July 9, 2008

Who's to Blame?

The following article, translated into Hungarian, previously appeared in A Rozsakeresztes Tükör (The Rosicrucian Mirror), the official newsletter of the Rákóczi Pronaos, an affiliated body of the Rosicrucian Order AMORC.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know if I say that we are in a difficult situation: Budapest, Hungary, Europe, Western civilization, the world. We have some serious problems. We face some very frightening dangers.

How did we get here? Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Let's examine those questions carefully.

It would be easy to blame the politicians. Depending on your political loyalties, it would be easy to say that the other political parties acted against your interests, and stole the people's money and resources while they were in office. Or even to say that all politicians are corrupt and untrustworthy. That would be one way of looking at the world.

We could blame powerful corporations. It's easy to point a finger at them and say they are destroying our culture with their mass produced products, and their aggressive, tasteless, and ubiquitous advertising. We could accuse them of abusing working people with their low wages, and of polluting our environment with all their packaging and freight transport. That's another way of looking at it.

How about the greedy small business people who don't pay their taxes? Let's blame them! Or let's blame the schools because they aren't properly preparing children to be productive and responsible adults.

The list of people and institutions we could blame for the problems of the world is endless: pop culture, the police, drug dealers, the EU, organized crime, the Americans, the Islamists, etc.

But there's an aspect of the problems we are experiencing in the world today that cannot be explained by looking for evil people or institutions to blame it on. And to explain to you what I mean, I need to tell you a little story.

Like many people, I sometimes have money problems, which weigh especially heavily on me, since I am responsible for a large family. One day I was particularly preoccupied with these problems, and specifically that I needed to come up with a certain amount of cash within a few days, and I didn't know how I was going to do it.

I was walking along a quiet tree-lined street near my home, on my way to work, when I noticed a chubby, shabbily dressed old man with an old-fashioned metal cane coming towards me. He was still several meters away when he stopped and looked at something on the sidewalk. He leaned over, sticking one leg out behind him and using the cane to support him. I was right in front of him once he had stood up straight and had had a second or two to see what he'd found. He made eye contact with me, and held up the object for me to see. It was a simple gold-colored ring. He tried to put it on one of his fingers, but they were way too thick. Unexpectedly, he held the ring out to me. From it's sparkle in the morning sunlight, and its heft in my hand, I immediately knew this was gold. I peaked inside and found the marking: 18K. It was a very thick, woman's wedding band.

In heavily Slavic-accented Hungarian, he told me to try it on. "Kicsi uj!" (Meaning: little finger!) It slipped onto my finger easily. He made a gesture to give it back to him (it was his ring, he found it, after all), and for a moment I feared he would realize how valuable this object was. He tried to find a finger of his that it would fit on, but with no success. He smiled and handed it back to me. I was relieved, and excited. I was about to walk away when he indicated that he wanted money for cigarettes. Fair enough. I got out my wallet and handed him two 100 forint coins. He frowned and said "Keves." (Meaning: Not much. And he seriously mispronounced it.) "Nincs cigoretta!" (A very illiterate, ungrammatical way of saying he can't get cigarettes for that.) The only other thing I had in my wallet was 1,000 forint bills. I thought about the fact that gold had recently hit $1,000 an ounce; an all-time high. The ring was worth at least 50,000 forints, probably much more, considering how heavy it was. So I thought, fair enough. And handed him 1,000 forints.

All morning long I kept thinking about the fact that my momentary crisis had been solved. All I would have to do is sell this ring, and I'd have the cash I needed. At lunch time, I went to the silver smith's shop across the street from my office and showed the ring to one of the men who work there. He looked at the ring, and asked, "Is this your ring?" I told him that I'd found it on the street. He raised an eyebrow at that answer. He got a little brown bottle off the shelf, unscrewed the top, pulled out a little glass rod and placed a drop of liquid on the ring. It immediately started to fizz and make white foam. The man looked at me and declared, "It's brass." I was very disappointed, and slightly embarrassed. Just then another man came from a back room.

"What's going on here?" he asked.

"This fellow thought he found a gold ring on the street. Turns out it's brass."

"Found it on the street? You didn't walk up to someone just as they were bending over to pick something up off the sidewalk?"

Both of them smiled at me, knowingly. Now I was really embarrassed. I don't really recall how the conversation in the shop ended. I just wanted to get out of there.

