Get Your Retaliation in First

This article is based on a line from the Tibetan Buddhist text known as The Lojong. It says; ‘Drive all blames into one.’

In Shakespeare’s drama Othello it is Iago who subtly feeds the doubts into Othello’s mind that eventually convinces him that Desdemona, his young wife, is being unfaithful to him and stokes up Othello’s jealousy so that, in the end, he murders her. The interesting thing about Iago is that Shakespeare gives him very little reason for this act of deceit and treachery. There is some mention of his being passed over for promotion but it hardly seems enough to justify such extreme action. The other interesting thing is that, consumed with hate as he is, he never stops to consider whether his actions are justified nor to question whether such emotions as he has have any grounding in the realities of the situation.

This is the theme of this article; that we find it much easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for our own feelings and actions. The Lojong statement says that first we should take the blame for our own feelings and not claim that someone else made us feel it or that someone else has taken steps that have put us in this terrible situation, whatever it is.

I have read several commentators on this suggestion in the Lojong text who suggest that when we feel that anger or resentment with someone else or feel that someone has wronged us we should just sit down quietly and see how we are not being responsible for our own world. Some follow the Lojong statement quite literally and say that we should take all the blame for everything in our world onto ourselves. I feel that for whatever reason, possibly their own saintly natures, they have missed the point that for most of us this is like suggesting that a tram should jump off it’s rails and behave like a bus! Iago’s problem, my problem, and possibly yours, is that when our buttons are pressed (Those really big red buttons) we are hurled into a reaction which is so strong and so deep that it takes over completely. Just a little while before we might have been reasonable beings and even able to say; ‘You know when XYZ happens and ABC does this, that and the other I do go off on a bit of a one.’ But when the button is pressed we are off and our reactions are so out of our control that we do not even see what we are doing. We launch into an attack on the other person, or we feel hurt and it is their fault. We immediately feel that no reasonable person would behave in the way they have; say the things they say; would be so insensitive as to not realise how much that hurts, etc. It can be hard to believe that what we were then and what we are now are the same person. They just do not connect.

Our sense of perspective has flown out of the window and we could not even imagine that we might have been thinking about behaving rationally just a little while before. We are in the grip of this powerful demon and do not question where it is rushing us to. Iago thought he was fully justified in everything he thought and did and never questioned it. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we get to a point where we know we are behaving irrationally and try to reign ourselves in. Perhaps we remember our resolution to practice loving kindness in all situations. And then we discover a terrible thing; our rational mind tells us we are in the wrong to be like this, but we can do nothing about it. The conflict in the mind can become enormous and yet on we go; one stupid, or poisonous, step after another. We sulk, we row, we argue, we plot revenge and hate ourselves more and more for doing it.

Just as a little aside I would observe that it has become very popular in the post Freudian age to blame our parents for many of the hangups in our adult life. There are stages to this process. First we just think we are what we are. Then we start to see that many of our ways of seeing and dealing with life come from our parents. Then we start to blame them for the negative bits. Then, if you are going through a therapeutic process, you are encouraged to tell our inner parents what they have done to us and so get some sort of healing. I have known many people get stuck at this stage as ever more stuff comes up that has to be confronted. It will till you die. There is one step more that not many people seem to get to. Which is to understand that you are an adult now. Right now the inner parent is you so you can take the blame for what you are doing to yourself; forgive yourself; and move on.

Shakespeare was very clever. He knew that most people never even get to the stage of questioning these powerful states of mind. When it is just a like or dislike, a mild reaction to something that is not too threatening to us it is not too difficult to take full responsibility for our part in it. For instance, think of that politician who gets on the telly and spouts such nonsense. We can tell ourselves that our reaction of annoyance is unnecessary. We can take responsibility for the feeling and turn it into compassionate loving-kindness and know that even if we disagree with him he has a right to his opinion and instead of bad-mouthing him we can agree that there are many ways of seeing the world and dealing with it and freedom of speech is a valuable asset, etc. But when it is that deep emotional centre of ours that has been poked… Well then it is a different drama altogether.

Perhaps though, we have to start with the little things that are manageable. Take responsibility for our tendency to blame others when we could be seeing our part in the drama first. Practice self awareness and compassion in the little things to gain confidence and skills for the big ones. Indeed I think it is only practice in the little thing like this in our life that give us the skills and confidence to even begin to see the big ones, let alone start to transform them and take responsibility for them.


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