Last week I began a discussion about how to handle it if you suspect somebody is criticizing you because of jealousy. Today we will begin a discussion about what you might wish to do if you find that you are insulting individuals with whom you are experiencing feelings of jealousy. To that end, please consider the following parable.
A PARABLE WITH RESPECT TO THE TAO TE CHING
All four characters in this parable are high school seniors. Jeff and Steve are varsity baseball players, Cliff is the student manager of the team, and Ray is a friend who has been training to become an expert in Kung Fu. The visual illustrations are by Deanna Martinez
“I hear you guys are having a great baseball season,” says Ray, who is sitting on the right side of the picture below.
“We were,” Jeff responds while warming both of his hands on his teacup.
“We lost our first game yesterday,” says Steve sadly.
“It was a heartbreaker,” says Cliff hanging his head.
“Anyway,” says Steve, “we do have a great team. We definitely have the best outfield in the city—Jeff in left, me in center, and Allan in right.”
Jeff’s face begins to react with an ugly twisting.
“Jeff,” says Cliff, “whenever Allan comes up, your face cringes.”
After blowing on his cup of tea, and taking a sip, Jeff leans back and reflects. “He just pisses me off, Cliff. I don’t openly put him down or anything—because he’s on the team. If he wasn’t I’d probably rag on him pretty good.”
“Well,” says Cliff, “whenever his name comes up you do put him down quite a bit just from your facial expressions. I like him. What’s he do that bugs you so much?”
“You know,” Jeff replies after some more thought, “I’m not really sure.”
“You’re getting something out of putting him down or you wouldn’t be doing it,” Cliff insists.
“Well, let me see,” Jeff replies. “It seems to have something to do with Allan being pretty close to me in baseball skills and the question about who should be respected more comes about. Maybe it’s because I feel, on some level, that to get respect, what you have to do is, well how can I explain this? Well, let’s say I start at this level of respect.” As Jeff says this, he puts his right hand chest high. “Now, let’s say guys like Allan start off about at this same level.” As Jeff says this, he puts his left hand also chest high, while keeping his right hand there as well. “Now, when I’m around other people, maybe I figure I have to put down guys like Allan so people think less of them. You see, that puts them down here.”
As Jeff says this he lowers his left hand to the height of his navel while keeping his right hand chest high. “The more you advertise,” he continues, “how spastic and stupid others are, the more others are down here on the respect indicator. That leaves me over here, chest high, clearly at a higher level of respect. You see how it works. Guys like Allan are now over here by my navel, and I’m up here by my chest. Then, if I advertise the good things about me, it raises me even higher, like over here,” and Jeff raises his right hand over his head. “Look at the difference. With this theory, I end up far more respected than the guys who started off being almost as respected as me.”
“It’s interesting,” says Ray, “that your theory focuses in on people who are almost as respected as you, because in my family I have heard over and over again the saying, ‘People like to cut down the tallest bamboo tree.’ You seem to like to cut down the tree closest to your height.”
“I’m not sure if I always do,” Jeff responds. “Anyway, what’s really strange is that as I’ve gotten older, in my head I’ve become fully convinced that my theory is wrong because I wasn’t particularly respected as a kid when I used the ‘cutting people down’ approach with utter abandon. And Steve, well he hardly ever puts other guys down and he’s pretty respected. Not only doesn’t he put guys down, but he says nice things about them. I mean, I know Steve’s right and all, but when he says something nice about someone like Allan, sometimes it upsets me inside. I guess I’m not convinced through and through. Something inside me still feels what Steve does is wrong.”
“Jeff,” Steve responds, “I don’t have any recollection of forming a theory of what to do about stuff like this. But it just seems to me, now that you brought it up, that your theory, where you put down others to get respect and brag about things you do, it just don’t work that way. Maybe sometimes some kids will laugh while you put someone else down because, while you’re ganging up on someone else, at least you’re not picking on the other guys who are listening. And maybe their laughs make you think you’re getting respect. As far as complimenting people, I don’t do it for any theory or what have you. It just…I don’t know…I just do it.”
“You know,” says Ray, “I have an uncle that’s been teaching me, my younger brother, and my cousin, Kung Fu for years now. Steve used to attend his classes when he was in junior high. Anyway, at the end of each lesson he has us go through this ceremony. Listening to you guys talking, well, the ceremony came to mind. It’s kind of connected, although there are some differences, too. Still, I think if we go through it, it might help.”
The boys all get up and go into a candle-lit room that adjoins the kitchen— one with blue walls, a dragon painted on it, a table filled with four flickering candles, and a few black and white pictures of Ray’s family members. On the white carpeted floor are large overstuffed pillows.
“Can a man truly be separate from others? No more so than can his body be separate from his soul. There are times when others will nourish you and there are times you will nourish others. When people nourish you this does not entitle them to possess you.
