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Chasing the Ideal: Good and Evil December 3, 2010

Posted by ekarlpierson in 05) Chasing the Ideal: Good and Evil.
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Let’s look again at our decision to have a life without disturbance. This is a very powerful decision. I probably sound like a broken record when I keep hammering on the same thing, but I think it’s difficult to see the fallacy in the subject.

I once put a counter in my pocket to keep track of just how often I was struggling toward the ideal of this basic decision. You may have seen one of these counters before. Sports referees or sports statisticians often use them. They have three number wheels that can be reset to zero. Every time the button on the top is pushed it adds one more to the counting wheels. I ran an experiment every day for about a week. I kept the counter in my pocket so that family, friends, or coworkers couldn’t see it. I could reach down to my pant pocket and push the little button without anyone knowing what I was doing. I ran several experiments, week after week, for over a year, and went completely undetected.

On this particular experiment I would push the button every time that I was chasing the ideal of having no disturbance. If someone said something unpleasant to me and I found even the slightest offense, I would push the button. If I didn’t like the hot summer weather, I would push the button. I worked on straight commission, so if any event came along that slowed my work, I would push the button. Anytime anything happened that I reacted to internally because I was trying to avoid pain or gain pleasure was an occasion to push the button. If anyone or anything bushed my buttons, I pushed the button. You wouldn’t believe how fast the numbers add up. It would number in the hundreds per day. I was pushing that button so often that I sometimes became irritated that I had to drop what I was doing to push the button, and then I had to push the button again. If you ever try this experiment, you’ll be amazed at the amount of time and energy you spend in this direction to avoid being disturbed.

This is something that deserves a closer look. Just about every event that comes in our direction is judged as either good or bad. I’m not talking about our behavior as being right or wrong. That’s an entirely different subject that we can address later. I’m talking about events or the perception of events that come our way. You might say that we presume to have the knowledge of good and bad. This has been going on since the beginning of our own lives and the beginning of man. Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden because they presumed to know the difference between good and bad. You won’t hear this at church. Even though the text very clearly states the reason that they were kicked out, every preacher in town believes that he really does know the difference between good and bad events, and he isn’t about to give up that belief. Consequently, you’ll hear every interpretation of this story except the one that is clearly stated in the text. The text states that God said, “Look, they have become like us, gods, knowing good and evil.” This was after God told them not to partake of that fruit.

This is really quite an indictment against us if, indeed, it’s a story about each of us and our decision to chase pleasure and avoid pain, having made a determination that we know what events are good and what events are evil or bad. We erred in the first rule of living, right from the git-go. Our knowledge of good and evil seems so real. Other individuals who are in the same boat as us and cannot accept that their judgment may be askew, repeatedly reinforce this misconception or belief that we have. In fact, if you go to church, I wouldn’t recommend that you use this interpretation of the Adam and Eve story if you don’t want to have rotten tomatoes thrown at you. Most churches are all about knowing good and evil, aren’t they? It’s the foundation of churches just like it’s the foundation of our lives. Aren’t institutions of the world, in many ways, just expanded versions of our inner man? We obviously set up institutions in our own image and then wonder why we’re in the same old trouble that we were in 20 years ago. Isn’t it because I, along with everyone else, am programmed deeply with the same old stuff? Aren’t we all operating on the same basic conditioning?

PARTICIPANT: Before going further, how do you see the serpent in the story?

WW: As our urge to serve the senses—senses that were designed to serve us.

PARTICIPANT: You are saying that we are all the same, but I think we’re all very different. We all have different wants. We all have different ways of dealing with people. One person is aggressive while another is very submissive. It seems to me that maybe you are being a little dogmatic in painting everyone with a broad brush. I mean…you make it sound as if we’re all the same. I’m not too sure that every statement you make applies to everyone.

WW: I’m sorry; can you form that into a question?

PARTICIPANT. Don’t you think you might be painting everyone with a brush too broad?

WW: A broad brush, yes…very broad…and as for everyone, maybe not everyone in the entire world, just everyone I have ever met.

(Group laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: And you don’t think there is a problem with that?

WW: No, not in the least. Every person that I’ve met in the last several months has had two eyes.

PARTICIPANT: I’m not getting what that has to do with it.

WW: Am I painting with a brush too broad when I say that everyone has two eyes?

PARTICIPANT: I think you’re comparing apples to oranges.

WW: At the beginning of this discourse I said that we would paint a picture of man that would apply to anyone, anywhere, and at any time in history…or at least words similar to that. I’ll even go further than that and say that I’m federally compliant in my remarks because they apply to persons of every race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, and political party including movie stars, politicians, and street people.

(More group laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: But that doesn’t justify the generalization.

WW: Need I justify the description of facts? Is there one characteristic of the picture of man that does not apply to anyone you know? Do we not all have a physical body? Do we not all struggle toward the ideal? Do we not all have opposing ideas with which to achieve our goals? Of course there are differences in everyone. We all have different ways of complaining or being belligerent or pleasing. Some of us are strong on side one, while others are strong on side two. We could spend weeks…no, we could spend years going over the specific details of individuals that are different or unique, but it won’t serve any purpose for us here in this room. What we are describing is intentionally broad and general, and it is up to the individual to look at himself and see if the details of his or her observations fit into the broader terms that we have discussed.

I had a neighbor that was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. Thank goodness for psychiatric intervention and drugs because he would get downright dangerous when he went off of his meds. I saw him, on several occasions, fighting with an imaginary person in his back yard. His picture of the inner man might be a little more radical than ours, but it would still have the same basic parts, and it would be meaningless, for our purposes, to discuss his particular trolls. Besides that, I’m not a psychiatrist and I’ll leave special needs cases like that to professionals. My neighbor was not a candidate for this type of discussion, but it was easy to see that his basic set of trolls were the same as mine.

PARTICIPANT: I’m not sure that chasing a few ideals is really that bad. What would we do if we didn’t have goals?

WW: Of course, no one would pursue any activity if they didn’t have some sort of expectation for a result. Here is where the problem comes in. We all too often have expectations based on the ideal. What about expectation that something could get in the way of my endeavors at any given point? We could take a lesson from the meteorologists. They’re almost never wrong in their expectations. They’ll say that there is a 30 percent chance of rain. If it rains, then they were correct because they did say 30 percent. If it doesn’t rain, then they were still correct because there was a 70 percent chance that it wouldn’t rain.

As my mentor used to say, “The struggle toward the ideal is the disintegrating factor.” What do you think would happen if you could give up the struggle toward the ideal? Do you think the world would come to an end if you ceased to project an image that you believe is better than “what is?” “What ought to be” always looks better than “what is.”