Why Being Too Nice is Unspiritual, Deceptive, and a Hindrance to Others

When most people come into any particular religion or spiritual discipline, they tend to have a mental image and perception of what it means to be “spiritual.” For example, what comes to mind when you hear the term “spiritual?” What do you think of?

If you’re like most people, you picture a thin person wearing flowy clothes and a dreamy smile, perhaps sitting still in meditation or walking around saying “Namaste” and reeking of patchouli. They probably have long, messy hair, or locs, or a bald head, wear no make-up, and speak softly in quiet, measured tones. They utter long, confusing sentences filled with New Age jargon. And they never, ever – ever – get angry.

This is a fictitious character. A stereotype. Like any stereotype, there is some truth to it. You will find “spiritual” people who fit this image. But it’s dangerous to purposely adopt this stereotype in an attempt to be “holy.” Why?

Because spirituality does not have a uniform. And there is nothing noble about being “nice.” When I use the term nice here, I am NOT referring to being a good and decent human being. You don’t even have to be “spiritual” to be a good and decent human being. What I’m referring to is the stereotype of “nice” that many “spiritual” people aspire to.

There is also nothing good about never getting angry. If injustice doesn’t make you angry, you are not spiritual. By angry, I do not mean screaming, cursing, or hitting. That is an undisciplined, out-of-control fear-response to the emotion of anger. Anger is a visceral response to something we don’t want to be happening. The anger itself is neither good nor bad. Like any emotion, it is just information. The anger is informing us that something is wrong, according to our own value system.

For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was angry about racism, bigotry, and segregation. He saw the grave injustice of racism, and he knew it was wrong. Everyone knew it was wrong, but the power structure benefited from this unjust system.  King did not look upon racism and simply tell people they should “think positively.”  He did not say things like “Racism isn’t a part of my reality. I live in love.” No, he saw an injustice and, while LIVING in love, he absolutely used his anger to motivate himself and thousands of others to DO something about it. The Bible does NOT say “Anger is a sin.” It says “Be angry and sin NOT.”

When so-called spiritual people adopt the stereotype, and pretend to feel nothing other than love and joy, they do themselves and others a grave disservice. Not only do they practice deception (and, more importantly, self-deception), they render themselves unfit to help people who may genuinely be suffering. People who are suffering need authenticity from the people trying to help them. I can’t count how many times I’ve either experienced or seen someone try to share something painful in their lives, only to be turned away and rejected by some spiritual person who can’t sully their pristine ears with anything “negative.” The uncomfortable expression on their “spiritual” face, along with their quick exit, informs the hurting person that they cannot be helped, and that no one really cares.

The result is fake people with fake smiles, hiding their true feelings from one another. It leads to inauthentic communication, lying, secret or double-lives, and self-deception. It causes people to downplay their real problems because they don’t want to be rejected by all the “positive” people around them.  Instead of being of real service to hurting people who need spiritual help, the “spiritual, too-nice” person can only spout pious platitudes, and hide from any reality that bums them out.

This inauthentic behavior often backfires, leaving the “too nice” person vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous people who understand the deceptive game they are playing, but know how to play the game better.

Narcissists, sociopaths, con-artists, etc. prey on the “too nice” folks. These predators understand that the Too Nicers are just fearful people who care more about what other people think than about their own authentic experience. The predators understand that the Too Nicers get an ego boost from their “spiritual” personas. The Too Nicers talk a good game, but their lives, attitudes, emotions, and behavior do not reflect a deep knowledge of spiritual principles. The predators can then use a fake spiritual message to lure them in.

This is how many people get sucked into cults, predatory religions, and even abusive personal relationships. The “spiritual” victim falls for the superficial words of the con artist – because both of them are playing a similar deceptive game! The predator makes the “too nice” victim feel “more spiritual,” by appealing to their ego, making them feel elevated and special, separate from the rest of the negative world. Two fake facades interact, but only the predator is aware of what’s really going on. The Too Nicer ends up being exploited, abused and discarded. Sadly, in abusive relationships, some Too Nicers even conclude that God Himself WANTS them to suffer!  It’s their “cross to bear.” Suffering, then, gets elevated to the status of spiritual practice, rather than the red flag that it really is.