“When you nourish others do not seek to possess them. The sage says,
‘Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue.’”
Then, Ray begins to light the candle Jeff is holding while saying, “When you are born, Jeff, you are given some power. This light represents your power. You live in Brighton Beach. Let’s say you have many neighbors that you like to humiliate. One day while walking, an evil wind comes blowing up Ocean Parkway and…” Then Ray, with a mischievous, contorted face moves toward Jeff and with a sudden puff, blows out his candle. “Oh! Your flame went out,” Ray says. “What can you do?”
“Beats me,” Jeff answers.
“Oh well,” says Ray. “This is the end of this story–with you lost in darkness.
“Now let me tell you another story. This one begins the same way. Jeff, you are born.” Ray begins to relight Jeff’s candle. As he does this, he says, “Remember, this flickering flame represents your power. Jeff lives in Brighton Beach. As he lives his life, he meets Cliff. Look! Oh, my!” Ray looks distressed and points to Cliff’s unlit candle. “Won’t you help poor Cliff,” asks Ray. “He is in a difficult way.”
“Fine,” Jeff says, as he moves his candle toward Cliff’s unlit candle, but as he does so, he finds his flame almost going out. “Look!” Jeff says while stopping his approach toward Cliff, “I tried to help Cliff and I almost put out my candle. You see? If you try to help someone, you could end up screwed.”
Ray smiles. “Yes! Yes! But perhaps you will try again. But this time, use a little care. Do not move your lit candle so quickly or else your movement against the unseen air will blow it out.”
This time, carefully, Jeff moves his yellow flame towards Cliff’s unlit candle. As he does so, his flame begins to weaken. Jeff slows up a little more and from time to time stops, allowing his candle to regain its full brightness. When his candle is only a couple of inches away from Cliff’s, he tilts it toward his wick. As he does this with his left hand, hot liquid wax accidentally drips off his candle and lands on his right wrist, which is just below his candle.
“Ouch!” he cries. “Look at this. I’m trying to help Cliff, and first I almost put out my own light and now I get hurt. You see? If you help someone you set yourself up to get into trouble.”
“Helping others does have some risk,” says Ray. “But use a little more care and skill. Then we’ll see what happens.”
Once again Jeff tries to light Cliff’s candle. He watches the candle’s flame as he moves it through the air, adjusting his movements to maintain a good strong flame. Within a couple of inches from Cliff’s unlit candle, Jeff begins to slowly tilt his candle while taking care to move his right arm away so no drops of hot wax will burn him. This time Jeff is successful in lighting Cliff’s candle, and he’s not injured in any way.
“This time you knew what to look for,” says Ray. “Did you feel you were in any danger as you helped Cliff?”
“No. I got it down now,” Jeff responds.
“Good,” says Ray. “Now let’s pretend a few weeks later Cliff is in another neighborhood and runs into Steve. Oh my! Look!” As Ray says this, he hands Steve an unlit candle and then points to it. “Look, Cliff, Steve’s candle flame is out. Will you not help Steve?”
“Well done!” says Ray. “Now, let’s continue with my story. One day, Jeff is walking along Ocean Parkway and suddenly an evil wind comes along and…”
Ray once again puts on his mischievous face and–puff–blows out Jeff’s candle. “Oh, my. Jeff is in trouble. Is there anything he can do?”
“I guess I can go over and ask Cliff for a light,” Jeff responds.
“Yes. Perhaps that will work. Go see. Go see,” says Ray.
“Hey, Cliff, got a light?”
“Well, you helped me the other day,” says Cliff, “so I guess it’s only fair if I help you.” And Cliff, carefully, lights Jeff’s candle.
“It is nice to see you two helping one another,” says Ray. “Now, let me finish my story. One day Jeff and Cliff are together on Brighton Beach Avenue. And once again an evil breeze comes along and…puff, puff.” Ray blows out Cliff’s and Jeff’s candle.
“Oh, my!” says Ray. “Jeff has lost his flame, and to his bad luck, the one guy who he helped, Cliff, was with him and he too has lost his flame. Is there nothing that can be done?”
Cliff turns to Jeff and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back,” and then he walks over to Steve.
Graciously, and with care, Steve lights Cliff’s candle, who in turn, carefully returns to Jeff and lights his candle.
“Bravo!” says Ray. “You see, if you do not help others, when you need help you may find that you are all lost in darkness, all alone. But helping others can be dangerous unless done with care. Learning to properly move the candle toward another teaches us that observing, timing, and pace are very important. Learning the proper way to tilt the candle toward another reminds us of the importance of attitude. The sage says:
‘He who stands on tiptoe is not steady.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
He who makes a show is not enlightened.
He who is self-righteous is not respected.
He who boasts achieves nothing.
He who brags will not endure.
Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.’”
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.