The other day, I had a "righteous hangover".
Let me explain... (you better settle in to a comfy chair with a cuppa... this is a long one)...
A friend posted a story on Facebook about seeing a man standing next to a popular drive-thru restaurant with a sign asking for money. She then saw a women attempt to give to him some food she had purchased for him. He declined.
My friend pointed out that she didn't know who to feel the most sorry for, the person asking for money, or the person getting their gift rejected.
Several others on Facebook, when they saw her post, shared their outrage toward the man refusing the gift, and some extended their outrage toward all others in similar
"How dare that person be so rude as to refuse a gift! Even if he didn't want it, he should have taken it and said thank
"How disgusting and how sad for the person trying to help!"... and...
"That’s awful. The shelters provide 3 meals per day and I refuse to provide money for drugs."... and...
"I once offered to go inside a store to buy food for someone asking for money, but they said no since they wanted to eat elsewhere.... yah, suuuuure they did"... and...
"This is why those who want to help others are giving up in total frustration. Sad world we are living in
Having spent time hanging out with people who are afflicted with numerous mental and physical challenges, and knowing all too well the insurmountable hoops they have to jump through to be accepted and treated as
even close to human, in addition to knowing all the things they need money for besides food and drugs, I hold a completely different perspective.
And, despite recognizing the ridiculous and humbling irony of my own righteousness toward other people who are being righteous, I chose not to let those comments sit.
At first, my imagination went in the direction of a bevy of clever, snide remarks aimed at the commenters and their judgements. My ego joyously revelled in the process, but in truth, my imagined mean and righteous
remarks constricted my heart. It's sort of a funny thing when that happens really... it's a type of "good" feeling, that upon reflection or inspection, doesn't feel good at all. Here's another example of that...
One day in discussion with a man at a homeless shelter, he talked about hitting someone who had cheated him. Knowing that we don't strike out at people when we're in a good mood,
I remarked, "that must have felt awful". To my surprise, he responded that it felt great! At first I was a bit confused, but then the penny dropped... he was talking about the feeling of release of emotion (pent up anger) from hitting the other man, not the
experience of anger that flared up just before it.
Both of these behaviours (my imagined cutting remarks, and his uppercut to the
chin) are great examples of coping... they're the result of deflecting uncomfortable feelings that, in that moment, aren't understood. In a way, the lashing out makes others less so that we can feel better or superior... it gives us back a sense of control.
Once my ego was done with its righteous, imagined "otherizing", I eventually got a little calmer and clearer, and gained back a small speck
of remembered humility. I then took the opportunity to use that kinder feeling to craft a factual (more emotion-free/judgement-free) version of what I know... all the perspectives of street-life that many of the observing public may not have realized or considered.
By the time I posted my remarks, I was feeling better about finding a clearer and kinder way to talk about the underlying conditions of
poverty and addiction, and the underlying ebb and flow of human insecurity that is the creator of EVERYONE'S moments of "apparently bad" behaviour... whether it's doing drugs, or refusing gifts, or righteously judging other people, my own righteous judgment
I thought I had said my piece. I was satisfied for having spoken up for those who have no voice, and then I set it free
into the capable hands of the universe, to be done with, as always, as it pleases.
However, when I woke up the next morning, I could
feel my righteous hangover... I hadn't set it as free as I had thought. Some small tatters and remnants of seething judgmental anger were grasping for a foothold in my mind... ready evidence that my insecure mind doesn't always listen to my secure heart.
Fortunately, the hangover feeling didn't last too long. I appeared to be aware enough in the moment of my ego's little tricks, and so the
suffering thinking sort of came in the front door, lingered briefly, got bored, then went out the back door.
Once back to a clearer
state of mind, it occurred to me that my lingering hangover was, at a deeper level, because I was judging myself, for judging some people, who were judging another person. Hilarious right?!
At first I had compassion for the man's suffering, but had righteous judgment for the angry people.
Eventually I had compassion for the angry people's suffering, but had judgment for the angry me.
Finally I remembered
to have compassion for the suffering, angry me. And in that moment, gained another level of appreciation for the still-suffering, insecure, little child inside.
...This is just another wise lesson from "my personal crazy", which continues to offer me gifts, whether I ask for them or not, whether I accept them or not, and whether I appreciate them or not.
For those interested, here is a slightly edited version of my actual comment on Facebook about those experiencing homelessness, addiction, etc...
I have spent time with people who are experiencing all types of suffering, including periods
of homelessness, joblessness, addiction, and chronic mental and physical issues, and so there's a few things that I've discovered...
is that when I see someone who appears to be suffering, it can sometimes be instinctive to give them what I think they need or what I think they "should" want and appreciate. I see their situation, I identify with it in some way (I imagine how bad it feels),
a bad feeling-state arises within me, and then the instinct occurs to me to help them.
I usually feel that I am doing a good deed,
but if I look a little deeper, I may discover that my desire to help may be more about trying to cope with my own bad feelings in the moment, than it is about addressing theirs.
By the way... This isn't something that's easy for me (or likely for anyone else) to see, because thoughts and feelings and beliefs can be so habitual and instantaneous and convincing. We automatically think that
all our empathy and attempts to help, are a good thing, and reflect something positive about us and our behaviour.
can get a sense of the significant difference between helping others when feeling good (perhaps noticing the other person's beauty or strength or courage or innate wellbeing), versus helping others when feeling awful (being judgmental, seeing them as broken,
feeling impatience or urgency for their change, getting caught up in our own feelings about their suffering). The latter state of mind is likely to be much less helpful since it's more about us than about them.