If you find yourself feeling superior to others because you are just “sooo nice” and other people are not, it’s time to rethink that. Whenever you can be nice and authentic at the same time, you are doing great! Wonderful! But there will always be times when, to do the right thing, you must stand your ground and oppose what someone wants to do – or what they want YOU to do.  They might not “like” you when you refuse. But, to say “yes” in that moment would be a violation of your own standards and boundaries, an act of self-abandonment and low self-worth. If you discover that someone is using or abusing you, and you go along with it just to “be nice,” you are co-responsible for the abuse. You are not to blame, but you are responsible.

The world does not need any more “nice” people. The world needs principled, strong, moral, disciplined, and courageous people who are willing to hold the world to a higher standard. Spirituality is reflected in the overall progress of our own lives. It is not a fictitious character that we play on Sunday.

In order to become spiritual, you do NOT have to:

  • Shave your head (or grow locs)
  • Wear flowing robes
  • Speak in a soft, affected voice
  • Allow people to abuse you
  • Get people to like you
  • Go along with what others want you to do
  • Eat any special diet
  • Avoid wearing shoes
  • Stop wearing make-up
  • Or pretend you don’t have the normal range of human emotions

And, it is PERFECTLY OKAY to:

  • Get angry
  • Cry
  • Feel bored sometimes
  • Not smile 24/7
  • Have occasional financial trouble
  • End a toxic or unfulfilling relationship
  • Not be skinny
  • Not do yoga
  • Laugh loudly
  • Be friends with those who are not “spiritual”

As long as you have a daily spiritual practice, and are seeing genuine progress in your own life from month to month and year to year, you are spiritual. Don’t pretend that you have no problems. Find safe people to talk to – people who will actually listen to you – people who will not slap you down with pithy sayings, or tell you to “stop being negative.”

If you get angry about something, that’s okay. Figure out why you’re feeling angry. Is it really just a bruised ego, or are you noticing a true injustice? If the anger is justified, learn to transmute the anger into effective action. Go ahead and sit in meditation, but then get up, and see if you can do something to help the situation.

All of our emotions – positive and negative – are valuable. They provide information. They allow us to participate in the full human experience. Our struggles teach us valuable lessons and make us stronger. If you try to share the burden on your heart with someone, and they blow you off with a condemning “Oh, wow, how did you manage to manifest THAT??” Ignore that person. There are many reasons why you may be experiencing a particular problem. Maybe you did “manifest” it through a series of negative thoughts and habits. Or maybe not. Maybe that experience is a blessing and a gift, which you will only understand in hindsight.

Real spirituality is not for the simple-minded. It is not a dress-up game or something to impress others. It is challenging, life-altering work, and it requires our full, honest, authentic participation. Being too nice is a way of hiding from that. It’s a coping mechanism that may have protected you from abusive adults as a child, or gotten you friends in school. But, now that you are an adult, you can choose to let go of coping mechanisms and step into a more authentic expression of YOU.

Peace and love,

Raven

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I Know What You Did Last Summer and Other Ways to Provoke Guilt

This week I finished reading I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. I also watched the pilot episode of Ozark on Netflix. Both stories had scenes which illustrate the psychological impact of guilt.

In Duncan’s novel, Julie receives a piece of mail. In the envelope is a letter which contains the title sentence: “I know what you did last summer.” In Ozark, Marty confronts his murderous drug boss’ accusations. Marty accuses him of “fishing” for information, which he later admits. Marty’s partner, Bruce, and his co-conspirators, however, start babbling, admitting to information only a guilty party would know.  Big mistake. But that’s guilt.

That one sentence – “I know what you did last summer – causes Julie and her friends to engage in behavior that confirms their guilt. In Ozark, the guilty parties confess their sins before their accuser even knows for certain there is anything to confess. In both situations, it was the “spotlight” that caused the discomfort and led to the mistakes in behavior.

