"But it was important to remember that, before the new freedom, there was repression, and that this, in turn, came from a sense of fragility in a new country, in a place that did not feel itself fully formed, a place that feared the outside world and remained suspicious of any image which was not familiar.…the urge to riot in a theatre to stop actors being heard, the urge to ban books, the urge to threaten to cut subsidy are almost built into our nature, they lurk always in the shadows, especially in societies where there are divisions and pressures and fears or sudden and uneasy change, but maybe they lurk everywhere……the need to resist these urges, urges that can be both shadowy and substantial, both threatening and pressing, which weaken and poison the richness and potential of our lives, requires single-mindedness, vigilance, cunning, knowledge that the enemy is within as well as without, an absolute belief in the idea of the glittering mind and the power of the shifting and uncertain image, and a belief in the challenge of the word and the often awkward presence of the new. The doctrine that these things are fundamental to us, to our way of living in the world, to our humanity, means then that we must work, using examples from the past, toward the right for others, as well as ourselves, to be let alone to imagine, to write, to read, to share, and to be heard.”
- Colm Tóibín on the history on censorship in ireland & the censor in each of us
"So people adjusted and they bowed, they ingratiated themselves, they had to live. Quietly, they cursed away behind the backs of the Japanese. But in the face of the Japanese, you submit, you appear docile, you’re obedient and you try to be ingratiating. I understood how power operated on people…so it was my first lesson on power and government and system and how humans reacted."
- Lee Kwan Yew on the Japanese occupation of Singapore in WWII
"The indefinite continuance of the subjugation of one race over another is only possible where the subject race is inherently, both mentally and physically, inferior. "
- LKY (1950)
"Oppression sometimes benefits its victims more than its perpetrators. While those who are ravaging their neighbors’ lives exhaust their energy on that destruction, those whose lives are being shattered must expend their vigor on solutions—some of which can be exquisite. Hatred drove my family to the United States and its previously unimaginable freedoms."
- Andrew Solomon, on returning to Romania
How to Tell Someone That She Is Dying
“By the end of this particular appointment, the oncologist had done what modern physicians are supposed to do—he informed his patient of her treatment alternatives and he left the final choice up to her. But, in the process, he left the patient little choice but to accept one of these alternatives rather than to leave her cancer untreated. We can respect the urge to preserve life that caused this oncologist to plead with his patient to fight her cancer. But we should hope that, when physicians try to help terminally ill patients understand their illnesses and comprehend their treatment choices, they do not feel the need to scare their patients to death.”
I don’t know… though the article was written by a physician too, I feel for the oncologist as his genuine concern seems to resonate across to me, especially when he makes that emotional outburst that can come from nothing but sincere concern to make the patient realise the urgency of her situation. It’s also interesting that in my country, there’s less of this rejection of mainstream western medicine - and patients can be generally said to be more “obedient”; even with the strong mistrust of western medicine as opposed to traditional chinese medicine or other homeopathic care. Instead they accept, resign to the chemo, the radiotherapy but fervently seek other types of therapy on the side to mitigate the inevitable damage to their bodies caused by CT & RT
But here comes the million dollar question - why am I so bothered? Why did I feel so helpless and claustrophobic when faced by the onslaught of affections from Mon, Tues, Wed? Why am I so bothered by the false accusations and lies of Mon and Tues when I know that they are people that are just not worth my time? Let’s take these two issues separately.
A) Helplessness when being liked by someone I don’t like in return
1. Conflict between feminist principles and feminine wishes:
- A conflict that probably every woman within the last 50 years or so has faced. I want to pay for my own meals, yet I would want him to offer to pay at least. I want to make my own decisions, yet I want him to take the lead for us sometimes. I like him too, yet I feel that he must be the one who has to confess first. It’s quite a difficult territory to manoeuvre as a guy, I must say, as each girl has her individual set of expectations, and sometimes even she might not know until the moment comes. In relationships, it’s brought about irritation (guy is doing too much), disappointment (guy doing too little) mostly, and occasionally feeling charmed (guy doing just right). This conflict comes to a head for me when I guy I don’t like chases me - I think he likes me, but he’s the guy! Hurry up and confess so that I can say no! How can I say no when he hasn’t told me he likes me yet?
