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What separates us from robots is the ability to wake up and experience the beauty each moment offers – the power to choose a mindful, conscious way of living.
The other morning, while getting some breakfast food from a kitchen cabinet, I started to turn around and stepped on my cat Sparky’s tail. He meowed loudly in pain and kept clear of me for a while after that. I felt terrible about it, a supposedly superior human being like me inflicting pain on a tiny creature! And, unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve done this. After my mind finished mechanically running its standard excuse—that cats should know better than to get underfoot of big, clumsy humans like me—I remembered, for the umpteenth time, that a little mindfulness—remembering I’m in a room with Sparky, who isn’t smart enough to not get underfoot—and taking half a second to glance around before I turn would prevent this.
It’s not the first time I’ve vowed to be more mindful and not step on either of my cats.
A few weeks ago in my university class on humanistic and transpersonal psychology, I made a comment on a woman student’s remark that came out sounding quite sexist. I realized the possible implications of what I was saying about three quarters of the way through the sentence, too late to stop it effectively. Several students immediately made other remarks about the topic we were considering, and the discussion went on. I intended to come back and apologize as soon as an appropriate moment occurred, but I got involved in the discussion and forgot about my intention.
A few days later, another student came by my office to tell me that she had been upset by my sexist remark, and that several other women in the class had been, too. It was not only upsetting in and of itself but totally out of character from what they had come to expect of me. I apologized in class that afternoon and was able to use my slip as a salient example of the suffering caused by mindlessness, but meanwhile, several people had felt bad about it for several days.
I rate this second example as causing more suffering. My cat seems to forget my stepping on his tail after a few minutes, but the pain we cause other humans through mindlessness, through lack of simple, basic consideration of others’ feelings, can go on for a long, long time. I inadvertently added a little to the reservoir of human suffering. Did some of those I hurt take some of their feelings out on others, thus multiplying the suffering even more.
A couple of weeks later, I joined several other transpersonally oriented psychologists and psychotherapists in a discussion that touched on the nature of evil. Now evil is not a word with which I’m comfortable. There’s no doubt that people occasionally act in terrible ways and hurt each other badly, but I try to see and encourage the higher possibilities in people, their better sides, as much as possible.
When my turn came to say something about what evil is, I apologized for not having a clear grasp of it and not liking to deal with it. The best I could say at that moment was my feeling that evil is more than just a matter of hurting others; it has something to do with enjoying hurting them, with feeling powerful and getting pleasure from knowing you’re hurting them. I confessed that I had enjoyed hurting people at times in my life and was particularly disgusted by and afraid of that kind of feeling, even though I had to admit that I had the capacity for it. But I insisted, truly, that I tried to never indulge in that pleasure.
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