What I am calling “the spotlight” is a metaphor for guilt. In normal, non-narcissistic, non-sociopathic people, something changes inside of us when we do something wrong. Because we have violated our own ethical standards, or done something that we know will hurt someone else, or engaged in activity that is illegal or immoral, an inner spotlight flips on and shines down on the activity. It continues to shine, even while we’re doing and thinking about other things. That continuous spotlight reminds us that our behavior is incompatible with what we know is right. That’s why, when someone questions us about the bad behavior, our bodies and minds betray us. Lie detectors are designed to pick up on this. The mismatch between our beliefs and our actions causes a physical reaction that can be detected electronically.

But the lie detector is not necessary.  The spotlight tricks us into believing that everyone can see what we’ve done. When someone comes too close to discovering the truth, we think the spotlight is growing bigger and brighter. That’s why people confess. The hot brightness of the spotlight is too uncomfortable, too relentless. The weight of the guilty conscience becomes so heavy that confessing the misdeed, and accepting the consequences, seems less painful.

And getting rid of the guilt is a good thing. We should never wallow in guilt. Guilt, by itself, is not helpful. Nevertheless, the ability to feel guilt separates normal human beings from narcissists and sociopaths. The fact that narcissists and sociopaths exist is one of the reasons why lie detectors cannot be totally trusted. Some people don’t have spotlights. Either they are born without one, or they’ve ignored them for so long that the light eventually goes out. In either case, if you can’t feel remorse, you also can’t bond with other humans.

Guilt is part of the survival package that allows us to live together peacefully in community. Guilt is not an end to itself. It’s just a normal human emotion. It is a signal that something is wrong. It is the pathway to remorse. It is an invitation to apologize, make restitution to the abused party, and eventually be forgiven and restored to the community. People who lack the ability to feel remorse can never be restored to the people they’ve harmed. They go from person to person wreaking havoc and leaving hurt, victimized people in their wake. Society needs to be protected from such people.

But if you have done something you know is wrong, remember that the spotlight is there to help you. It’s a signal that something is broken. It should inspire further action to rectify the situation.

However…if someone says “I already know what you did, you might as well confess,” they might be bluffing! Confess at your own risk!

 

Peace and love,

Raven

 

 

 

We Become That Which We Hate

“Like many Americans, I am very impassioned and distraught over the situation with children separated from their families at the border, but I went way too far. It was wrong and I should not have done it. I immediately regretted it and sincerely apologize to the family for what I said and any hurt my words have caused.”

–Peter Fonda

 

“I didn’t think it was possible but @iamfonda found a way to be as disgusting as his sister Jane was when she stood with the enemy in Vietnam.
Doesn’t get more vile than wishing for a young boy to be raped by pedophiles.
There’s a special place in hell… “

–Donald Trump, Jr.

 

Reading these two tweets, and observing the events of the past week, reminded me of an important spiritual lesson. We become that which we hate.

Peter Fonda, like most decent people, was distressed by our country’s callous response to the immigrant situation. The fact that children were being put in “camps” and separated from their parents – regardless of the legality or illegality of their parents’ actions – was abhorrent to most. Most of my friends were distressed to the point of distraction over this.

However, Peter Fonda went “too far,” with his revenge Tweet because he began to focus too much on what he hated – and not enough on what he wanted. Donald Trump Jr.’s response was just as silly. Jane Fonda’s activism in the 1970’s has nothing to do with anything. Trump II used the remark against his half-brother as a means to advertise for anti-liberal sentiment. He even repeated the vile remark, giving it more energy and exposure.

Trump Jr.’s focus on revenge also motivated him to distort the truth: “Doesn’t get more vile than wishing for a young boy to be raped by pedophiles.” Um, it does get more vile – actually leaving small children in the hands of alleged pedophiles. That is definitely more vile.

But, this is the distorted thinking that comes from anger and revenge. Instead of dealing with facts and solutions, our leaders sound like elementary school students: “You started it!” “I know you are, but what am I!” “Who cares? I don’t. Do you?” “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” What’s next? “Yo mama?”  We should be able to expect better from grown-up people in positions of influence.

