A Zen’s-Eye View: Slogan 33: Don’t bring things to a painful point

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We all have lots of faults, and it is easy to get caught up in dwelling on them. If we get entirely focused on our faults, we are like the beautiful teenager who looks into the mirror and sees only pimples on her cheeks. She completely misses the qualities of her appearance that make her extraordinarily beautiful.

It is also easy to see all the things that are wrong about everyone and everything else. A house can be perfectly clean, but if we see one spider web, we feel that the house is filthy. A woman can be an excellent mother but we see only the toys that are left in the rain.

We may delude ourselves by believing that we are doing somebody a favor or improving a situation by pointing out shortcomings, but focusing on people’s most vulnerable areas, their most painful points, can undermine their self-confidence, rob them of positive self-regard and inhibit their abilities to go forward into a more satisfying life. Likewise, focusing on our own faults can be equally discouraging.

The problem with this focus on the negative is that our critical attitude becomes so entrenched that we see only what is wrong in every person and situation; we become blind to what is good and to what can bring us joy. In other words, we become very grumpy people. Seeing the lifestyles of others with a critical mind may make us feel superior about what we experience in our own lives, but if our sense of well-being is dependent on seeing the inadequacies of others, we have to keep finding new targets for our faultfinding. We become dependent on our critical mind to shore ourselves up. This means that deep down we don’t trust ourselves, so we need to convince ourselves that our own lives are more fulfilling than the lives of others.

According to this slogan, instead of pouncing on people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, it is better to provide encouragement and support for their strengths. Excellent teachers and coaches know that encouragement produces superior learning and more accomplished performance than criticism. They know that pointing out what is excellent results in more excellence and that pointing out what is inadequate only produces more inadequacy. As teachers who are concerned with facilitating the development of character, knowledge and skills, it is more skillful to encourage positive qualities than it is to criticize what is negative. When we do this, we refrain from using others to enhance our own self-confidence and contribute to self-confidence in others.

Suggested practice: Notice the quality of faultfinding, which can take place on a light level or on a more going-for-the-jugular scale. When you find yourself caught in this pattern, notice your motivation. When you have difficulty with a person, can you see beyond their faults? Can you find a positive potential to build on, even if it seems small?

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.