Sometimes you gotta blame the lettuce

Granted this isn’t exactly breaking news, but still, I’ve been known to go off on a bit of a rant on occasion (see “The Perfect Woman” post ), and it’s time for another round. To my defense, I do have some important news to report…or at least revisit. Here it is (drumroll) : some people simply don’t care (or want to)!

That’s right folks, and you can say you read it here, that way I get some credit.

Usually I, like many of you, walk around in a pink cloud of optimism and faith in human nature, with compassion flowing out of my heart like a river of honey. Yes, the temperament of a marshmallow I was born with got further softened by life experiences. I could make you reach for a Kleenex if I were to artfully present a list of all my losses, pains and life lessons, but I won’t go for that kind of cheap shot, even though I too could use a quickie of admiration and validation just about now.

So let’s keep it simple and humble. Like you, I have known pain, confusion and loss, I’ve made mistakes for which I have no excuse other than complacency and selfishness, and so these days I notice, I care and I try to do my best, for myself and for others. As for love, well, the only way is to always love more, and that’s what I do. Is there another option worth even considering?

Romantic marshmallow or not, I sincerely believe that most people do care, want to change, and that most struggles are genuine. I believe that people often have the best intentions and goals, yet are truly at a loss for what to do. I’ve been there many times, so how can it not be true for others? Besides, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose wisdom I so greatly admire, said: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” And so I even have sympathy for those who do the most terrible things, because I trust they’d choose differently if only they had access to other options. The fishermen, trainers and buyers in Taiji cove come to mind.

It’s no surprise therefore, that getting off my pink cloud of optimism at times feels not unlike having my head make contact with a concrete wall in a not-so-gentle manner. It’s painful and scary to face the fact that some people don’t really want to see other options, to receive love, help or anything else. They simply don’t care, nor have a real desire or interest in caring, in changing. You give them love, support, and everything they ask for, claim to need or wish for, and it makes no damn difference. In a professional context, you give people free sessions, go out of your way to accommodate longer discussions, and people still don’t take or use any of it, they still cancel on you and act irresponsibly, all the while crying about their desperate situations and begging for help.

The wise Thich Nhat Hanh also said: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.”

Well, please forgive me dear friend, but sometimes you just gotta blame the darn lettuce, especially when as you give it everything it could possibly need (and more), it totally ignores you or else outright bites your hand off!

Now that I think about it, pink lenses of compassion aside and brutal honesty in place, those people I’ve come across who really didn’t care in spite of clever disguises that might suggest the contrary, all have something in common: their top two priorities in life by far are personal comfort and money. Everything else exists if it’s interesting or advantageous in the moment, if it takes the edge of some sense of shame (not guilt, because guilt requires empathy, as in genuine caring about others), fulfills some control or wellness fantasy, and doesn’t interfere too much with personal comfort or causes hardship when it comes to money.

My own dad, the good gods rest his soul, gave me much that I am very grateful for. But, for most of his life, even though he was literally down the hallway, he was unavailable and uninterested in relationships or family. And why? Because to be invested in any meaningful way interfered with his personal comfort and involved him spending money he didn’t want to spend. He avoided shame (not guilt!) by being around, and on occasion derived some enjoyment out of our proximity. But the new car was his, the endless hours he spent pursuing his work were his, the moments of leisure were his. Sometimes he would come out of his cave and play family man. He would get attention, great meals, the pleasure of spending a few moments with a family someone else took care of, in a home someone else cleaned and decorated. He got to briefly participate in social gatherings someone else organized, and have fun in the company of friends someone else nurtured relationships with. He even got credit for many of the things he wasn’t contributing to because he knew how to be charming, funny and very caring when in the mood. And when the entertainment was done with, back to the cave he went.

Now that’s quite a life, is it not? All pleasure, no pain. But that’s not accurate. Dad lived a lonely, unwitnessed life, and left this world alone, without having known the love of a real life partner, or the true meaning of family and friendship. Sad isn’t it? No wonder having witnessed this first hand I will go out of my way to prevent someone in my personal life or in a professional context from ending up anywhere near this same situation.

Ok, we can’t ignore pathology. There are those who don’t care, who are not interested in changing, are immune to love, support and so on because they are seriously ill. Expecting them to “snap out of it” is as ridiculous as expecting someone who is paralyzed to just stand up and start running.

But, that group aside, for the majority of people, options and opportunities exist, so it’s all a matter of personal choice. Those who care and want to live their lives with authenticity, who want to improve, change a bad situation for the better, change something within themselves and overcome limitations, will always find a way…and in some sort of timely manner. People in wheelchairs and dealing with every imaginable physical challenge out there, people who’ve been traumatized and hurt beyond imagining have and do some amazing things. To give you a more extreme example, if you haven’t heard of Nic Vujicic or watched one of his videos, you must….go see it now, I can wait:

It’s true that just as they say there are no shortcuts to any place worth going, dealing with significant challenges in life, or even with fantastic but complex positive prospects involves mustering up the courage to change, taking the risk to care, to invest, to learn, to face one’s worst fears and habits and go beyond them. It’s not easy in the easiest of circumstances, and sometimes it’s really, really tough. But there’s no way around it, and those who choose to will do what it takes. Those who don’t care will not, and will hold on to their precious priorities of personal comfort and money.

For the rest of us this means that when someone claims a genuine struggle, need or goal, they will struggle and even show significant resistance, but not indefinitely. Eventually, these people will use every personal and external resource to create something wonderful. If that doesn’t happen, we can take a diagnostic manual and start pulling out labels, but we need to also acknowledge the presence of selfishness and complacency. If every resource, opportunity and gift remains unused or is thrown away, we have to apologize to our wise monk and blame the lettuce.

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