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We want to change the world, influence others, and make a difference, but we should remember to think about why we love our enemies first. 

I have an aptitude for criticism.  This aspect of my day to day existence is partly due to the fact that I am a test prep teacher; I am constantly evaluating my students’ lifestyle choices and moment to moment experiences and offering recommendations to improve their performance on standardized tests.  While these critical skills are quite necessary, they cause some difficultly from time to time.

If you do not have this tendency, you are still aware of how challenging it is to be in an environment with a person who is constantly critiquing you, even if only in their mind.  Who wants to be judged by someone you do not know?  Who wants to see the disappointment in someone else’s eyes when they are trained on you?  Critical words have power; if you don’t have anything nice to say, better not to say it at all, right?

However, there will be times when you or I have to be critical.  There will be times when we’ll have to be strong and forceful and demanding and energetic.  There will be times when we will have to offer our advice, our recommendation, or our critique, because the change we see is needed is a change that needs to happen for the betterment of everyone in the world.

I would like it if you took a moment to contemplate something.  In your mind imagine a politician you don’t like.  Imagine talking to a receptive audience about this politician.  When you speak of this politician, you speak from your wisdom about all that is wrong with them.  Knowing that this politician is not good for this world, you say whatever it is you need to say to convince others not to like him/her.  This audience likes everything you have to say.  This audience encourages you to continue.  This audience nods its heads in agreement at every opportune moment.  You are encouraged to be critical, so you continue.

Now imagine that the politician you are speaking of is in the room.  Does that change what it is that you have to say?  In what way would it be different?  What if he/she came to a pizza party you were having?  What if he/she meditated with you?  What if this politician was related to you?

Now imagine someone that we are definitely not supposed to love:  Adolf Hitler.  What would you say to a room full of children about him?   Does that change if his relatives are in the room?  You know that you have to say that he was terrible, and it feels good because it was true.  However, imagine a kid asks you a question like, “If Hitler was such a bad person, how come he was the President?”  Imagine another kid said, “Adolf Hitler was a handsome man, and handsome people cannot be bad.”  Would those kids get in trouble?  Are those kids bad too?

Yet, it does not take Adolf Hitler to put us in the place where being critical and listing the negative qualities about a person is the ‘right’ and ‘easy’ thing to do for us to do.  It only takes Sarah Palin.  Or Barack Obama.  Or Newt Gingrich.  Or that artist we don’t like.  Or that waiter that was mean to us.  Or that odd girl who asked too many questions during meditation class.  Or the people that drink and drive, or don’t recycle.  Or corporations that make billions.  The list goes on and on. 

And we are placed in a room full of people who are listening to us and encouraging us and agreeing with us every moment of every day—we don’t need a microphone and a seated audience to feed off of the encouragement of the masses. 

Try a tougher contemplation.  Imagine a person that you are DEFINITELY NOT supposed to like—the kind of person that that makes you feel odd, gross, and wrong to say anything other than nasty things about.  If you feel like you are choking, or fearful, or disgusted in a raw, deeply rooted way, you have the right person.

Once you have this person in your mind, ask yourself what is good about this person.  Ask yourself what is positive, noteworthy, noble, and holy about this person?  Why are they likeable, charismatic, positive, and good?  What is awe inspiring about him/her?

After a few minutes of contemplating what is noteworthy and positive about that person, imagine actionable recommendations that you might give this person.  What kind of things could they do to better themselves and the world around them?  Does the color of your recommendations feel different from the criticisms that might have come without the above contemplation?

Even the most grotesque and disease encrusted trash heap has admirable qualities.  Though we might want to clean up the trash and get rid of the disease, it is helpful to us and the world if we first think about the positive qualities of those people and things we want to change the most. 

Compassionate contemplation is a requisite for responsible criticism and activism. 

The next time you are in a room full of people who are about to change the world, admire what is good about the world you are about to change.

_____

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Comments

Assumptions

Dear Anonymous,

Your comments are intelligent, and do point out some assumptions that I made in my post that I would like to address.

As for 'people you are not supposed to like' it was my thought that the media, our friends, our family, our sangha, our thoughts, and our actions bring up now and then reactive scenarios in which it becomes very hard to accept something as part of this world.  If there has ever been a moment in your life where someone has physically or psychologically harmed you, you will probably find that your first response is not one of love.  How about a person who has harmed someone you deeply care about?

As for my assumption that there are changes that are needed in the world, I think there are a few things that we can agree on in this community.  We could do without war.  We could do without poverty.  We could do without the causes and conditions that create suffering.  If you mindfully looked for the suffering in the your work place, I bet you could find more than one situation that could change to benefit everyone in your workplace.  Where there is suffering, there is something we can do to help relieve it. 

I think you and I agree on why I used Hitler as a starting point.  Though you may be inclined not to demonize him, you do mention the causes and conditions that created him, and my point still applies:  before talking about the evils of the causes and conditions that made Hitler, it would be helpful to think about what you admire about it.

But, in the end, it remains true that there are things in the world that it would benefit the world to lessen or do without.  Just because we first think about what is good about a person, scenario, or thing, does not mean we cannot find a way of relieving the suffering it causes. 

Robert Colpitts

Adolph Hitler

Hitler didn't do anything on his own. without the causes and conditions that created support for his ideas, he could have had all the charisma in the world but never attracted more than a few followers.
it's too easy to set Hitler up as the big bad person we can all agree on. Hitler, as a person, had virtues. His delusions were massive and the actions they led to were horrendous. but I see more value in looking at the wider conditions that made that possible than in demonizing the man. then we can actually learn something
In Buddhist classes, there's always someone who trots out Hitler to question buddhanature. "see, bad man, no inherent goodness." proves nothing. he had it, he just didn't have access to it.

"people you're not supposed to like" ... who decides who I'm supposed to like? who determines that a particular change is needed in the world? and if you're going to impose that on everyone, aren't you being kind of hitler-ish?

"You know that you have to say that he was terrible, and it feels good because it was true." I disagree with both parts of this statement. You don't have to say he was terrible, and it doesn't feel good to say it. it feels easy and mindless.

criticism can have value if it comes from wisdom and is presented with compassion. I liked your last sentence.

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