Later sitting alone in my office, I pulled the ring out of my pocket. As I was examining a dark indentation, that should have made me suspicious, I suddenly noticed that I could smell the ring. I held the ring up to my nose and recognized the unmistakable smell of brass. And now I realized how much I had been blinded by my greed. Neither did I notice that it had a tiny dark indentation in one spot, nor did I think to use my sense of smell to test it. I wanted it to be a piece of gold, and I let that push me completely out of balance.

And now I understood how the trick worked. The trick depends on the victim being greedy, and desiring to take advantage of someone they perceive as less intelligent than themselves. In the moment the victim believes he is about to walk away with something valuable, the con artist asks for something. The victim panics and makes a bad decision, based on the belief that whatever he gives the con man, he is getting the far better part of the bargain. The trick only works on people who have been blinded by their greed.

Now, it would be easy to get angry about a con man tricking you that way, but I was grateful to him for teaching me a valuable lesson about myself. Even if I try hard to be a good father and husband; even though I work at being as kind and loving as possible in my interactions with other people; even though I work to use the teachings of The Order to elevate my consciousness so I can serve mankind and The Order; when I felt desperate and afraid, I was willing to take advantage of another human being. I was tested, and I failed.

In the week that followed this incident, I went into my sanctum several times and visualized the situation. I would see the man bending over and picking up the ring. I would see him trying it on. I would see the situation just as it happened, up to the point where he offered me the ring. At that point in my visualization, I would look at the man and see him as my brother, as another soul, as another spark from the divine fire. I would look into his eyes and say, "No. You keep the ring. You found it. It is yours. You need it more than I do." And then I would imagine myself walking away happy, and full of love for the world.

Why have I told you a story that shows me in such an unflattering light? What does this story have to do with the topic of this essay? Who is to blame? This incident, and others in my life, serve to remind me that I am to blame for the way the world is. I am. You are. We all are. I'm sure every one of you could tell us an embarrassing story about how your actual behavior fell short of your Rosicrucian ideals. Whenever we fail to live up to the ideal of living our life as an expression of the light, life and love that flows from the divine center within us, whenever we give in to fear, greed, anger, pride, laziness and other distortions of human nature, then we contribute to the problems of the world. As the American journalist Sydney J. Harris said: "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."

And that sentence shows you the choice we have to make. Many people falsely believe that you are not part of the problem if you don't actively participate in the problem, and just mind your own business. But being passive and neutral isn't an option. You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Are you upset when you see the condition the neighborhood around your home is in: trash on the streets and sidewalk, paint peeling from the disrepaired buildings? Not only should you not throw more trash in the street (which nobody reading this article does, I hope), but perhaps you should occasionally pick a few things up and throw them in the nearest trash can. Perhaps you should spend a few minutes a day visualizing a beautiful neighborhood the way you would like to see it.

Do you complain about the way Budapest is run, and the way this society behaves? Maybe it would be more productive to think of what kind of city, country, society you would like to see develop in your lifetime and in future generations. Don't complain and gossip about how bad things are, and what stupid things leaders and powerful people do. Talk to people about your vision of the future. Get involved in projects that improve the world.

But above all, do you complain about the how people are unkind and unfair? Perhaps it's more important to be sure you yourself are always kind and fair in your dealings with other people, rather than judging the behavior of other people.

Who is to blame for the problems of the world? We all are. But the good news is that we all hold the keys in our hands to solving those problems.


anthromama said...

It's so easy to point fingers at others. Sometimes I think that's a particular American sport! And reducing everything to blame/victim/perpetrator is just distancing and simplistic, and takes personal responsibility out of the discussion.

A practical example: if I call my children to come to me, quite often my son gets wrapped up in making sure his sister does what I've told them. So I have to tell him, worry about yourself! Make sure you are doing the right thing! He's so busy telling her that she needs to come to mama, that he's still in the other room himself.

Sometimes I think the US has been run by a bunch of toddlers like that, who are busy telling the rest of the world what they should do without cleaning up their own act.

But then, that's just me complaining about how bad things are and what stupid things leaders do :)

So, what was the result of your positive visualizations?

Attila Borcsa said...
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Theo Huffman said...
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Eve said...

Hello, Theo. I come here by way of Anthromama's invitation; she seems to think we have something in common. And, of course, she is correct.

I was touched by this article. It's about love, about how we are able to love if we think of the other person as "brother" rather than object, and if we will but open our eyes. And do what I call "recalling our projections." I have written about that quite a bit, because it troubles me, because I'm always projecting through complaints. Well, not always, but often enough that reading this article was a blessing, and a very good reminder.

Thank you, and it's a pleasure to read your blog.

Attila Borcsa said...
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