Walking the line…

“… so fear was originally there to help us survive.”
“Yep… and with not many sabre-tooth tigers roaming the suburbs, we found other things to fear. And fear is intimately linked to how we judge people.”
“How so?”

It was one of those early morning conversations over coffee and from the nature of fear we had progressed to how we unconsciously judge the people that we meet. It is all very well to say that we should not judge…but we do. At least to a certain degree. Sitting in moral judgement upon someone’s actions is a slightly different matter, but we do seem to be programmed to make judgements about the people who arrive in our lives. It comes from the same primitive survival instinct as fear and is part of the same process. If a hunter comes face to face with another spear-wielding man, that snap judgement would be the deciding factor; does he run from a foe, throw his own spear, or welcome a fellow hunter to the chase?

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Our need for such judgements may not be so acute these days, but the instinct remains. We just use it in a more abstract way. A new person arrives on the scene… a new colleague, perhaps… and an immediate reaction determines what we see as our best approach. How we judge them then determines, rightly or wrongly, what we expect of them too.

But how do we make that judgement? Against what measure are we holding them? We only have our own normality, our own world view, with which to work… and that, of necessity, becomes our median line. Some people will quickly climb high in our estimation, others will let us down.  People will either surpass our expectations or fall below them…and hopefully we can rejoice at the one and learn from the other.

The problem here is that if we let the uncontrolled ego have its way, by setting ourselves as the median line, we may also be setting ourselves in a position of unconscious superiority. If that happens, then everyone else starts at a disadvantage… the people we meet will start from a ‘lower’ place than that which the ego sees itself as occupying. This means that before anyone can begin to meet our expectations, they have a steep climb ahead of them before they can hope to meet us on an even playing field.

The higher our ego sets us on that scale, the lower are the chances of people fulfilling or exceeding our expectations. If someone does manage to climb above our median line, the chances are that the owner of a ‘superior’ ego, instead of applauding that success, will feel themselves weighed down by it… and look for ways in which they can bring that person back down to, or below, the median line of ‘normality’…at least in their own mind.

The ‘superior’ ego fears being overshadowed by the success of others and reacts to any inkling of such success with resentment and prejudice. The higher the other person is perceived to climb… and it may be no more than a perception… the more the ‘superior’ ego looks for them to fall. These are such destructive emotions that, while the other person continues with the normal ups and downs of life, embracing both successes and failures, the ‘superior’ ego finds itself on a slippery slope of its own creation.

We cannot abstain from judging altogether…it is an instinctive function of our safety mechanism. We should not have to lower our hopes for people either… for in trusting and hoping for their success we help ensure it. Imposing our expectations, though is a different matter… expectations breed disappointment.

Stickman, Handshake, Gun, Aiming, SmileWhat we can do is remember than our own median line is not a straight path, but meanders with every step we take, and we can fall or climb just as easily, and as often, as anyone else. No matter where we stand in terms of our social position, educational achievements, affiliations, beliefs or ethnicity, we are equal partners in the human family. Our median line should not be drawn by the ego, but from the one thing we all share… our humanity. We are each as fragile, as fallible, and as capable of reaching the heights as each other… and regardless of the judgements passed upon us, we share a gift of possibility that allows us to walk our own path.

Doing what comes naturally

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We were in Castleton, hunting for props for the Feathered Seer. It was a cold, grey morning, but even so, the warm stone of the small Derbyshire town was inviting. We wandered through the streets, exploring hidden streets that we had not seen before and following the course of Peakshole Water, a tributary of the River Noe, that runs through the town.

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The ducks were doing what ducks do best and performing their morning ablutions They are master contortionists when they are cleaning and preening their feathers, instinctively keeping them in perfect condition for their lives on water and in the air. Their faces always draw a smile… seeming to smile. They seem content to be no more and no less than what they are. We stopped for a while, watching and snapping away, under the eye of a curious robin.

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We seldom go far without a robin showing up. The robin has earned its reputation for curiosity over the centuries that it has associated with humans. They are opportunists and, in Britain where they are traditionally welcomed and left unharmed, are very friendly birds. In other countries, they are more wary of Man, as we have hunted and killed them in times past. That knowledge has sunk in…they have learned from it and altered their behaviour accordingly.

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My resident robin shows no fear at all and has been hopping up to the door since the first day I moved into my little flat. He was only a baby then and although they can be long-lived birds, they have a high mortality rate in their first year, so I have been glad to see him thriving through the winter. Instinct now brings the robins to where we turn the earth for them and put out food. Experience teaches them when it is safe to be even more curious and they will follow a friendly human around the garden and even eat from your hand.

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As we left to continue our walk, a spaniel, finding a convenient hole in the wall, ignored his owner’s calls and dived gleefully through and into the water, just downstream of the little weir. We watched as he quietly crept to the perfect vantage point, before leaping out with obvious joy, to flush the ducks off the water. The spaniel was simply doing what comes naturally. We have bred and trained these dogs to flush out game for the hunters and, although most are now pampered pets, the purpose of their being still runs in their veins.

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I wondered about that… The ducks were displaying a pre-programmed, instinctive behaviour that helps ensure their survival. The robin illustrated a learned behaviour in reaction to experience. But the dog was operating from something that was not quite either. The obedience we have trained into gun dogs was altogether absent, discarded in favour of choice. The chasing of the ducks by a dog who had obviously never even seen a gun, comes from a much deeper level than a simple, learned behaviour. And the absolute bliss with which it chased the ducks into the air was infectious.

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While the ducks and the robin seemed content…the dog was bursting with a joy visible in every bound. The people who were around, on the other hand, displayed neither joy nor contentment. There were frazzled parents, arguing couples and bored-looking youngsters. I couldn’t help wondering if we have lost sight of something in our pursuit of the chimera of happiness. Happiness is an emotion like any other and, although we often treat it as a prize to be attained through dedication to a goal, it is a fleeting thing. No emotion is a permanent fixture. Joy is not an emotion, but rather a state of being that underlies whatever emotion we feel. It lifts happiness to the heights and sustains us through the darker times… yet once found, it is ever-present.

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I thought of those people I know who exude joy…and they share a common trait. All of them have, like the dog, chosen to embrace what they see as the purpose of their being. For each of them it is different on the surface, and yet, when you get to know them and talk with them, you find that they see that purpose as one and the same thing, manifested in a myriad different ways. Whether they call it service to a higher purpose, compassion, kindness or any one of a thousand different names… it all comes back to Love.

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It is often our first memory…and often our last. We spend a lifetime pursuing love in one aspect or another, from the tentative teenage years when we seek approval for the identity we are forming, to the mating of later years. We seek it in our friendships, from our children and siblings… even from our pets. To feel that we are loved seems a basic human need.  We feel that if we are loved we will know happiness…and while that may be true, that happiness is never a constant. Those who refuse or deny love a place in their lives as well as those who grasp at every fragment they can find, are deemed misfits within our society. To give love, unconditionally and without thought of return is counted as one of the purest human emotions. I have often wondered if our human loves are but a reflection of something higher… allowing us to embrace, as much as we are able, something too vast for us to encompass. Maybe choosing love is the purpose of our being.

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