Friday, March 11, 2011

Self-Created Suffering and Respect

My philosophical musings aimed at supplementing the physical aspects of the martial arts.

In The Art of Happiness: A Handbook For Living Howard C. Cutler augments the Dali Lama's views on leading a happier life by his own observations and commentary from the perspective of a Western psychiatrist. On the subject of 'self-created suffering', the Dali Lama has this to say:
So I think that to a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation. For example, say that you find out that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back. If you react to this knowledge that someone is speaking badly of you, this negativity, with a feeling of hurt or anger, then you yourself destroy your own peace of mind. Your pain is your own personal creation. On the other hand, if you refrain from reacting in a negative way, let the slander pass by you as if it were a silent wind passing behind your ears, you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt, that feeling of agony. So, although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.
This is a very powerful message. It is also a very empowering message.

Change Your Reality, Change Your Life suggests to control what you can control and let go of the rest. The author includes in the list of things that you can control, your emotions, behaviour, circumstances, mind/thoughts/decisions; and the things you cannot control includes other people.

You can't control what other people say or do. You can control how you respond to what they say or do. Controlling how we respond is self control; a skill that does not come naturally for a lot of people and one that needs to be learnt.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a far wiser women then her Presidential husband, had this to say on the subject of self esteem:'No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.'

You can't control how other people regard you. You can control how you regard yourself, and how you regard others.

'I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful. If not, it can't be helped.' Frederick Peris.

Peris' quote reflects the Eastern philosophy of 'no expectations'. When our expectations are not met we often feel disappointed, angry, unhappy, frustrated, etc. Our expectations set the stage for our self-created suffering.

Recall from the previous blog the violent prisoner who wanted 'Pride. Dignity. Self-esteem.' and was prepared to 'kill every motherfucker in that cell block' in order to get it. He felt the officers were attempting to strip away his last shred of dignity and self-esteem by 'disrespecting him.'

The prisoner's self-esteem would appear to be dictated by how the officers treat or regard him. He's creating his own suffering be responding to something that is out of his control, the officer's feelings and actions. He's giving others permission to make himself feel inferior. He has expectations of other's that are not being met. The things that he can control appear to being driven by the things he cannot control. He is the living embodiment of self-created suffering.

Not taking offence to offensive remarks takes self-confidence and self-control. Not taking offence to offensive remarks made to ones close to you takes even more self-control. Adopting the Dali Lama's approach, they are only words. They only have meaning because we give them meaning. They are only offensive because we make them so. And, in any event, if someone is making offensive remarks about you or your close ones, how much value do you place on their opinion anyway.

With respect to respect (pun intended), we can only respect ourselves and respect others. What they do is up to them, but then we can try and manage how we respond to their actions.


  1. A wise martial arts instructor once gave me some excellent advice. I was complaining to him one day that a senior student was giving me incorrect technical advice. My instructor offered three words of advice which have stayed with me ever since: Listen. Agree. Ignore.

    The point is that I thought I only had the choice of responding in either a neutral or positive manner. In fact, there is a third option: be neutral. Listen. Agree (validate the opinion without needing to literally agree with the ideas presented). Ignore (don't take negativity with you).

    It has helped me a lot. I can't recall the instructor's name.... John Someone..... I think........

  2. a core buddhist concept--also taught by the Dali Lama--is to treat those who trigger your self-created suffering as your greatest teachers...

  3. Ashley - good God. You remember that. Best piece of career advice I received in connecting with dealing with inconsistent superiors.

    JC (not me of course) - that is definetly a thought provoking concept. Reflecting back on my life and the self-created suffering I've created, and the triggers for that self-created suffering, and the lessons I've learnt, sounds like sage advice to me.

  4. Such simple concepts, so difficult to do (at times)

    Great quotes and good post. I'm getting better at it, but I still get annoyed sometimes, then I get more annoyed that someone managed to 'get me'.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.