Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what’s right. Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what is important. Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what needs to be done. How’s that for a principle?
Don’t think your principles are the most important thing. Everything serves something else. There is no supreme value operative in the Universe. Love? Who is to say? What is loving about any line that is drawn, any limit that is set? Yet, what is loving about life without lines? Who draws the lines?
Jesus raised the dead, and Jesus left the dead to bury the dead. The loving thing is not always so obviously loving. Besides, who are you going to love? Your enemy? Your neighbor? If your neighbor is killing your enemy, what does love do? Wring its hands? Look away? Insert itself between neighbor and enemy so your neighbor kills you and then your enemy? Do you think if enough people die, everyone will wake up eventually and no one will kill anyone again after that ever?
Or, maybe you go for Justice? Who is to say? What is just about any line? What is just about life without lines? Who draws the lines? What is just when your good is my bad? Do we take turns? Do we take a vote? What is just about waiting your turn? How long do you wait? Who decides when it’s your turn? Who can you trust with your best interest? Who CANNOT trust you with their best interest?
Or, maybe you go for Mercy? Who is to say? What is merciful about any line? What is merciful about life without lines? Who draws the lines? Who determines what is merciful? You get the drift here, I’m sure.
Here’s the way to do it: Place all the values on the table. Live with the table at the forefront of heart and mind. And do what you please. Do what you feel like doing. Do what you think needs to be done the way it needs to be done in every situation “as it arises.” And, don’t let your principles keep you from doing what is important, what is right, what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done. Don’t live to make anyone happy, even yourself. Especially yourself.
How’s that for a principle? Making somebody happy, generally ourselves (even if we live to make someone else happy, it’s because our happiness depends upon theirs, so we are making ourselves happy when we make them happy, even if what we do to make them happy has dreadful implications for us) is the primary motive behind all that we do. If we don’t live to make anyone happy, even ourselves, then what? What is the point, then? Upon what basis do we decide what to do, then?
It’s like this: The things that are good to do would be good to do whether they make anyone happy or not. Our best interest is not always served by the things that make us happy. Sugar makes us happy. Sugar is the Great Satan. Our best interest is not served by consuming sugar, certainly not in the quantities that we consume it. We are not happy, it seems, unless we are excessively indulgent. “All you can eat” is the idea. Gorge ourselves. Weigh ten times the legal limit. And do not exercise whatever you do. We are not happy exercising. And, we live to be happy. You’re getting the drift, here, I’m sure.
Take happiness off the table! Do not live with your happiness—or anyone’s—in mind! Happiness is not the point! Do not live to be happy! How’s that for something you don’t hear every day? It’s going to take some work to wean ourselves away from the idea that our happiness (or someone’s) is the sole purpose of existence. If you are looking for a spiritual practice, you can’t beat this one. It’s our life’s work, developing an immunity to the need to be happy, to the practice of allowing our happiness to be the foundational consideration determining how we live in the world.
This doesn’t mean we are to embrace unhappiness. I am not saying we are to live to be unhappy. I’m saying neither happiness nor unhappiness—neither striving to be happy nor striving to avoid unhappiness—are an appropriate center, ground, and focus of our lives. I’m saying don’t worry about it. I’m saying don’t even think about it. I’m saying don’t take either one seriously.
Hmm. I don’t know if we can do it. I don’t know if we can imagine a good that is not concerned with, or connected to, our good. Whose good is served by the good we call good? How can something be good for us, or anyone, if it does not make us, or someone, happy? Maybe we could start a list of the things that are good that don’t make anyone happy. Changing the oil. Repairing the roof. Mowing the lawn. Dentist visits. The list is long of things that must be done because they need to be done even though we are not especially happy to do them. Relieved, maybe, to have done them, but not happy about any of it.