TWO, is that without talking to someone first, and taking the time to hear and understand them, I can have absolutely NO IDEA of what's going on in their thinking and feeling and
unique circumstances, to be able to effectively determine their needs.
I've made this mistake many, many, many times, and will continue
to do so. In a way, right now in writing this, I'm giving something that wasn't asked for, for better or worse! See how easy it is!? LOL!
back to point two... If someone chooses to reject a gift of food, there could be thousands of valid reasons... perhaps they are already full, or they have specific allergies or health conditions, or they're vegetarian, or they don't need food (they already
have enough supplies or resources for that), or perhaps people keep giving them food over and over and over again, even though they are only asking for money, or perhaps they just don't (in that moment) like or want the specific food being offered... ALL of
that is valid.
As for wanting money instead, it could also be (and is) used for thousands of different reasons other than drugs. It
could be used for transportation, or shelter, or clothing, or hygiene items, or home supplies (furniture, appliances, utensils, books, tools, etc.), or medications, or rent, or cell phone minutes, or birthday gifts, or toys for their kids, or services (haircuts,
legal services, medical services, etc.), or helping out a friend or family member, or replacing items that have been broken or lost or stolen from them... the list of things everyone needs money for in this society is endless.
And yes, they could also be using some or all of the money they get for drugs.
One thing to consider, is that for some people's horrid experiences of life, drugs are one of the few accessible things that gives them temporary relief from a great deal of physical and mental suffering that they haven't, as yet, found a different
way to cope with.
Another thing to consider is that most everyone in today's society finds ways to cope with internal discomfort (ie,
to distract, numb, soothe, self-medicate, etc.) whether through smoking, or shopping, or eating, or drinking, or gambling, or busyness, or social media, or success, or image, or risk-taking, or accumulation of things, or venting their righteousness, or yes,
sometimes even through helping. It's all the same thing... a bad feeling comes up, and instantaneously the mind offers a "drug of choice" to cope with it.
For whatever reason, certain forms of addiction or coping are more socially acceptable than others, even though all addictions cause harm in an infinite number of ways. The effects of drug addiction are more immediate and obvious, but the ripples
of any other addiction/coping can be just as impactful and endless.
THREE, is that when I give people help (whether asked for or not),
they are not always going to be grateful.
I can see this happen with people I know well (friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.), so
it would not be unexpected to see what may appear as "ungratefulness" from someone who is more visibly suffering and likely to be in a really bad mood.
Upon reflection, I can see that I have not always been grateful for other people's help, especially when it's been delivered with some level of judgement.
And, as I have heard from my conversations with those who are more visibly suffering, when anyone gets righteous over any of their behaviours or appearance, they often relate to that judgment toward them as more validation
of their "shitty selves and their shitty life and this shitty world".
Many I've spoken to have a keen radar for being judged... simply
because they get hit with it many times every day... in the way people look at them, in the way people avoid them or avoid eye contact with them, in the way people show fear of them, in the way people don't even notice them, in the way people treat them without
even knowing them, and in the hateful things people say to them... all messages to them that they are less than human in some way.
an aside, it's helpful to note that I can always hide the darker parts of my experiences and behaviours behind the doors of my house, or behind my clean clothes and makeup, or behind the success of my job, or behind my money, or behind my social media profile,
or behind my good deeds. In contrast, those out on the street can't hide any of that. They are always out on full display... with no way and no where to hide.
FOUR, is that whenever I righteously judge others, that feeling within me isn't being created by someone else's behaviours (whether it's the rejection of a gift, or otherwise). The other person isn't inside my mind and body, pulling
strings to guide specifically what I will think and feel... and whether I choose anger or neutrality or curiosity or understanding or compassion.
Instead, I'm experiencing the thinking and corresponding feelings that rise out of all the invisible beliefs I've collected over a lifetime, that keep creating and recreating the picture of the world I live in, and how I respond to it.
In any moment, if I were to get a bit of calmness and clarity, and freedom from my personal thinking, I'd remember that I'm looking at a
fellow human being who's temporary behaviours are only a reflection of internal suffering, and never a permanent pronouncement of their true nature... something they may not even realize themselves.
Perhaps it may even occur to me that the challenges I sometimes have in managing my own emotions (whether over the rejection of a gift or something else), may not be that different from someone
else trying to manage the emotions that drive addiction. It sort of puts me on the same playing field.
Any clear appreciation for
our common humanity, is a step toward offering help in a more humane way.
And although that clarity can never tell me what I should
do when I see suffering (ie, gift, not gift, love, not love, take caution, not take caution, help, not help, etc.), it does mean that in whatever I choose to do or not do, my clearer state of mind will allow me to do it with a lot less added collateral damage...
with more peace and grace, for them, for the world, and for myself.
... And, I'll be able to give any gift from my own felt realization
of security and abundance, with complete freedom to allow the universe to decide how that gift is to be used, or not.
And so the lessons keep getting offered to
me, with each apparently suffering person who crosses my path, whether it's the person experiencing homelessness, or whether it's the person venting in righteous anger, or whether it's the righteous-feeling me... sometimes me forgetting all this, but then
eventually remembering again.