Being ever curious is not the same feeling as being restless.
One is open-ended expectancy, an ease with the possibility of surprise.
The other is impatience, a tension with the likelihood of disappointment.
These are not simply different definitions or descriptions of hypotheticals. These are two completely different life experiences. These are two different emotional events. One is not a more effective response or efficient reaction or morally superior in any way over the other.
They most definitely feel quite differently though.
I can learn from both types of experiences. I can even learn the same lesson from two different approaches.
What I can’t deny is that I have a choice, lots of them actually.
What I’m asking us to try
is to make more of our choices in the direction of what would make our heart feel better about itself . . .
which would make the next heart feel better about itself . . . and so on . . .
. . . in our return to our own genuine decency . . .
We cannot think our way there. That has led only to lies and debate.
Each of us has to be willing to try . . . every time we remember . . . to make a choice from the goodness of our hearts and not from the clamor in our heads.
I agree with the imperative to act from a place of goodness – of having that presence of mind and moment to be pure to the common decency which makes a community work best. However, to do that don’t we have to think? It would be great if we could have the default of pure intent, but isn’t the default to preserve ourselves? To protect ourselves? While someone may act instinctually to protect their child, it is rarely the case that we do so with strangers.
I was walking a few blocks to our car with my sons one late night in downtown Raleigh when a homeless person approached us. My first instinct was compassion. But as he got closer, I became worried for my children. Was there any danger here? What did he want from us? So I sent the boys on, as I stopped to listen to him. I ended up buying him a sandwich before meeting up with my sons again. It took a rational response – thinking – to make the choice that my “heart” wanted me to make. My first instinct was to make sure my children were safe. Was it wrong to be cautious of someone I didn’t know? Could I have overcome thousands of years of evolutionary caution without thinking?
We have to think our way to overcome our default of looking out for ourselves first. I love the idea of having a built in morality that guides us to the right decisions, but you implied it yourself, people seem to have different compasses pointing to different “true Norths”. If we make a choice from the goodness of our heart, don’t we have to think to make that choice?”
Dearest you (Cap?),
The sincerity of your inquiry and the specific situation you used as an example touched me. Thank you for caring so much. Your situational awareness and the judgment you made (and make) are least helpful when viewed in the context of right or wrong. This is about staying present and learning…your learning, your boys’ learning, the hungry human’s learning, and the peoples’ learning who were watching that you didn’t know were watching. Whatever you did was going to be revealing yourself to yourself (and all those involved directly or indirectly) as you put your caring into action. It couldn’t be wrong…it could go unexpectedly, but that doesn’t mean it went wrong.
Bear with me as I suggest that on the evening of your exchange with the homeless person, your assessment of the situation was not intellectual, not in any strict sense of the word. You weren’t running deep analysis algorithms as he approached you. Not really. You had, in about 2 blinks, already ‘decided’, had processed all of the energy input vibes available, and had begun to ‘implement’ your intention to integrate and harmonize the various concerns you had, all while you continued to act and move in the direction of your own good impulse. You took ‘care’ of all of those competing and potentially conflictual interests without letting your ‘thinking’ hold you back entirely from acting on your caring.
In short, in the moment of choosing how to respond, you were following your heart as assisted by a thought or two but not led by or directed in any predetermined fashion by your thinking. You were improvising, making it up as it was going along. But caring was the guide. As you followed that impulse, you did a lot of helping; you helped yourself to be the person in that moment that you wanted to be, you modeled caring behavior for your boys, you treated another human being with kindness and generosity, helped him to some food without blame or judgment. Hunger and cold do not need a lecture.
So, well done, you!
Now, what did you learn? And what would you do differently if there ever were a next time? And, oh, by the way, did you happen to notice, that even though you were being ‘cautious’ (prudent), the actual, whole experience was positive and non-threatening. Whatever you were afraid of at the onset did not materialize. The fear you felt was real but the experience proved that it was imagined and not actually based in what happened. It was based on what could happen. And what could happen, when we think about it long enough, usually stops us from acting at the moment as caringly as we had wanted to. The complete experience with the homeless person was positive. As we review it in memory, after the fact, on the drive home or laying in bed before sleep, our thinking begins to backfill the gaps of what happened with explanations. We rationalize and justify after an event as much as we do prior…when I turn to my thinking for an explanation. When I turn to my heart, it just shrugs and says: “I don’t know. It just felt like the good thing to do.”
That’s not a thinking choice. No matter what your head wants to tell you afterward.
Forgive me if this isn’t helpful. I am trying.
As always, it is helpful and thoughtful, and I love you for trying every day to bring those of us along who are stuck inside our heads. 🙂
I’d say thank you for helping me to think about these things . . . but that would only undermine the whole intent of the post.