Happiness and unhappiness come and go. The steady work is being what the situation requires, needs, whether we are happy or not. Mood doesn’t direct the action. Things don’t ride on how we feel. If the phone rings in the middle of a heated argument with our spouse, partner, parent, child, we can answer it and talk to our boss in a tone of voice that would never suggest what we are up to, away from the phone. We can rise above mood. We can operate indifferently to mood. We can, in the words of Alcoholics Anonymous, “fake it until we make it.” No kidding. Imagine that.
Of course, immediately the cry goes up, “What about integrity? What about transparency? What about congruency? What about being true to ourselves?” The response is the same to them all: “Live the contradictions!” We can not want to do what needs to be done the way it needs to be done, and we can do it. Takes a little maturity. Takes a little heart. Takes a little resolve. But, it can be done. We can be what the grandchildren need us to be whether we want to or not. Doing it is a true gift to the grandchildren. Doing it generally is a true gift to the world.
What needs to happen? How does it need to happen? Do that thing in that way and be responsible for the consequences, deciding in the midst of the consequences what needs to happen and how it needs to happen, and doing that thing in that way and being responsible for the consequences, etc., ad nauseam, forever, amen.
How do we know? We don’t know. See? We live in the service of what is right, and good, and important without knowing if it is really right, and good, and important. See? The consequences will reveal how we need to adjust our living in the service of what is needed. Let the consequences of your living determine how you live. Let the consequences shape your life. Decide after you have done something whether you need to keep doing it, whether you were right about it needing to be done. If not, redeem what can be redeemed and live on.
If we only care about getting our needs met, poor us. And, poor everybody else. And, if we never care about getting our needs met, poor us. And, poor everybody else. We have to care about doing our part. Our needs have to be met enough to enable us to do our part, but no more than that. We can’t be storing up extra of whatever it is we think we need against some imagined future deficit. We can’t soak up more attention, for instance, than we actually need to do our part, just because we relish attention. We can’t be an attention junkie and do our part, and help other people do their part. We have care more about doing our part than we care about what we get from doing our part—than we care about what we get.
Doing our part means doing our part with our heart in what we are doing. If we don’t feel like loving it, we have to do it as though we love it, we have to fake loving it, so no one, not even ourselves, knows we don’t love it. We have to do it as though our heart is in it. This is called not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. If we are going to fake it, we have to fake ourselves in order to really fake it. We have to do our part so well not even we know whether our heart is in it or not. If our heart isn’t in doing our part, our heart has to be in pretending to do our part. If our heart isn’t at least there, we can’t do our part.
We might think of sin as not doing our part. As doing some other part. As doing the part we wish were our part. Sin is living some other life than the life that is our life to live. Or, it’s doing our part partially. It’s playing at doing our part. Pretending to do our part. Faking it, incorrectly, not in the AA sense of the word. Being poor fakers. Being shysters. Pretending that we are not pretending, but knowing full well that we are pretending. In Biblical terms, sin is “missing the mark.” It’s shooting in the direction of the target, but missing the bull’s-eye. Maybe even missing the target. Maybe, not even shooting in the direction of the target. Maybe, not even trying. Sin is not coming close to doing our part. Or, just coming close, but stopping short of nailing it. We have to nail it. We have to perfect it. We have to shine. We have to do it as well as we can do it, and do it again tomorrow, and again the day after that, all the way to the grave. To not do it like that is sin. To do it is to do what needs to be done the way it needs to be done, with our heart in it, whether we want to or not.
The perspective that blesses the day sees what is needed and what is possible, understands what can be done, and does it, without resistance, or resentment, as a way of being present with, and participating in, the nature of the day. We offer what we have to give to the day, assisting what needs to happen and opposing what needs to not-happen, and helping the day toward the best of all that is possible. Of course, our idea of the best may not actually be the best, but we can only work with what is ours to work with, and make adjustments as necessary, as we come to see things differently. The consequences shape our living. We can only do what we think needs to be done, the way we think it needs to be done, and shift our thinking as new information comes our way. Right seeing is a life-long acquisition. We learn to see rightly by seeing wrongly—and seeing that we see wrongly—over time.