Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hyperbole versus substance

I was just reading some comments made about a minor "incident" in college athletics that had some fans upset. Many of them were talking about betrayal, hatred, revenge, etc. One of them claimed to "live and die" for the team. This kind of overblown vicarious narcissism isn't limited, however, to a few people who have childish fixations on a sports team or political party.

If you really lived and died for something, truly, then you would NOT get upset over trivial things. You would see the bigger picture and the bigger commitment. In fact, you would have to be more patient, more steadfast, and more conscientious. You would act firmly and decisively when necessary, not out of vain emotionalism or spite. Rather than reacting as a surrogate arbiter to the validity of motives and trials of others you would be paying attention to your own life and your own responsibilities.

This kind of superficial loyalty manifesting as fanaticism happens everywhere. In politics it can be seen in the extreme rhetoric of jingoism, the distorted imitation of genuine patriotism. The symbols of the nation are conflated with the principles for which they stand and in some cases trump those principles - that is, protecting the flag outweighing freedom of expression. Slogans and judgementalism are also part of the mix, with a strong distinction between those who are "with" or "against" a group based on whether they "honor" the right symbols (which in practice is virtually idolatry) and profess the proper beliefs, at least in public. The same kind of mentality has also been observed for some religious institutions as well.

On a personal level, this can be seen in the distinction between true confidence, which does not require boasting or bragging and which can support and be happy for the success of others, and arrogance, which is based on insecurity. Nationalistic jingoism and religious exclusivist-fanaticism are just the same kind of insecurity in a social psychological context.

Hence genuine faith and confidence are based in what is real and substantial, not the projections and agendas of the ego (in Buddhist terms) or the false self. True confidence of the heart comes from knowing, not just knowing about or thinking about, the root of compassion...

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Here love is not simply an affection or affectation, it represents what is real in the depths of the heart (of our being and of the cosmos). But without getting into an overly specific religious context, the description here is in contrast to the immature, insecure, and selfish nature that leads to the harming of others and ourselves.

Which is why I am fond of the Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi...

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying* that we are born to Eternal Life.


*in my reading I see this not simply as mere physical death but as the death of the false self, the death of its ability to convince us it is all we are.

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