Tuesday, December 26

This post is long, so I'll summarize what happened at the bus stop last night very briefly. A bunch of strangers were being relatively social for the mix and place, probably because a man with a Stephen Hawking-style voice box was very jolly and keeping the conversation going, and because it was Christmas and everyone felt like they're supposed to step outside their "I don't bother talking to strangers" bounds on Christmas.

Plus, it was bitterly cold, so we had something to talk about.

Eventually, a black man I took as long American came into the bus stop, greeted a black American man, joined in the conversation (whence comes my QotD, "Man, think about me! I'm not used to this! I'm from East Africa!" "I'm from East Chicago.") and after some silence diverted the conversation to his situation by leaning against the door and proclaiming, "I'm drunk."

The newcomer revealed that he was drunk, Somali, was born and raised and therefore felt he was Muslim (therefore not supposed to be drunk), had killed his parents, and wished he were Christian, "like you [all]." I forget his words, but he felt like we'd learned happy things, and that he'd learned to hate and do bad things. I couldn't tell if he felt like most of these messages that it was religious to do things he later felt were wrong came from his time in Somalia or his time here or both equally.

About killing his parents, maybe he was talking shit to sound scary, but maybe he'd gotten on the wrong side of a civil war and now hated the people who taught him whatever led him to that side of the war.

The black man he'd greeted (whom I think perhaps the Somali man didn't already know after all) tried to console him and tell him that God--Allah's--whoever's--light had been shining upon him and would continue to shine upon him here.

The Somali man interrupted him and said, "They say I'm not supposed to talk to you. Are you a Christian? I don't believe them. But they say I'm not supposed to talk to Christians!"

I felt like he had so little knowledge about the variety of Christians that what would be best would be to try to help guide him to the Muslims who felt more like he does.

Help him find the variety that exists in the religion of his raising.

Help him find the love he expects out of morality and the moral teachings he expects out of religion at the same time.

The black man across from me had already tried to do that, but he'd failed. I knew I couldn't speak any better words in a hurry, but I had a whole book that could.

I mean, I'd only seen one page of it, and look at what it says:

"Thus the [____] engages in blatant justification--he justifies his heinous act by convincing himself that this is God's will, when in reality, it is [his] own anger, vengeance, and shame that are driving his actions. Very often the [____] strongly believes that the death of the [________] is satisfactory or even pleasing to God. Assuming that the perpetrator is a devout and religious man, as a necessary prelude to the murder, the perpetrator had in effect projected his own human sentiments onto God, and therefore he was able to assume that what made sense to him, what shamed him and his family, and what vindicated him and his family were identical to what God wants. Rather than thinking of God as merciful, forgiving, and compassionate, he imagines God to be angry, enraged, and vengeful. This imagined view of God was possible only because this supposedly pious and devout man heedlessly projected his own emotions and attributed them onto God.

"Furthermore, if through lack of self-awareness people project themselves onto God and see God through an entirely idiosyncratic and subjective lens, they will in all probability not love God at all. Rather, they have fashioned a god in their own image and then fallen love with that image. In this case, God is exploited in an entirely narcissistic process, and the purported partnership with the Divine becomes the means for egotistical empowerment and arrogance."

Here I stood before a man whose entire close social circle was Muslim, but who thought that people who had Islam right taught that God was angry, enraged, and vengeful and that people who had Christianity right taught that God was merciful, forgiving, and compassionate.

I was carrying a book by a Muslim teaching that God was merciful, forgiving, and compassionate and teaching a clear explanation of exactly why this Somali man's teachers could seem "devout and religious" and yet have convinced themselves of things that he now knew were wrong.

I was carrying a book by the kind of person that this man seemed to want to be--and a Muslim one, at that, just like this man was raised!

What'd I do?


I thought, "My book! I just got this. It'll take me forever to get one again at a decent price, and I want to read it."

When I got home, I called my boyfriend to tell him about my regret that I didn't give him my book.

My boyfriend, though, has been feeling rather selfish himself lately and wants to get back into volunteer and giving work. "Whether it does much good or not, I just need that better-person place it puts me in to get going again." Or something like that.

While on the phone, I also realized that part of my "Mine! My book!" attitude comes from a psychological problem caused by conditioning. It also occurred to me that it can probably only be cured by the conditioning that hands-on experience will bring. After all, an experience is worth a million words when it comes to counteracting negative messages that a person has integrated into her/his worldview.

When I thought with a laugh, "Man, there's no way I could tell Mom that I held back from giving away the book she just gave me," I knew it wasn't just because she'd get her feelings hurt that I almost gave away something "from her." No...I knew she'd be disappointed in my actions because they'd deviate from everything she'd tried to raise me to believe: that my ability to do good in this world comes mostly from the fact that I'm better than most other people, and that this person was definitely one of the people that I'm better than. I deserve nice presents, and I shouldn't be giving them away to people who are "less capable" of doing something in the world with those presents.

And thinking about that, I realized that it wasn't just, "Mine!" or sentimental, "Mom gave me this!" that kept me from giving away my book last night.
It was, "I'm more educated and more curious about the world around me than him. This book is more likely to get read by 1 person in my hands than it is to get read by 1 person in his hands. And its ideas can't be shared unless they're read. So even though I want ideas like that to go to people like him, I'm not going to give him my book, because I don't trust him to make as much of a world improvement with it as I will make."

FOR PETE'S SAKE, what was I thinking? This guy was dealing with psychological issues that are addressed right in the book. I'm not.

How on earth can my education & curiosity hold a candle to direct life applicability?

What a moronic subconscious thought I let ruin my opportunity last night.

I realized how much more use he could have made of it than me--and regretted not giving the book away--when, after he left and another bystander was behind me waiting to get on the bus, said, "Brotha's got problems. Sheeyt. People tellin' him to do stuff, callin' it God..."

That comment made me realize that I'd been right about the book being relevant to him. I mean, if someone else of a rather different background (male, black, potentially a different economic class (guess based on the way he was dressed)) had my exact thought, I must have been onto something.

And I must have made a real stupid decision when I decided not to run with my intuition.

Anyway, as I said, a few hours later I dug into my conditioning and realized part of why I did something so stupid. (That idea that education & curiosity make me one of the "best possible readers" of a book with ideas in it that can improve lives.)

This is a big part of why I "give conditionally," as my boyfriend put it.

My boyfriend said, "We need to set aside some times, some afternoons. And we can't say, 'But I want to save my energy for our workout tonight!' Bullshit."

I think that going along with my boyfriend on ideas he comes up with--which, by luck of the draw, are not all going to appeal to me--will present me with times when I want to say, "But I want..." and he can shoot me a look that says, "Bullshit."

And then I'll do it, despite the conditions that I wanted to use to avoid it.

Then force of habit will get me used to being a more unconditional giver.* And that's exactly what I prayed for God to help me become more quickly on the airplane last night, since I felt like I've been wishing it would happen for a year and a half but failing to make it happen at a decent rate.

I suppose I should thank God for his extremely generous providence last night, Christmas night. He sent me an opportunity a mere hour after I prayed with it. I blew it. And then he sent me the words of a best friend saying, "I feel wise but selfish...will you come be foolishly generous with me?" I missed one opportunity and God sent me a promise of 5-10 more.

* An example of a relatively "unconditional giver" would be that priest or nun that you see (or at least read about in 1800's novels) just give even when they have really legitimate worries that they themselves might not make it through another day if they do.


antiprincess said...

aw - live and learn, darlin'.

and people at bus stops have a way of, well, being at bus stops. maybe if you are lucky you'll run across him again.

Katie said...

Thank you very much, Antiprincess.

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