2. The two difficult bombs of ego and lack of esteem - which results in the tendency to polarise people
- I wouldn’t say it’s truly “self-esteem”, it’s deeper and darker than that, yet not as extreme as masochism… let’s just say “self-esteem” then. It’s that nagging voice inside of you that puts you down - the one that says “you’ll fail you’re exams”, or “how can someone even like you?” I wasn’t someone who grew up with innate confidence - I was an ugly child and only started looking half-decent and taking pride in my appearance recently, so somewhere inside I still have the insecurity about appearance that only an ungainly, androgynous child would, wishing always to be more beautiful, and an incredulity and wonder at the idea of anyone (of the opposite sex, even!) liking me.
- However, this is contrasted with the ego I’ve come to establish the past few years. As lots of people do when they’re in love, they surround the object of their affections with a halo and put them on a pedestal - that guy/girl is too perfect, unreachable, etc. But I also have a peculiar habit of considering the guys that I don’t like as …. the pits. Rock bottom. I am repulsed by them, I don’t want to have anything to do with them at all, thinking about them/ interacting with them will somehow drag me down along with them. They are not worth my time. I feel queasy and annoyed when there are rumours and our names get mentioned together - how could I be associated at all with that person? In a romantic way too? I sometimes sigh and wonder how come the worst guys - appearance, personality - end up liking me. And shudder at the thought. I want nothing to do with them. Even acknowledging that they like me is already going over the line in terms of fraternising with them. I should just act like their presence makes no dint on me at all - I emerge from their stormcloud unaffected, untouched, unmoved.
- I suppose, objectively, there are worse people out there compared to these rejected suitors. And other decent girls have dated them before, so they must be acceptable, to some degree. Why this irrational dislike then? Is this normal? Should I learn to see these people as equals? The problem is, once it comes to relationships, choosing people to date, attraction, all these things…. the advice from Buddhism kind of fades into the background and instead I’m misguided by girlish romantic notions, things I’ve learnt from novels and TV shows (date people in your league), and a whole other bunch of vague, conflicted ideals.
- I think this boils down to my tendency to categorise people into levels or “leagues”. Once I have a crush on someone, that person (usually, with a few exceptions) becomes “unattainable”. Once someone likes me and they are not my “league”, they are rock bottom. This is probably an exaggerated of how I see people in general as well, exaggerated because…. well, it’s matters of the heart, more intense - more polarised.
- Solution: Seeing everyone as equal is too idealistic and perhaps not the goal to attain right now (I obviously need more metta to do this). I think I will just catch myself when I mentally start slotting people into “above” or “below” me and just be like - hey, they’re neither better or worse than you - they’re just not your type.
3. My personality - a tendency not to bring up uncomfortable issues, to avoid immediate conflict or harm
As a result, I wait for their confession, yet feel frustrated that I cannot be in control as a modern feminist, yet snub myself “do you think you’re so popular that guys come flocking? Don’t kid yourself”. I try not to be affected by these people “lower” than me, try to distance myself away from them, yet find it hard to reject their presents for fear of hurting them. As a result of these conflicts ……. it’s a shit time.
B) Why am I so bothered by the false accusations and lies these people make? (tbc later)
P.S. One of the hardest things I’ve written about so far… especially when trying to be objective and trying not to result in just “bitching”. A lot of the issues and conflicts I mentioned rose up in me while I wrote, and I’m pretty sure a whole lot of others too but I just couldn’t be in the best frame of mind to grasp them. I feel like my judgement is quite clear most times but this, romantic love….I feel like a lot of values I don’t normally cherish come flooding in from god knows where and it’s quite frustrating that I can’t simply apply a wise principle to solve this.
Back to the group issue. I’ve turned someone down (let’s call him “Monday”) to join another group. Aside from the fact that the other group has more people that I’m friendlier with - here it goes - I dislike Monday, and here’s why.
He had a crush on me, way back in my first year, which made my uni social life quite hard to bear for the greater part of the year. He infiltrated our friendship group, and made the atmosphere awkward as most people were asking “why is he even here?”. I would dread asking myself that question, as I had a nagging feeling that I knew. He would always try to walk next to me, sit next to me and he had a habit of leaning very close - the more he talked, the closer he leant, I could smell his horrible body odour, the further I leant away. Every time our group got together, I would be frozen and taut, dreading the moment when he would come, come, come closer. Just….fuck. He would send me messages - when I didn’t reply (which was usually the case) - he would send a few more a few hours later, as if going on a determined monologue to see how many messages he could send before I would reply. I feared him, feared looking at my phone, constantly felt trapped and claustrophobic, and I hated how helpless I was, how I had to pretend to be nice yet distant. It’s funny really. He was quite a many years older than me, but he was emotionally (would it be too mean to say mentally too?) immature and would resort to childish stabs and temper tantrums on messaging when things didn’t go according to his grand plan of chasing me. This was probably how it was like for him, as objectively as I can see it now - he liked me because I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. He wanted me, but somehow even through his insensitive nature, he could sense my growing dislike and aversion of him under my thinly disguised passive-agressive veil. He wanted me, but couldn’t get me (which is probably why whenever he managed to find me alone and ‘attack’* he would have this ridiculous moping air about him. Back then it just made me dislike him more. Now I suppose I can see where that came from) and didn’t know how to deal with his feelings, so he just flung his longing at me, without expecting a reply. It was too much for me. After about 5-6 months of this shit, I finally asked him, on text. He finally told me, and his confession (“I like you because you remind me of my ex”, with a hasty “but better” at the end, haha. Only amusing part in this whole story) probably made him realise what he had to do was stay away from me. It didn’t end there - he left our friendship group immediately as it no longer served his purpose (ouch) - he spent a while getting his shit together - but basically the bulk of the nightmare was over. As a result, erased every connection I had to this person.
