By Gerald Stribling
If you try to live up to the expectations of others, you will fail.
This is not an excuse to wear jeans every day to work. And there is nothing wrong about exceeding certain expectations, at work and at school. It’s also not an excuse to be crude, like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack, in which he farts loudly at the country club and then asks “Hey, who stepped on a duck?”
Being compassionate toward yourself involves developing what we used to call “a thick skin,” which means that you respect yourself enough so that other people’s opinions of you, or what you do, do not effect you emotionally. Beneath the serene demeanor of many people who have developed equanimity are guys thinking to themselves: y’all can kiss my ass.
American society, from Donald Trump to the wimpy college students of the “micro-aggression” generation (I’m talking to you, useless Millennials) is festooned with thin-skinned demagogues who think that no one else’s opinion is better than their own. Some pundit on Real Time with Bill Maher suggested that they’ll grow out of it when they graduate and meet the real world. God, I hope so. No one likes a whiny-butt.
It’s like the road rage thing. That other driver has no way of knowing that he pissed you off.
Maybe he cut you off to hit his exit because he’s almost about to pee his pants. Your anger is meaningless. Nobody cares but you. Let it go. Imagine the driver peeing his pants the second he steps out of his car into the cold air. And he’s wearing tan pants. Nothing shows wet spots like khaki (and he’s a Republican).
And you have shown compassion for yourself as you make that paradigm shift. Rage is bad for you. Chuckling is good for you, even if it is sometimes at someone else’s expense.
It’s called equanimity.
Equanimity is the product of a strong mind. It isn’t just about showing compassion and empathy toward others, but also showing compassion and empathy toward yourself.
You can meditate yourself into a state of thick-skinnedness if you apply a little Buddhist common sense about how only you can save yourself, only you can choose how you feel and how you behave. With mental discipline comes control over your own thoughts. There are no excuses. There are only deeper holes for some people to climb out of. It’s not that you don’t feel emotions, it’s about having the emotional strength to choose not to act or react emotionally.
Dudes: every one of you knows women who have been traumatized in some way, which women turn into secrets and are reluctant to share because frequently there is shame involved. This isn’t all women, of course, but there are a lot of them. Grief and loss. Submission. Failed relationships women try desperately to hold together. Children who do bad things. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. My painting in broad strokes can be verified by statistics.
Here is the opportunity for all men to empathize. Can you share the fear and dread and shame and sadness of those things? No. Certainly not from a woman’s perspective.
We can empathize by being trustworthy men.
The attainment of equanimity is an achievement that permits you to love unconditionally. Despite the fact that all love ends badly (think about it), your capacity for love is also a measure of your capacity for compassion, because you’ll never feel as much compassion as you feel toward the person you love, or have loved.
That compassion can be built upon. Remember that in Buddhism, compassion is primarily a feeling. We’ll get to ways to show compassion later in this series.
But the empathy factor looms large.
Editor: Dana Gornall
He wrote Buddhism for Dudes as a not-so-subtle, basic examination of the essence of Buddhist philosophy. It’s short and funny and to the point. “Way too much Buddhist information is too complicated to wade through, and some of it is fairyland voodoo, full of metaphysical improbabilities. Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a way to live a happy life. This is not hard stuff to understand.”
Stribling writes a blog called Buddhism for Tough Guys. “There are lots of tough guy Buddhists out there willing to take a bullet for anybody. One of their mottoes is ‘Just because I am a person who loves peace doesn’t mean that I have forgotten how to be violent’.” He once broke up an assault with a little kitchen broom. “It’s my best story,” he says.