A few weeks back, I was thinking about Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Budhhist monk whose writings my mother introduced me to some time in the early 90s. I had wanted to mention something about him here but had not had the chance. Nevertheless, I have just finished Amos Oz’s fascinating novel Black Box (which for reasons I have yet to explore reminds me of JM Coetzee’s Disgrace), recommended to me by my friend Joaquín. I read the following lines in the story:
A man minds his own private business as long as he has business and as long as he has privacy. In their absence, for fear of the emptiness of his life, he turns feverishly to other people’s business. To straighten them out. To chastise them. To enlighten every fool and crush every deviant. To bestow favors on others or to persecute them savagely. Between the altruistic zealot and the murderous zealot there is of course a difference of moral degree, but there is no difference in kind. Murderousness and self-sacrifice are simply two sides of the same coin. Domination and benevolence, agression and devotion, repression and self-repression, saving the souls of those who are different from you and annihilating them: these are not pairs of opposites but merely different expressions of man’s emptiness and worthlessness. “His insufficiency to himself,” in the phrase of Pascal (who was infected himself).
and was immediately reminded of what I had wanted to write in reference to Thich Nhat Hahn. Here is what I was thinking:
What I wanted to write was about how people join causes, go to political rallies and protests, make big proclamations about the inequities of the world. Maybe they should just shut up for a second, or as Dennis Leary recommends to solve their problems instead of going through some 12 steps program: they should simply “shut the f— up”. Well, I don’t think those would be the words used by Thich Nhat Hanh. According to Hanh, like Oz, people’s desires to join a cause and to change the world are not based on their altruism but based on their loniless and unhappiness. They take their negative energy and try to turn it to a cause. Thus, things like peace protests do not lead to peace, for those who protest are not really at peace with themselves. Hahn suggests that the only way towards a better world is for people to improve their own daily lives:
If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic type of peace work.
I wonder if the Bill Clintons, Jimmy Carters, George W. Bushes, ZPs, Hugo Chavez’ of the world (and everyone out there who has ever criticized them) would have done much better to make their own families happy before trying to save the rest of us. Imagine an unhappy couple who thinks that marriage will solve their relationship problems. The tree will whither because of the poisoned fruit. So, everytime I see another group on TV protesting something, or a read about someone’s solution to the world’s problem or their critique of some policy, I just wish they would go home, become a RastaFonero, and, instead of trying to save the world, to ask whether they are faithful to the ones around them, to themselves.
If not, well, I guess it is a free world, and they can do what I do: bore the hell out of the everyone with a blog that no one reads.