I’ve had other horrible experiences too…. again, in my first year, another guy, Tuesday, telling his friends that “he rejected me, she missed me too much so I had to meet her again”. Again, all lies, but it was just … mind-blowing. I didn’t know that people would resolve to these dirty tactics of… I don’t even know what… to manage their feelings, when I’d thought I had very so considerately turned him down when he was expecting it. I didn’t even know that people lied! Even medical students! It was one of my first tastes of reality and trust.
Again, another guy… Wednesday. Okay actually Wednesday’s not too horrible in terms of spite tactics. Let’s leave Wednesday for another day.
(*I’m really sorry about my vocab - I know it’s full of hatred and exaggerated but this recall is such a bad memory that I cannot evaluate objectively).
Today, Monday was back to his base tactics - “wow, did she not choose my group because she still has misgivings over what happened in year one? Is she that petty and immature that she still can’t get over it?” I was enraged when I heard that he said that. I felt like all the immaturity, all the horrible claustrophobia he inflicted on me, all the selfish decisions - it was suddenly my fault. They weren’t his faults, he had rewritten history - they were mine. He probably had no idea the extent of mental and emotional torture he inflicted on me that time. I would gladly never see him again. Except I’m unfortunate enough to be the same group as him this year. Now he knows that I still dislike him - which he thinks it due to pettiness and immaturity. I’m still fuming as I write this.
Usually our tutorial groups are random, and get sorted out for us every year. However, for our final year, we have to choose our own groups. And this is when things get complicated - people’s personal dislikes, prejudices and misgivings about other people, that have previously only been kept to themselves, come out and a dirty, backstabbing drama ensues. Basically most people I talk to have a list of people they can’t stand (myself included - I’m not a saint here!).
It’s quite disheartening, in a sense - when there is time, I try and expose myself to Buddhism and learn about forgiveness, tolerance and kindness. However, the more I am involved in school, the further and further away I feel like I’m slipping from the ideals I want to uphold. It’s ironic in a horrible way - we are going to be future doctors - supposed to care for others, and set an example for society by the way we live and treat others (this is how believe it should be, anyway). We should not only limit our compassion to patients; we have to extend it around us - to our peers and colleagues, our teachers, all sentient beings. Yet medical students are incredibly complicated and egotistical beings. I guess it can’t be helped - a lot of people have what it takes to be qualified for medical school because they have successful parents, a strong financial background, graced the top schools in my country and in the UK, US. You can’t emerge from this upbringing, top amongst your peers, and be simple and unassuming. In a culture that has competed in academics, networking, appearance, social standing since young - it’s ingrained in them. Even if they want to shake it out of their consciousness, of their mental habit - just like how a boy of a broken home witnesses his drunken father beating his mom and swears never to be that man and finds himself caught in the same vicious proclivity as an adult - it is extraordinarily difficult. Even with religious guidance - Buddhism, Christianity, whatever - I’ve witnessed people still wearing those dark glasses of prejudice.
But why am I judging other people? This blog is not for that, there are too many blogs out there devoted to all sorts of criticism of others. Okay, here’s my reflection.
Monks in Suits
'When ordinary people praise the Buddha, they do so only on the trivial and petty grounds of mere behavior.' The Buddha, Brahmajala Sutta, Digha Nikaya 1 In recent days there's been considerable di…
something which i was quite distraught and displeased over too when it happened. interesting read.
also, bhante mentions:
There are some things that the scriptures simply get wrong. The Suttas make no critique of slavery, for example, and yet for us this is one of the most heinous of all crimes […]
[…] This being so, it is unethical to cite scripture as a justification for doing harm. If eating meat is harmful and unnecessary, it remains so whatever the texts say. Our sacred texts are sacred, not because they determine what is right and wrong, but because they inform our choices and help us to do better.