When we react with passionate hatred toward that which we despise, not only do we not help the situation. We come to resemble that very thing. Just like two people who love each other passionately will eventually become more and more similar, people who hate each other will eventually engage in remarkably similar behavior.

If you hate someone or something, don’t focus on the hate. Focus on what you want to experience. It’s okay to speak out against immoral situations. It’s okay to avoid toxic people and the drama they create. Noticing what we don’t like, or don’t want, is the beginning. It sparks anger, which motivates us to come out of our comfort zones and do something. But, the next step is to put all our efforts into creating what we do want.

This also applies to interpersonal relationships. If you are in a toxic relationship of any kind – romantic, family, workplace – focusing on how much you hate a particular person will slowly turn you into that person. Anger is good for motivation. Anger helps you realize you can’t tolerate a situation any longer. It gives you the energy to change the situation, or get out of it.

But, once that decision has been made, and a plan is put in place, the focus has to change. The focus has to shift toward who and what you are becoming. If you continue to focus on the person or situation you hate, that emotional energy will eventually attract that type of person or situation back into your life again.

As Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith often says, “the Universe doesn’t deliver what you do or don’t like. It delivers what you are interested in.” Try to become interested in who and what you are becoming, not the people and situations you’ve left behind. They are not invited to come with you on your new journey.

The new journey will require you to shed old, bad habits formed during the past. The intolerable situation, or person, caused you to adopt coping mechanisms that will no longer serve you. Let go of any thought pattern or habit that doesn’t match the new experience you want to have.

And if you are still stuck in a situation or with a person you can’t stand, don’t wait for things to change. Begin to heal yourself now. From a healed mental state, you can work within the current situation to effect change, or figure a way out.

If you are in a toxic relationship, for example, don’t wait until you’re out of it to heal your mind. Begin to take care of yourself now. Your improved mental and emotional condition will bring things to a head sooner. Before you know it, something will happen that will provide a way out. Lasting change occurs from the inside out. We change inside first, then our circumstances change.

So, when an unthinkable, hated problem presents itself, here’s the plan: Notice the problem. Let the anger generate the energy to move you to action. Allow the anger to fall away like scaffolding. Focus exclusively on what you are trying to create. Forget about the people who harmed you. Leave them to stew in their toxicity.

That toxic situation has become no longer good enough for you!

Whenever we want to punch a racist in the face, or feed the son of a wanna-be dictator to pedophiles, we need to check ourselves. We need to step back and follow the path of peace: Anger to Action to Attitude Adjustment to Alignment with the All-Good.

Much love to all my Peaceful Warriors out there! And, as always, happy writing!

 

Raven

The Shape of Water – a Critique of its Love Story and “Representation”

*spoilers*

I read an interesting article about The Shape of Water the other day. The article 18_05_05_The_Shape_of_Watercelebrates the idea of “queering” in the movie – non-traditional love between “queer” bodies – in this case a mute woman and a “monster.”  The author, Stephanie Monteith, seemed to love the movie as a discussion of the monster as “other,” as a way for us to examine our own humanity through the idea of the monster.

I like Stephanie’s point, but I didn’t really like the movie. It didn’t work for me because I thought the theme was too blatant and simplistic. It felt like Oppression Olympics. The movie had pure, uncomplicatedly good characters: a mute woman, her black female friend, and her gay best friend, all struggling on the brink of abject poverty to save the sweet, loving monster from the horrible, uncomplicatedly bad rich white man who practices unflinching bigotry and cruelty.

I think humans (and monsters) are more complicated and faceted than that, so I tend to get bored with statement pieces that have angel and devil-people functioning as stand-ins for a discussion about social justice. I have no problem with movies that discuss themes of social justice, as long as the story and characters ring true.

