Friday, November 25, 2016

       Most of us grew up, I imagine, hearing some variation of the proverb, "You'll never understand another person until you've walked a mile in their [footgear]". One of the implications, of course is that we are pretty much conditioned to look at the world through one set of lens -- our own. When we encounter someone doing something we don't like, an almost automatic response is "I'd NEVER do that! How stupid/rude/clueless/etc.!" Of course that other person might look at us and say (to themselves), "Why don't THEY do what I just did?? They'd get ahead/be more successful/be better looking/etc.!" So the proverb, quoted to many of us by our parents (or other authority figures) was generally intended to hep us broaden our perspective, and, perhaps, to increase our compassion.
       I heard a slightly different version of this proverb in a "Tapestry" 
interview between Mary Hynes and Thupten Jinpa. Jinpa was a one-time Tibetan Buddhist monk who has acted for a long time as the Dalai Lama's chief English-language translator. In the course of the interview, Jinpa mentioned that he wished someone would start a "Just like me" campaign. When pressed to explain, he said that if more people, when encountering another, would say to themselves, "Just like me, she wants three meals a day." or "Just like me, he wants to be loved." The suggestion, of course, is that by speculating that another's motivations, at base, are not much different than our own would create a bit more empathy.
       I must admit that, as I listened to the interview and thought about a "Just like me" campaign in the context of the times in which we are living, I was initially pretty skeptical: "Those politicians are "NOTHING like me!" But, then, my childhood training re-asserted itself, and I recognized that I had NOT walked a mile in their Tevas/Crocs/Bostonians . . . nor had THEY walked a mile in my Topsiders/New Balances/cycling shoes. And, then, I recalled a realization from my graduate study days, while taking a class on "Heresy". It occurred to me, while reading the writings of the so-called "heretics", that none of them got up one day and said to themselves (or anyone else in ear-shot), "Today, regardless of consequences, I'm going to be wrong!" On the contrary, I'll bet they got up that fateful day thinking, "I have a better solution to a knotty problem than those other folks." [It just happened that the "other folks" often had more "power' in their corner -- either by dint of numbers or imperial support, etc.] The point being that both the orthodox and the heretic were struggling to answer the same problem/issue/question; something in their make-up and/or past led them to walk down divergent paths.      Jinpa, I think, is on the right track. He said he was waiting for someone to start such a "Just like me" campaign. I don't think, however, we need wait.  We can, in the words of another, footwear-related, campaign: "Just do it" ourselves. Now.


*He left the monastic life some time back and is now married with children, living in Canada.

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