I’ve been considering lately some of my less charming qualities. Though there are many, the one bothering me at this moment is my enjoyment of schadenfreude. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that I have a proclivity toward it, having grown up watching the slapstick sarcasm of Archie Bunker and the Three Stooges for entertainment and having a mother who has always taken great pleasure in the misfortunes of others (especially the unhappiness she had a hand in creating). I am ashamed that people like Trump, his supporters and my mother elicit joy in me when they flub up and fail (especially on a public or grand scale) and a sadistic cruelty from me that I would rather believe I do not possess. I feel dirty and broken and tainted when I feel mirthful or even remotely smug watching mean people (especially those who have been mean to me or those who wish me ill) get what I see as their comeuppance, a taste of their own medicine so to speak. I feel positively exhilarated listening to the song, “Before he cheats” by Carrie Underwood even while I feel I shouldn’t be.
It isn’t that I act in any certain way or actually do anything (I’m not exactly slashing tires and smashing the headlights of those who have wronged me). Or that anyone else even knows I’m gloating and snickering to myself. Though I’m not above sharing memes with like-minded friends. It is enough that I know. And I am ashamed. I should be better than this. I should be more evolved, refined, enlightened. I should automatically veer toward and take the high road, strive toward and achieve a higher standard. Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that rot. I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to be good, be kind, be generous. Some of those things I simply am not. I suck at sharing. Some of those things are really hard for me. I suck at sharing. And some of those things I can achieve some of the time but not all of the time. And because of this, I feel bad about my flawed, not-good-enough self.
I’ve been noticing these tendencies recently, watching them in that very Zen way, from the distance of mind and thought and trying to take a step back, looking from a different angle, and considering ways I might learn how to navigate this predilection with a bit more grace, equanimity and kindness toward myself. Clearly, condemning, criticizing and castigating myself isn’t working. It only took me 55 years to realize that. Anyway… As with many things, I can see how I am attempting to rearrange, if not rectify old patterns in myself in the ways I parent my children. Watching Ruby make mistakes or missteps, not sharing with a sister or getting caught sneaking candy and then recoiling in shame, I am quick to intervene, to show kindness and empathy, to normalize the fact that everyone makes mistakes, that accidents happen, that sometimes you don’t want to share and that errors, blunders and disappointment are inherently part of being human. I had to laugh the last time I was giving her one of these motivational discourses when I realized I was literally and figuratively talking to myself. She’d actually physically turned away from me and had entered into her imaginary world, playing with her dolls, teacups and legos. But that’s ok, because it was all stuff we both needed to hear even if only one of us was actively listening.
There is the story attributed to the Cherokee. An elder explaining to a youngster that there is a fight taking place inside us. It is a terrible fight and it is between the two wolves who reside inside each of us. One is evil – anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The youngster listens and after thinking for a moment asks, “Which wolf will win?” And, as the story is often told, the old Cherokee simply replies, “The one you feed.”
It isn’t quite so elementary as that. And truth be told, that isn’t even the point of the story if anyone cared to read further. The point isn’t to get rid of one of the wolves. That isn’t how it works. It is about learning to live with, to navigate, to accept the fact that both wolves exist. The real lesson is that the fight is eternal, ongoing, inexorable. In modern parlance, the struggle is real. One cannot simply starve out that which is not convenient or that which proves difficult. I learned that the hard way. The reality is that both wolves do live in each of us. Shoving down, stuffing, hiding, punching back, ignoring the “bad” one only makes the shame worse, forcing the negativity to come out sideways, insidiously and passive-aggressively. The real task is in learning how to dispel the shame and fear of that second wolf enough for us to show it compassion and kindness. To learn to understand the pain behind the harshness of that second wolf. The real lesson is to accept that second wolf. Not as the “bad” wolf. But as simply another wolf. No judgment. Just acceptance and compassion. I have two wolves living inside me. We are all part of the same pack. We navigate life together, depend on one another’s strengths and help one another overcome that which is hard for any of us. A new kind of belonging? Belonging to self? I’ll have to think on that some more. Until then….