way although I cannot see how this would be possible.  I go back to something I was taught by my wonderful parents: life is all about making choices and with these choices will come consequences so as you make choices there is an unspoken deal that you will accept the consequences.  Often to make choices requires using one’s judgment; there’s just no way around this fact.  Rather than to feel guilt at making judgments perhaps it’s better to strive to make the very best judgments one can and then be willing to live with the consequences.  I also believe that trying to foster being non-judgmental (something I have pretty much shown to be impossible) in others often acts as a barrier to open, honest and clear communication.  I firmly believe that the Nazi party was evil and I base this judgment on historical facts yet if someone was to chide me for being judgmental – and in this case I truly am being just that – it fails to take into account the reasoning behind my judgment.  If there’s one thing this country desperately needs its open, honest and clear communication in all facets of life.  And, yes, this is a judgment of my own!  And now I’ll make yet another judgment: I believe the whole concept of pushing people to try to be non-judgmental is often just another form of trying to control speech and ultimately thought.  In my previous meanderings I think I’ve pretty much shown that we humans cannot be non-judgmental (Ooooops, I made yet another judgment!) yet function in today’s world.  Trying to completely do away with making judgments would largely mean we humans would basically exist as lumps of protoplasm doing little except respiring; even trying to feed ourselves requires making judgments.  So I fall back to the observation I made much earlier on – to be human is to be judgmental. That’s just how it is and I’m not going to feel ‘bad’ about my judgmental nature or guilty that I make many judgments each day; that would entail feeling bad or guilty because I’m human.  But I can try to remain on guard against judging others without knowing or understanding all the facts.  I think this might be about the best I can hope for…