The exception, for me, are morality tales, which I love. These stories tend to have very simple plots, and a main character who struggles with his own contradictions. In these stories, the main character is usually the only complicated character, and the plot may or may not be plausible, but the moral struggle rings true. The movie A Simple Plan is my favorite morality tale. I think Fatal Attraction and The Firm (the movie, not the book)  also fall under that category.

The Shape of Water appears to be using the love story to make a statement. But, the love story didn’t quite work for me either. I believe the notion of pure unselfish love would have been more powerfully advanced if the woman and the creature had not had sex, at least not until she had been transformed into a sea creature.

The Inter-species sex introduces a strange element that takes away from the idea of love being selfless and sacrificial. Picture Rise of the Planet of the Apes where Will fought for the life of “Serena” instead of Caesar, and they made love in a tree. Will’s love for Caesar was no less poignant without the “love story,” and Elisa’s love for the Amphibian Man would have been no less touching without the sexual component.

Once Elisa dies and comes back as Amphibian Lady – since their true love had already been firmly established – sex makes sense at that point. Before that, you wonder (well, I wonder) if she was simply horny and desperate. She was a daily, vigorous masturbator, after all.

Having Elisa and the Amphibian Man consummate their relationship in the water – as equals – would have been a lot more beautiful and romantic in my opinion.

So, while I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the more obvious “messages” in The Shape of Water, and while I found the inter-species sex a little creepy and unnecessary, I love it when something unusual gets top honors. I hope the success of the movie will inspire the industry to continue thinking outside the box.

Incidentally, I believe that no group can claim true equality until the individuals in that group are looked at realistically – not all good, not all bad. Not villains. Not angels. Not comic reliefs. Not magical saviors. Not innocent victims who need rescuing. Not sexualized. Not asexual. Not serving merely as support props for the mainstream (white) character. And not as quirky side-kicks who appear when needed, and conveniently disappear when not. Three dimensional characters, just like real people, hold multiple and contradictory characteristics at once. There are no saint groups and no sinner groups.

We’re getting there, but I believe we still have a ways to go.

Peace and love,

Raven

 

 

 

 

Marriage as Portrayed in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda, a Victorian novel I am currently reading, is one that was considered controversial in its day due to its sympathetic portrayal of the Jews.  Set in England, the novel’s events are described chiefly from the perspective of the upper class white Gentile community. I’m too early in the book to have experienced any of the material regarding Judaism, but I think its depiction of marriage as the end of freedom for women is still, in some ways, controversial.

The stereotype persists that men view marriage as the end of freedom, while women crave the institution the way thirsty desert wanderers crave a cold glass of water. The latest spike in reality shows featuring plural marriages – one husband and several wives – as well as the tireless Bachelor franchise, and the jokes that permeate most sitcoms seem to support this stereotype. I think the truth has always been more complicated.

The novel’s author, George Eliot, sums up her narcissistic, manipulative protagonist, Gwendolyn’s, view of men with the following statement (though she’s talking about gambling, not marriage): “she cared for the excitement of play, not the winnings” (p. 6). Gwendolyn loves the attention of being pursued. She callously enjoys the fact that she can break hearts. She has no real desire to be tied down, though she knows that it’s inevitable at some point.

The patriarchal and hierarchical society of the Victorian age put women in two unfortunate positions: they needed men for their economic survival, and they were expected to be the passive recipients of male desire. It makes marriage the ultimate goal for women – the way an interesting, lucrative job is the ultimate goal for men. However, it deprives women of the opportunity to go for it, as it were. They have to look pretty, wait, and hope to be chosen.

This understandably bred resentment in many women, which, of course, could not be openly expressed (not if they ever hoped to be chosen). So, as annoying as Gwendolyn is, her response is altogether reasonable, given her situation. And the reality, even today, is that marriage tends to be more work for women than it is for men. There are still many men who view marriage as the procurement of nursing care, maid services, and a personal chef – and in response the man brings home a paycheck. Hopefully.

So, while the stereotype of women being desperate to get married persists, it persists, I believe, out of habit and tradition, not out of a rational response to the status quo. Unmarried women tend to live longer than married women. Although most married women work outside the home, they still do most of the childcare and housework. Perhaps, like Gwendolyn, it is the “play” that we really like – the attention, the romance and the drama of a wedding, for example – not the “winnings” – a man who sits on the couch waiting to be fed.

