I guess objectivity is something about being able to see and appreciate the nature of things – how things are.

They say about 93% of the mass of our bodies is stardust.  And well over 99% of an atom is made up of empty space.  This means, at the very least, that the nature of things is surprising and mysterious and inherently not what it seems.  So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised  when objectivity turns out to be shy and elusive.

I find the writing of Eckhart Tolle to be the most practically helpful in day-to-day living of anything I have ever come across.  Reading his work reminds me of what I really know, recalibrates my thinking, sets me back on track, and improves the quality of daily live more than I can say.  Every now and then I get stuck on something he’s written – maybe I’ve been eating it too fast and I’ve got something that needed chewing more thoroughly stuck in my throat.

Here’s an example.  I have on my bedside table his “A New Earth” inspiration cards – sound-bites from his book of the same name (A New Earth).  I don’t turn up a new card each day, because it takes me ages to think about each one.  I’ll probably be about a hundred by the time I’ve read them all.  One I’ve been thinking about for a very long time said this:

Very unconscious people experience their own ego through its reflection in others.  When you realise that what you react to in others is also in you (and sometimes only in you) you begin to be aware of your own ego.

If I am reading this correctly, he is saying (I’ve often heard this) that what annoys us in other people is always present in ourselves.  This is evident in families.  If a parent takes a singular dislike to one child, it’s usually true that the child in question is particularly similar to that parent.

I notice it myself in conversations.  For instance, I might be visiting with someone who talks at length about their wonderful experiences and achievements, lovingly describing what they said and did, telling me where they got this new sweater and what a bargain it was, what an interesting time they had in London last week, why their political view was influenced by how they grew up which gives them a special insight into aspects of life that no-one else can possibly know, why their particular home is exceptionally well-appointed and contrasts very favourably with the homes of all the neighbours etc etc etc.  After a while I start feeling annoyed.  Why?  Because I feel overlooked.  What about my bargain purchases, mypolitical views, my achievements in house décor, the trips I made this week, and so forth.  In other words, I am basically uninterested in anything about the other person and am viewing the conversation simply as taking turns to show off and be admired.  I’m prepared to give the other person a go in the spotlight, but only providing it doesn’t persist for too long and I get my chance to preen and be the important one.  Oh dear, how childish, shallow and depressing. 

I can certainly detect, with no difficulty at all, the workings of the ego in my increasing sense of irritation during the course of such one-sided conversations.  If I had learned to quieten the voice of my ego, I’d be able to listen with complete tranquillity to what the other person had to say, without feeling the need to interrupt or upstage them.

But I have been puzzling over the sources of annoyance that don’t seem to fit that category.  Let me give you some examples.

My daughter takes part in a regular meeting of mothers and babies.   She sometimes takes her knitting along, to work on while they chat.  On one occasion, while she was making hot drinks for the mothers, one of them (uninvited) picked up her (my daughter’s, not her own) knitting and progressed it by several rows.  As her work included a lot of mistakes, my daughter had later to unpick the friend’s contribution to salvage the project.  On another occasion a lady observing my daughter knit took the opportunity to hold forth at some length about how much faster the work would have gone had she been doing the knitting – why, the needles would have fairly flown; she would have got along much quicker.  My daughter said nothing grumpy or rude to either lady, but she found both these interventions extremely irritating.

Second example.  Sometimes when I am at church, someone nearby – perhaps alongside or in the row behind – sings the hymns badly, sliding the notes, flattening out the syncopation, and singing so loudly as to send themselves off-key and be unable to correct it because their own volume is too great for them to hear their neighbours singing. This really annoys me.  Ruins the hymn.  I get cross.

Third example.  Years ago a friend of mine – let’s call her Joanne – had a friend who we’ll call Muriel.  Muriel invited Joanne to dinner two or three times over a period of about two months: then sent her a bill for her share of the food.  Muriel was learning to drive, and for practice needed to be accompanied by someone with a driving license.  She asked Joanne (who readily and kindly agreed) to do this for her, and the two of them spent a number of long afternoons touring the English countryside so Muriel could improve her skills as a driver.  After some weeks of this, she sent Joanne a bill for half the cost of the petrol (gas, US).  I think that behaviour is objectionable, offensive, inexcusable, and outrageous.

Now then, I do grasp that we each have our own point of view.  Even the paranoid schizophrenic’s point of view makes sense if we can look carefully enough into the whole scenario to understand their perspective (and history).  So I understand that to Muriel it seems reasonable and fair to send out those demands for payment, to my daughter’s friends it seems companionable and constructive to appropriate someone’s craft work or compare her prowess unfavourably to one’s own, and the singer in church is worshipping joyfully, doing what they’ve been taught to do – “Sing up!”