The principle of harmlessness underlies the very fabric of the Dhamma, and if its application in this context is problematic, the principle itself is not in question. It simply means our scriptures are imperfect, and the practice of ethics is complex and messy. But we knew that already. It is not out of disrespect that we make our choice, but out of respect for the deeper principles of compassion and harmlessness.
Beautifully said :)
This is going to be quite a confused, rambling post, with remnants of teenagery bits. Just letting off some steam in this little confused cloud inside me :)
I realise that since I’ve entered uni, I’ve become a lot more aware of social standing and background. In my secondary school, everyone was pretty much the same. True, some were better off than others, but we all were unassuming and just took everything in stride. However, people in uni now profile people. When talking about someone new - it’s always - profession, secondary school, how rich, how successful their spouse is - all said in in one sentence. It’s gotten me to think that way too - and the terrible thing is it gets to me, and it’s wearing me down. Putting a list of wow things next to someone’s name makes me feel distant from them, it makes me look at them with a strange mixture of inferiority (myself in regards to them) and also scathing (their being cloaked in beauty and crowning achievements somehow make them less substantial as a person - perhaps my way of reconciling with my feeling of inferiority?) - and they kind of have to prove that they are actually human - before I start taking a liking to them.
Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie once said “Mitch, don’t show off for the people below you, they will only envy you. Don’t try to show off for the above you either. They will look down on you anyway. Only an open heart will allow you to float between all classes” (only from memory, wording not exact).
I like to think that I make active decisions to prevent myself from getting caught up - I choose not to buy branded products or products that look obviously branded. I choose not to update my technology (okay, this may not be completely true). I choose not to wear makeup daily.
Let’s talk about makeup. Apart from my sheer laziness, I feel that if one wears makeup every day, their beauty potential is sort of “maxed out” (i.e. that’s the most beautiful that face can be). Any lapse in makeup would be like an awful reveal - like ohhh that’s how she looks like in real life. Also, if it’s a special event like a formal dinner / party / etc, there wouldn’t be that extra difference if I’m wearing makeup, as I wear makeup all the time anyway. So through wearing no makeup, I want to convey that I’m comfortable just as I look now - this is my ‘baseline’, and also that I can look a lot better than this (potential), if I want to.
However, I’ve realised - all this “refraining” - am I simply aiming for a different type of superiority? I’m also climbing a ladder - not the social and material ladder that most people climb, but a ladder of hierachy that I’ve set standards for myself - the more superior you are on this ladder, the more educated, the more humble, the more frugal, the more simple you are. Do I scorn those below me - the ones that are not on this ladder at all, but the material ladder? Can one climb both ladders at once - the immaterial and the material? Is the successful one someone who can deal with the material world successfully and claim it but without caring on ounce for who’s who, who’s got what, how much have I got - and really only care about immaterial wealth?
I think I should be honest with myself here. Just like how when I was 13/14 I would scorn those who wore pretty dresses (I was always androgynous, and not fashionably so) and grew their hair long because I thought they were “frivolous and shallow”, this dislike partly stemmed from the fact that I was a growing girl, and I also desired to be pretty and liked by others but couldn’t do it as well as them - insecurity, inferiority. Now when I scorn those who are wealthy, influential, connected as “unholy” or “not truly wishing to go on this path to help people”- is it because some part of me feels inferior, and I also want to be as wealthy, influential and connected as them? I mean, it’s not the poor, badly connected, ugly individuals that have got a claim on sincerely wanting to help people, right? Even those brought up with a silver spoon, even those who got into medical school because their father was head of the department - they might also want to sincerely help people (do you sense my cynicism here?). And also, to be very honest - I’m not very poor. I’m not that dumb. I’m not that ugly. It’s just that what I have - it’s not enough to be called “rich”. “beautiful”. I’m at neither extreme - which is probably why I don’t get talked about a lot. A wry smile comes to me - now I am thinking, this is very middle path, very buddhist. It basically boils down to this. I am trying to not care so much for the material (which I do, this I must acknowledge to myself) and do so by shunning and scorning those who represent this to me. And delve for the immaterial qualities of life, which I am still trying to appreciate. But what’s with all this shunning and scorning? By rejecting and shutting out a whole lot of people and things this is a form of discrimination - what happened to the warmth and acceptance that Buddhism has been teaching me all along?