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not knocking marriage. It’s wonderful with the right person. It’s a chance to grow and mature as a human being. Through the power of synergy, two people can do more together than either one alone. The legal commitment brings a certain sobriety and sense of family to the couple, which can be quite rewarding. But marriage for marriage’s sake is no bargain. As Gwendolyn says “…what is the use of my being charming, if it is to end in my being dull and not minding anything? Is that what marriage always comes to?” (p. 23).

That is not what marriage always comes to, but, if we don’t question society’s narratives and group-think, we can naturally fall into some pretty unhealthy patterns. In 2018 we can surely do better than that.

Peace and love,

Raven

Stephen King, Owen King, and #MeToo

“That instinct, to doubt what women say, it’s always there. To find some reason not to take their word. Men do it…but we do, too. I do it.” P. 439 of  Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties.

I’m on page 495 (of 700) of the above captioned book. This quote struck me for many reasons. But, it touches on the spirit of what’s happening in response to the #metoo movement. The problem of sexism and abuse is not the fault of a specific man or group of men. The problem is not strictly even about men. The problem is the culture as a whole. This is a culture which treats women’s words as suspect or frivolous, and men’s words as authoritative and important. Even if the man is lying. Even if the man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even if he is not credible. He is given a kind of “benefit of the doubt” (also called privilege) that women, by contrast, have to work long and hard for, if it’s ever given at all.

In the novel Sleeping Beauties, the women are disappearing. (There are no real spoilers here, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, skip ahead to the next paragraph). They are falling asleep and not waking up. They are not dead, but they are no longer around. Without them, the tiny town in which the story takes place is falling apart. The problem is global. Chaos is reigning all over the world. Women are trying hopelessly to stay awake. Men are trying to live in a world without women. Some men react with sadness; others take to violence. But, throughout the story, the authors comment subtly on the state of male/female relationships.

I don’t know how the novel is going to end, but I can confidently assert my opinion in real life: men and women need each other. We complement each other. Women’s words, their feelings, their experiences, are just as important as men’s. There is nothing we can’t do, if given a fair chance. For tasks where physical strength is necessary, we rely on men on to help, but it is not a requirement. Humans are always creating ways to do things that are physically impossible without mechanized assistance. Men can nurture children and care for elderly parents, just as women stereotypically do. There is wisdom, however, in the division of labor.

This division of labor does not always line up according to gender. Some men are better with children than some women. Some women are much more rational and are better leaders than men. There are gender tendencies, but we are not locked into those. Those difference merely let us know that we need each other. Tasks should be divvied up according to talent and interest, not genitalia.

As we embrace both sides of our natures, we become more mentally balanced, confident, and whole. As a woman, I have some stereotypically female traits: I love babies, I am interested in relationships, I love to make my environment beautiful, and I prioritize people over money and things. On the other hand, I rarely cry, I hate to shop, I’m highly rational, and I’m task-oriented more than social. A man who would balance me out would probably have opposite or complementary traits. Polarity causes attraction, and nature is always seeking a balance.

So, with all the noise and sad news out there, let’s not buy into the idea that we are enemies. Some men do hate women; and some women hate men. But the truth is: we need each other. Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. Listening to women, and taking care of our little girls, is about preserving our human societies. We cannot thrive in a world where women are regularly abused while gaining educations, earning livings, or simply walking down the street.

Men can help protect our societies by protecting the women. Women can express gratitude, acknowledging the good men in our lives who do this automatically. Women can help themselves by refusing to buy into the cultural idea that our thoughts are less relevant than men’s. Discrimination often leads to self-hatred and insecurity. We can’t let this happen. Keep speaking up, ladies! Even when it’s hard. Even when people don’t listen at first. We need our women. And we need our men.

United, we are a human family. Divided, we are each other’s worse nightmares. We get to choose.

 

Peace and love,

Raven