But I think they’re – objectively – wrong.   I don’t just think that I personally see it differently – in the same way that I like purple and my mother hates it – no; I think they’re wrong.   Furthermore, I can’t see how this view of mine is generated by an identical characteristic in myself; because I don’t sing loudly in church to upstage other people (most of the time!) and I wouldn’t dream of billing a dinner guest, and I would never start tinkering around with someone else’s work.  So . . . how can it always be the case that “what you react to in others is also in you (and sometimes only in you)”?

Here are some other things Eckhart Tolle says, that I think shed some light on this dilemma:

“The pain-body’s unhappiness is always clearly out of proportion to the apparent cause.  In other words, it is an overreaction.  This is how it is recognized, although not usually by the sufferer, the person possessed.  Someone with a heavy pain-body easily finds reasons for being upset, angry, hurt, sad or fearful.”

Oh.  Okay.  So maybe the pain-body not the ego is the problem here?  Maybe the subjectivity lies in the degree of reaction – maybe a reasonably objective response to the loud off-key off-tempo singer in church would be minor disappointment at the spoilt hymn, rather than the homicidal rage that seizes me?

Maybe the balanced response to Muriel’s breath-taking nerve would be musing on the possible causes for her lack of social skills and maybe amusement at her inappropriateness – rather than the white-hot indignation and outrage that I feel even though I hardly know the woman and it all happened to someone else?

Eckhart Tolle also says this (I hope he’s pleased with the publicity here and not planning a copyright lawsuit!!):

“Nothing strengthens the ego more than being right.  Being right is the identification with a mental position – a perspective, and opinion, a judgement, a story.  For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.  Not only a person but also a situation can be made wrong through complaining and reactivity.”

Wisdom indeed.  But . . . this loops back round to my original perplexity; can one, then, never be actually right?  Is it only perspective that says my noisy neighbour has ruined the hymn?  Is it just as good if we all sing too loud to hold a true note or hear each other, off key and out of time?  Is it only a matter of opinion that the Vienna Boys’ Choir can do better?

Eckhart Tolle writes:

“Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment.  It is part of the is-ness of the Now.  You can’t argue with what is.  Well, you can, but if you do, you suffer.”

Again, wise.  Really wise.  I can take from that a really helpful way forward with managing my own response.  To notice it, accept it, permit it – “no fight, no blame” as the Tao says; just allow it to be.  Not stoke it or wrestle with it.  Just let it evaporate. 

And yet – still the question comes back – is my response purely subjective?  Is it only my problem?  Doesn’t it matter how people do things – if one adheres to the traditions of courtesy and learns the skills of singing in tune and in chorus?  Or perhaps it does matter, and objectivity is about seeing that it matters but not reacting disproportionately, caring but not going ballistic?  Determination and persistence, not rage.  Holding to a course without feeling the need to launch a blistering attack on those who want to take a different way.

Eckhart Tolle says:

“Listen to people’s stories, and you’ll find they could all be entitled ‘Why I Cannot Be At Peace Now.’  The ego doesn’t know that your only opportunity for being at peace isnow.

I guess that’s the nub of it.  It’s a straight trade, isn’t it?  Surrendering one’s peace in exchange for irritation, indignation, outrage.  Is it always a choice?  I’m tempted to say “no”, but I suspect in fact the answer is “yes”.  

So with the singer in church, I could hear the discordance, and still choose peace – choose not to get involved at a visceral level.  In theory, anyway.   But, is this choosing of peace always passivelyaccepting?  Or might choosing peace mean not getting irritated but next time sitting elsewhere in the church?   And the other situations?  How to quell the knee-jerk ‘How dare she? The nerve!!’?   I don’t know.
Eckhart Tolle writes:

“There are three ways in which the ego will treat the present moment: as a means to an end, as an obstacle, or as an enemy.”

That seems to apply helpfully.  So maybe in the church situation I might focus on what the other person came here to do (praise and worship God) rather than insisting on a perfection of musical performance.  Maybe after initially boggling at Muriel’s outrageousness I might begin to imagine how the world looks from her point of view, and learn to communicate successfully with her to achieve a better outcome (hypothetically, I mean; she wasn't my friend in the first place and I haven't seen her for decades).  Maybe I might muse on why people compare their knitting skills and want to eat off each other’s plates and meddle with each other’s handiwork – perhaps they are less ASD and more community-minded than I am?

I think if I did all these things, and engraved upon my heart all Eckhart Tolle’s advice, then without a shadow of doubt I would certainly be a better person.

Even so, that still doesn’t solve my original conundrum: what is the role and where is the place for objectivity?

Does it even exist?


365 366 Day 338 – Monday Dec 3rd  
(As in, this)

I loved this rosary – but though I like the idea of praying the rosary and I liked the rosary as an object, in fact when I pray I just talk to God.  And sometimes remember to listen.

 365 366 Day 337 – Saturday Dec 2nd  

Interesting book.  Interesting subject.