And it is equally ridiculous and extreme when we declare:
"I don't care what people think!"
Not at all? Seriously? Humans are hard wired as social creatures.
(There's a reason Tom Hanks' character in "Castaway" had a relationship with a volleyball, after all.)
The opinion of the people I love and respect does, in fact, carry some weight. As it should.
The trick is always this:
I used to care so damn much about what people thought of me that today, when it is right-sized, it almost seems as though I don't care at all.
I do, but now I don't live-and-die by it.
That is a sweet and giddy freedom, that freedom from the "bondage of self."
Now I understand how warped my ego was that I thought anyone was thinking about me at all, really.
Balance. My first experience of it in sobriety (and thus probably my first experience of it ever) was that mysterious midpoint I would quickly pass through as I swung wildly back and forth from one extreme to the other.
Now, on the "oh god what are they thinking about me!" topic I am there often.
A lot even.
Not always, but pretty regularly.
How? A helluva lot of inventories, prayer, meditation, service and meetings.
We are addicted to our egotism, our likes and dislikes and prejudices, and depend upon them for our own sense of identity.
Compassion is not a popular virtue. Very often when I talk to religious people, and mention how important it is that compassion is the key, that it's the sine-qua-non of religion, people look kind of balked, and stubborn sometimes, as much to say, what's the point of having religion if you can't disapprove of other people?
In the past some of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians, such as Maimonides, Aquinas and Ibn Sina, made it clear that it was very difficult to speak about God, because when we confront the ultimate, we are at the end of what words and thoughts can do.
Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must do it and practice diligently day by day.
We have domesticated God's transcendence. We often learn about God at about the same time we are learning about Santa Claus; but our ideas about Santa Claus change, mature and become more nuanced, whereas our ideas of God can remain at a rather infantile level.
Special Bonus Quotes:
Compassion doesn't, of course, mean feeling sorry for people, or pity, which is how the word has become emasculated in a way.
I believe in holiness and sacredness in other people. It doesn't mean that the clouds part and I see God. That's a juvenile way of thinking about it.
I like silence; I'm a gregarious loner and without the solitude I lose my gregariousness.*
He came into the room just as I finished pouring my green tea. I'd been on a kick lately. It didn't have quite the oomph a cup of coffee packs, but I was enjoying the change in my morning beverage routine.
"Oh good. You're sitting down. Otherwise I'd have to tell you to sit down before I told you this." he announced.
"Let me check." I made a show of inspecting my chair. "Good to go. Shoot."
He lifted his chin and with no small amount of fanfare announced. "I called my sponsor yesterday. I am meeting with them tonight."
"Awesome!" I said. "Finally!" I thought.
"Yes, as you know..." he recapped the past month or so of difficulties. Some legitimately outside of his control, but much of it interwoven with alcoholic thinking. He was a couple of years sober and made it to one meeting a week. I did not volunteer my opinion on that front as A) he didn't ask, and B) he knew well enough what it was.
Recently, when we had been discussing our weekend plans, I had pointed out -- gently! -- how he was maybe denying himself a wonderful thing by not committing to a regular meeting on the weekends. At least one. Some of those early morning discussion meetings of a Saturday or Sunday are full of real humor, warm fellowship and truly useful ideas about AA in our everyday life. For me they remain an absolutely fantastic way to take my medicine and connect. In response to this passionate-yet-gentle suggestion I pretty much got the standard, "yeah, yeah, right" which I think we can all agree generally translates into "sounds good but I'm not gonna do it -- and are you done talking yet?".
As he wound down recapping his most recent frustrations I echoed my earlier positive reinforcement. "I'm glad for you that you made the call. I bet you anything your sponsor will have some great suggestions that..."
"Oh, wait. Suggestions?" He held up his hand in a mock Stop! gesture. "I'm not looking for any suggestions. I mean, I hope he doesn't suggest I do anything basic like... go to meetings, or be of service or anything!"
He was kidding, his tone and the glint in his eye made that clear. He is not above yanking my chain a little on all things 12 Step.
Two can play at that game, however.
"Hey! I have a great idea!" I announced, my hearty tone immediately putting him on his guard.
"What's that?" He squinted his eyes and tilted his head a little, both playacting and serious in his suspicious tone.
I picked up a piece of paper and tore a postage stamp sized piece out of it.
"Here." I said, handing him the tiny square. "To save you and your sponsor some time, why don't you make a list of all the things you're willing to do."
He looked at the tiny scrap between his fingers and burst out laughing. "Okay. Okay. Fair enough."
I bobbled my tea bag in my mug for a moment and took a satisfying sip. "I'm just sayin'" I said. "That's all. I'm just sayin'."
Sometimes when alcoholism kills the cause of death is obvious and loud and horrifying: Cars wrapped around trees, overdoses, chronic liver failure...
and sometimes when it kills it is quiet and crafty, working in dark and subtle ways, like a dry rot of the spirit; partnering with the most soul crushing manifestations of mental illness until the only choice left is the final one.
I used to be haunted by a chorus of negative voices in my head.
Who ya gonna call?
It's not that kind of haunting.
It took a while but I finally discovered a startling and important fact:
They're not really ghosts!
They're puppets! Masks! Ventrilloquists' dummies!
The person berating me in my head is not actually in my head!
(Well, obviously, you might say, but when I realized this it was a Big Realization Moment.)
Sometimes it's a memory but more often it's a fantasy. A phantasm.
A creation of my mind in my mind.
A life event happens -- sometimes an incredibly trivial one -- and my mind seizes on it, pulling out the puppets and dummies and lining them up, feeding them their lines in a now familiar and uncomfortably comfortable script:
Judging, mocking, undermining, questioning, doubting... all the best, most toxic "ings" imaginable.
At first I thought this was evidence of low self esteem.
And in one important degree I was right.
But ultimately I have come to see that it is really just a facet of my