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3 Steps Up Beyond Generalizations

Suffering is pervasive in people from all walks of life throughout this world. While we cannot rescue anyone, there is much we can do to ease the suffering of ourselves and others. One of the deepest causes of suffering is the views we cling to. A powerful way to break the hold of the subconscious assertions we have is to consciously look at the world from different perspectives.

This can be challenging and disturbing, as it often forces us to see the labels others have placed on us simply because of the body we wear. In articles and books, generalizations abound (even in this one!). If they don’t apply to us, they don’t even register. However, when a generalization addresses a label we hold in a negative way, we feel defensive and quickly forget any generalization is one person’s view of reality. The anger rises and we enter into a field of denial, invalidating what others have experienced and we miss the opportunity to develop compassion and understanding.

There is another choice. We can continue to grow each day by taking three steps up.

Cultivate Inner Quiet

When your blood boils and you feel outrage at a generalization, stop for a moment and cultivate inner quiet. Notice the discomfort you feel. Is there a pattern? Have you felt it before? What is underneath the discomfort? Are you expecting others to act in a certain way? What are you defending? What can you learn from this situation? Is there any truth in it at all? Can you see the generalization from the point of view of the one who stated it? Do you understand where they are in their pain? Can you cultivate any compassion for them or for those in that situation or for yourself? Once you’ve reviewed these questions and you feel calm, act with integrity and loving-kindness to implement what you have learned about yourself.

Respect Yourself

In a world where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, it can be challenging to develop self-respect. When faced with a generalization that does not match our view, we easily become defensive and angry. If it has even the slightest ting of truth, we can become guilt-ridden. We are conditioned to think we need to measure up to some outside standard, and even if we do, we cannot admit it because then we are being conceited. To compensate, we try to demand respect from others. Instead throw out the measuring stick and all the conditioned responses when looking at generalizations. Recognize our mutual interdependence. When you know beyond a shadow of doubt that what you do impacts everyone else, you will see yourself every time you see another person, no matter their shape or gender or presentation. Pay attention to when you try to shrink yourself, and also pay attention when you take up more space than you need – this applies physically, mentally, and energetically. Cultivate respect by caring about what you do to yourself and others. When you treat yourself well, you will no longer feel threatened and you’ll be able to treat others well.

Stop Clinging to Views

The world is not fixed. We and all that exists are impermanent. Our ego wants to believe we have a separate self, and we cling to this sense of identity. We cling by defining ourselves and others through a limited lens. This is the cause of all suffering. If we can stop clinging to our precious views, we open to the endless joy and exquisite dance of reality. While teachers can point the way to freedom, no one can force anyone to let go of their clinging. We can post articles that challenge how people see themselves. We can explain how seemingly innocuous behaviors are harmful and we can recommend changing those behaviors. We can encourage others to read books and articles by people who have had a vastly different life experience than us. If you have consciously or unconsciously restricted your entertainment list to one gender or ethnicity, open yourself to other authors and shows. The wonderful mystery of perception is we all see life differently. To have the privilege to be able to learn from one another is a precious gift that expands our awareness beyond our limited view of self.

While we can work only on ourselves, we live in a society where we can share information and ideas. In the society that has developed, over the course of many power struggles, we each have our own experience of life. In general, we can note being a straight white man removes some of the pressures non-men, gay men, and people of color experience. Being a white man also comes with its own pressures that others do not experience. To deny this is foolish. That being said, being a white woman has given me access to places men could not go. To deny this would also be foolish. To feel guilty about any of this is equally foolish. But by being conscious of it, I can seek out and make room for the perceptions of others, which results in the expansion of my experience of this wondrous world. From that spaciousness, powerful conversations can develop, allowing all who participate to evolve.

If you react to the word privilege, to the assertion that in many situations wearing one body gives you an advantage over wearing a different body, you have not explored enough through the eyes of others. If you wish to evolve past your current perceptions, set aside your ego and invite your childlike curiosity to explore this magnificent world in which we live. And if you notice an injustice, don’t fall into guilt and blame. If you become triggered by another person’s view, don’t drown in anger. Instead take three steps up: cultivate inner quiet, respect yourself, and let go of your views. Then you’ll be able to see beyond the generalizations of this world and act with compassion and loving-kindness.


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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness


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