“You cannot train a horse with shouts
and expect it to obey a whisper.”
~ Dagobert D. Runes
Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.
They say that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But, some horses do drink. What makes the difference?
There’s a funny story about a boy scout returning to headquarters, his lip bleeding and his uniform in disarray. “What happened?” asked the scout master.
“I just helped an old lady cross the street,” the youngster replied.
“But what happened to you?”
“She didn’t want to go!”
If we could pinpoint one frustration that interferes with our personal evolution and enjoyment of a meaningful life it would be our insistence on trying to change others.
This reminds me of an Ashley Brilliant cartoon of many years ago: “The fact that I have accepted you as you are doesn’t mean that I’ve given up hope you might still change.” That’s funny but also true for many people who tacitly accept each other but secretly wish they would behave differently (and believe more like they do).
In the last post, I introduced the idea of “the awakening moment” and emphasized how suffering can only be relieved by examining the cause: the experience of illusory separation that produces conflict.
So, how can we accept our differences? It’s natural to provide guidance for children as they mature into being able to take responsibility for themselves, but how do we treat other adults? Do we assume that we know how they should be?
Of course, common sense tells us that we shouldn’t give a flame thrower to a pyromaniac! And some rules and regulations are essential. In this country, we agree to drive on the right side of the road. That’s not an imposition on personal freedom, it’s simply a necessary rule.
But what do we do when someone fails to follow the rules, especially when they hurt others? We punish them. Is that working?
Writing for Psychology Today, Michael Karson, Ph.D., says: “Punishment does not change the tendency to engage in the behavior that was punished. Instead, it makes the person want to avoid the source of punishment.” 1
He goes on to describe how a punished child will continue their errant behavior… they’ll just do it when their parents aren’t around. This breeds a false assumption that our actions don’t have consequences unless others are aware of them. A husband can cheat on his wife, an accountant can fudge the numbers, a government can mis-report war casualties, etc.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” may be a successful market term but it’s patently false. Everything we do creates consequences, whether anyone else knows about it or not.
If secrecy is an illusion and punishment doesn’t work, where does that leave us relative to positive change? After all, “personal improvement” has become a billion dollar industry. We want to change! Some horses do drink. Some people do change. What works this miracle? In a word, education.
I wrote about my experience in a 2008 terrorist attack. The murderers who attacked me and my friends had been trained, indoctrinated, educated in a hateful paradigm from early age, and then compelled to carry out their deadly mission. All but one was killed by the Indian SWAT teams. The lone survivor was executed years later. By then, he had come to his senses and expressed regret for his actions. He realized that he’d been manipulated by faceless puppet masters behind the scenes.
Since then, terrorist acts have exploded all over the world. Could we ever manage the courage to step back, examine this trend, and honestly address the failure of our response, which focuses on punishment?
So, what might one do about terrorists, then? Education. Until there’s an alternative to what is being taught, what choice does a person have? If there’s only one source of water… they will drink there.
If we pull our heads out of the sand for a few minutes and look at the world around us we can witness catastrophes of all kinds happening at an escalating rate. We can point to war, climate change, etc. but what is really happening?
The results of our choices are showing up and we seem to be nearing the experience of “instant karma,” which refers to the immediate awareness of repercussions arising from those choices.
If our choices are delusional, born out of the chronic condition of separation I wrote about in the last post, we will continue to take sides against each other and maintain the suffering that results. But we could make different choices. We could model something different.
Imagine, if we personally demonstrated appreciation for each other, differences and all, if we let go of our addiction to trying to change others… what might that affect in our immediate relationships? What education would that provide, especially if we made it obvious that this sort freedom from coercion is enjoyable!
Life is sending us powerful messages right now. If we’re getting them, then we’re awakening to a new world of personal responsibility. Whether others know our thoughts and deeds is less important than the fact that we know them. That’s motivation enough for any person of integrity.
As the old saying goes, “To thine own self be true.” Perhaps that’s the real answer to constructive change, to simply be true to oneself and respect that others will do the same.