Monday, July 12, 2010

"Different From Our Fellows"

Someone I dearly love once shared in a meeting how frustrating it is that, while she lives her life by spiritual principles, so many others in her life don't. I found myself thinking about this today and had a mental flash of Jesus, the prophet whose spiritual teachings centered on Love, looking around himself and being on the point of tears because there was such little love in the world around him.

We don't have to go nearly as far in the past to find prophets. We can think of the Rev. Dr. King. Or John Lennon. There have been many who looked around at the world and spoke, saying, "if only we realized we are all connected; if only we cared about others instead of just ourselves." The idea even finds its way into our popular culture. Most people my age will remember a movie about a pair of time travelling stoners who preached, "be Excellent to each other."

We aren't. We don't treat each other with love, kindness, and generosity. We don't help each other in times of need nearly as often as we could, and not just out of pure selfishness. We find all kinds of ways to justify treating others poorly. We convince ourselves they aren't as important as we are, that they aren't as fully human as we are. We denegrade them for all kinds of reasons: they are a different gender; their skin is a different color; they make less money than us, or more; we disagree with their lifestyle. Our society and the world at large is struggling with these issues, and even if we solve them, still more will arise. We human beings are endlessly creative in finding ways to label each other as different.

In the program, we learn to focus on the similarities when we are in meetings. We can take that suggestion with us into our lives, too. We can look for how other people are like us instead of focusing on how they are different. We can take the spiritual principle of Love and apply it in all of our affairs.

But not everyone is in the program. Not everyone lives or even tries to live by spiritual principles. Honesty and integrity are truly rare in a culture where liars, cheats, and snakes are the ones who are successful. Our lives are filled with people who say one thing to our face and something entirely different behind our backs. We all know people who are nice because of their own guilt and not a genuine sense of caring. We all know the feeling of betrayal, of being told one thing and observing actions that go against it.

So what do we do? Do we give in to the dishonesty of the world and become dishonest ourselves? Do we look at others being selfish and decide that we need to be selfish, too? Those options are open to us, but we don't have to do it.

Living the spiritual life comes with a different set of principles and a different set of rewards than the material life does. By focusing on helping othes, we help to heal our inner selves. By letting go of material wealth, we receive the reward of a rich spirit instead. We find inner peace, inner happiness, a wellness of being that is not dependent on the world around us. Choosing not to take advantage of others does not mean we let them take advantage of us. Being honest doesn't mean we accuse others when we see them lying.

And when we are confronted with those who do not live as we do, we can choose how we act towards them. We can practice compassion, do as the AA big book suggests, see them as spiritually sick and treat them as we would a sick friend or loved one. This doesn't mean we don't protect ourselves from harm. When visiting someone who's sick, we sometimes wear a mask. We can practice tolerance and acceptance, too. Again, acceptance does not mean approval. We don't have to like the way others live their lives, just accept it. The freedom they have to do as they choose is the same freedom that allows us to live as we choose.

Live the spiritual life. It's a life beyond your wildest dreams. Others might not understand. They might even laugh at you, call you a fool, an idealist. So what? Live it anyway.

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