By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
I get handed babies a lot—I am a magnet for smelly dogs, mentally ill people and little kids.
I don’t mind smelly dogs, and I kind of like crazy people, but do not expect me to talk baby talk to your baby. If there’s an audience, I’ll pretend to talk baby talk while saying “You’re sooooo ugly, and your mother dresses you funny. Yes you are! Yes you are!”
So I also get a lot of babies snatched from me as well. The younger the baby, the more surly the mother.
Newborns are ugly, with faces only mothers could love. When my daughter was born, her grandmother came down to see her. Now, Karly was not your ordinary ugly baby. She was really ugly. She was all mouth and thick black hair going every which way. Grandma took one look at her and said “I drove 40 miles for that?”
Seriously. She really said it. Karly turned out really cute, of course. Ugly babies do that.
There’s a cool little book called What Would Buddha Do? by Franz Metcalf. It’s one of those great and rare “plain talk” Buddhist books that relate Dhamma wisdom to real world experiences. I love his answer to the question of what would Buddha do if he was faced with criticism?
His advice was to treat criticism as a blessing.
Think about it. If you have pretty well transcended having your feelings hurt, all that is left when someone criticizes you is good information, which you can learn from and use to improve yourself. The hard part is dealing with your feelings. But Buddhism shows you how to do that.
Recently I overheard my wife talking to my daughter-in-law, who apparently asked my wife if something might hurt my feelings. “Strib? You can’t hurt his feelings,” she answered.
I think I am a sensitive enough guy. Sure, I’m sensitive. If you want to see me cry, play Act 1 of La Boheme, or Bruce Springsteen singing Thunder Road. Or watch any Pixar movie with me. I cry at the end of all of those.
In my volunteer work for Hospice, I frequently find myself holding the hands of comatose ancient women until they die, from midnight to 3 a.m. any day there is a patient requesting “Eleventh Hour” services. You have to be sensitive to do that kind of thing, don’t you?
I was a lazy kid, so I got criticized a lot by my parents. But it was a stint in the Marine Corps (Parris Island is the criticism capital of the world), followed up with 42 years of meditation that makes me pretty impervious to criticism, even personal attack. The other day someone took offense of something I wrote on my Facebook book page and called me a nasty name involving the compounding of the words “cock” and “sucker.” I replied that did he know that I could punch through his chest and spin him around like a pinwheel?
“Oh, yeah?” he wrote back, “Well, I can sneak into your bedroom at night and sing George Micheal songs in your ear while you sleep.”
I could only reply “Eww!”
When a Buddhist strives for egolessness, he starts looking at himself as part of an organic whole as opposed to an individual, like a Marine in a platoon. “I” is not as important as the “us.” As you progress and shrink the “me” in favor of the “we,” really your only choice is to grow in compassion for others. But the shrinkage of the “ego,” if you want to look at it like that, also means a diminishing of, and control over, emotions. We still have emotions, but Buddhist practitioners work to hide them, control them, not allow them to determine the actions they take to address the thing that is causing strong emotion to rise.
Yes it’s sad that grandma died, but somebody still has to arrange for the flowers.
Some people insist that acting out, or on, strong emotion is necessary in order to “get it out of your system.” The point of Buddhist practice is to become mentally and emotionally strong enough to stuff your emotions, to swallow them without fear of lasting psychic damage. It’s called equanimity. You can choose how you feel.
I choose happy.
One true test of equanimity is keeping it together after someone who is close to you dies. Grief is hard to endure, but it is less hard to endure for people who prepare for the inevitability of suffering. Those people tend to be “outward directed” and try to play a role in the community that’s more important than how they feel. Hospice volunteers will tell you that spending an hour brightening the day of someone who is dying brightens their day as well.
So someone with a strong practice should be able to deal with criticism impersonally, gleaning wisdom from it even if the source of that criticism has steam coming out of his ears.
But objectively, there is a difference between criticism and being insulted. You can deal with insults impersonally as well. Just tell the person insulting you that he’s ugly, and his mother dresses him funny.
Editor: Dana Gornall