Insight vs. a punch in the face

Gaining insight is hard, delivering a punch in the face, when provoked, is pretty straightforward.   Not to say you might not pay a price for the punch, you can break your thumb, bruise your knuckles, have the shit beat out of you, even get shot or stabbed, but the reflex to lash out when angry is pretty basic.  It’s simple, primitive, sometimes effective in dealing with a real or imagined threat.   Those who train to deliver a punch effectively learn to harden their hands, protect their fingers from damage, turn the fist just so right before impact for maximum effect. Everybody else is free to let fly, with real or metaphorical fists, like a hurtful series of words you can never take back.

Insight, on the other hand, is hard to come by, often painful.   You need to learn to see things from a perspective not your own, feel things that may never have happened to you directly, learn to study the broken pieces calmly, detached from your ingrained reactions.  Insight allows you to make connections on a more thoughtful level than our world consistently operates on.   

The level our world operates on is a well-deserved punch in the face.   More specifically, a punch in the smug, fucking face.  Insight allows you to understand the operation of life on a less reflexive level.  Gain enough insight and almost everybody may want to punch you in the face, if you’re not insightful enough to be cool about your path toward insight.

I give the example of my own attempts to not replicate what I experienced from my parents in my youth.  That is, I try to follow Hillel’s formulation of the Golden Rule.  I try not to do things to others that I hate being done to me.   All we can do is try, but trying is a step in the right direction, every time.  I hated being unfairly accused of things I hadn’t done, painted in an ugly light, I still do, as does everybody else, of course.  In my parents’ house I was constantly confronted, always portrayed as coming home from the hospital two days old angry and ready to fight, usually blamed for the anger that was always exploding all around me, and always required to fight.   I fought, and got pretty good at it, even as I understood how tragically ridiculous the nonsensical war I was drafted into was.

I have made it a long project to make myself less susceptible to my anger, less ready to react with rage.  Reading about Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha (not in detail, mind you) I began trying to practice ahimsa, non-harm, as a first principle.  A difficult stance, in our violent world, particularly without a religious framework and a community of fellow non-harmers, but I have found the goal very worthwhile. Trying to keep the principle of non-harm in mind has made my life better, even if I am far from serene.

If you come from a mindset of not harming others, of being straight in expressing what you need, being direct and patient, it seems to me your life will improve, particularly if you were raised in a senseless war where everybody had to fight all the time for no real reason. 

It turns out even a straightforward insight like this is very shaky in the real world.  Certain old friends will insist that you’re deluding yourself, that you may have become a tiny bit better at DELAYING the arrival of your famous fucking anger, but you are actually just kidding yourself, propped on a flimsy moral pedestal that with only a few hours of determined kicking I can topple, proving that your rage is very real and present, you fucking superior fucking asshole.  In the end, I will make you want to punch me in the face, Ahimsa-boy, proving that I and the brutal real world are right and your ahimsa pose is just gas, self-righteous fumes, no matter how much you may think you’ve improved in overcoming your reflex to respond with anger.

To me, resisting the impulse to react with anger is a net good, no matter how incremental the improvement. If in the past you would have been angry a minute into an aggravating situation, you now find you are able to go for an hour before the anger starts sapping your will to remain peaceful.   In one sense it is a huge step forward, you will find yourself doing better in many situations that would have turned to shit instantly in the past.   It is a useful skill in our world, to refrain from striking others with words or fists. 

On the other hand, to someone intent on proving that you, like them, are a piece of shit beyond redemption, beyond the possibility of meaningful change of any kind, well, in the end they will be able to grind you down.   You are not a bodhisattva, you are just trying to do better, and in the end you will reach your limit and get that look on your face that will prove their triumphant point.

Been there, done that, showing great patience with people who demonstrated that insight was not for them, that a punch in the fucking face was much more to their taste (even if beyond the limits of their physical courage), and that I, actually, rather than being less angry and provocative with my so-called insight and ahimsa was even more of a piece of shit for trying to be better than them.  Of course, and I say this just between us, I was already better than them, in terms of treating people the way I would like to be treated myself, but my goal was to be better than myself, not anybody else.  I’m not in competition, in any field you can name, except to make myself better.

Insight is the only way out of pain, outside of the usual painkillers.  It is not a magic door you can walk through, of course, it is a path you take, a goal you aspire to.  Much easier than pausing to gather yourself and trying to develop understanding is staying on the treadmill, running until your heart gives out.  Hard to blame people who recoil from introspection.  People don’t like things that cause them pain, unless they are masochists. 

Think of it this way, though — you can repeat the same tragedy over and over in your life, with minor variations, or you can learn from the way you play your part in the tragedy and do it a little bit less tragically next time.  Or, you know, you can just punch me in the fucking face, it’ll probably feel better, at least until the adrenaline and cortisol rush wears off.

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