Shining World

Can Politeness be Adharmic?

Dear James,

Many thanks to both you and Sundari for the Zoominar, and to you especially for giving this teaching right now. I have been continuing my daily Vedanta study and feel (from the jiva perspective) mostly on an even keel. However, some recent behaviour of mine (and my feelings about it) confirm that the study is not complete without the practice of dharma and karma yoga.

The short version of this email would be “I (jiva or Isvara, through me) did something I think was adharmic (though it seemed minor at the time) and I feel bad about the consequences.”

So my questions are about courtesy and politeness. As a woman (in maya), I have been socialised to be nice, polite, not ruffle any feathers, pour oil on troubled waters and all the rest, and it is a role I have often taken on willingly. I think that this is something that Hillary Clinton, and other women, may also be prey to, whatever one thinks about her authenticity.

James: I agree.  I actually admire and respect Hillary and think she would have done a very good job as President.  But, she had an opportunity during that debate to put Trump in his place and missed it, probably because of the politeness vasana. 

Can an adharmic action ever be redeemed? Regarding my “action”, I just didn’t feel wholehearted enough at the thought of doing the “right thing”, although I knew it would be appropriate.

James:  You’ve redeemed it now, simply by acknowledging the conflict.

But can politeness ever be adharmic (for example, what you were saying about Hillary not standing up to Trump in the debate, but taking the “high ground” and pretending to ignore his rude behaviour)? And can “impoliteness” be dharmic? How can you tell the difference?

James:  Yes.  Politeness can be an inappropriate response.  Hillary didn’t realize that Trump was a completely uncultured Barbarian.  He was intimidating her with  a threatening vibe.  And she was distracted, playing to the audience so she missed an opportunity to shame and dominate him in front of the nation.  He was counting on her to be polite. 

And yes, impoliteness can be an appropriate response.  Sometimes you need to break through it to get your message across.  If she’d let him have it, really ridiculed and abused him, it would have perfectly acceptable in terms of dharma.  She would have shown him and her audience that she respected herself and could not be intimidated. 

My fault was in inaction, by not sending a general email Christmas wishes to everyone in my office, but only to those with whom I’d kept some regular communication during this year of mostly remote working. I stopped working a day earlier than other people, so was not at the end-of-year-farewell virtual meeting (which they announced after my time off had been arranged) where everyone else got together and could wish each other a Happy Christmas verbally.

As I write this, I see that I was trying to control the outcome, trying to avoid the potential “hurt” of making an effort to do what I felt would be the courteous thing, because I wanted to avoid not getting the desired response. I was also offended at the thought of making an extra effort for people who had made little or no effort where I was concerned.

So there was an element of churlishness and resentment in my behaviour and a desire to show certain people up. I have found some of my work colleagues inconsiderate, even rude, in their communications both to me and to others.  Other colleagues are ones that I have hardly communicated directly with in months, as we don’t work together on the same projects and were never very chummy to start with (nor have they communicated with me, I might add). And at the same time, I really didn’t think not getting a greeting from me would make a difference to them, for that very reason.

It seems, however, that my non-action has offended several people (but I’m only guessing, from the content of various recent communications and comments, almost pointedly not addressed to me, in group meetings and on a team messaging tool we use).

James:  This is a very subtle grey area ethically.  Maybe some were offended and maybe not.  It depends on an inference, which may be affected by your sense of guilt.  In any case, if offense was taken it may be projection too.  It probably isn’t useful to dwell on it.  The important part is that you are aware of your thinking and are trying to sort it out. 

A part of me doesn’t regret my adharmic action one bit – it feels true to my jiva, if not to my Self, because if I were true to my Self I would have seen all my sometimes unpleasant and uncommunicative colleagues as no different from me, the Self (and I’m sure some must think of me as unpleasant and uncommunicative, at times).

James:  In so far as there are two of you, a jiva and the Self, I would opine that it’s not an action that needs to rise to the level of regret.  Sometimes one needs to throw the jiva self a bone and not be too spiritually conscientious.  One just doesn’t want to end up like Trump who thrives on adharma.  His love of adharma is the reason he’s so angry.  He can’t help himself.   

Dharma/adharma is a twilight zone.  It’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Christ had it right: judge the sin, not the sinner.  At the same time, you need to cut yourself some slack.  Just say, “I messed up. So what?  It’s not the kiss of death.”   

But on the other hand, one person whose communications were very terse and sometimes rude now seems to be making a little more effort to be courteous in his emails. Maybe he’s faking it, but he’s more pleasant to engage with.

James:  That’s a plus, for sure.  It’s difficult enough to figure out one’s own motivations and more or less impossible to figure out someone else’s.  It’s best to keep the mind on the Self and let Isvara take care of the world.  But, of course, in your work world there is a lot of rajas and tamas so one’s mind sometimes loses its concentration and things go south. 

I think excessive politeness may be more tamasic than sattvic, because conventional politeness may not always be what is required. (Although it may have been required in my situation.) For me, there’s a fine line between sattvic and tamasic politeness and it’s difficult for me to know which I’m subject to in a given situation and whether that’s what’s needed.

James:  Yes, indeed.  But I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.  It’s too hard in a business context to respond appropriately 100%.  You’re on the right track.  Manners are good, so people don’t tend to question how they are using them but goodness (sattva) comes in three flavors: sattvic, rajasic and tamasic.  That you’re sensitive to dharma is all that is required.     

In any case, I apologise for this long (and whiny!) email. I know I still have a lot of karma yoga to do. Thank you again for this timely talk. I’m looking forward to the Zoominar Q&A.

James:  I don’t really see it as a whine, Mary.  It’s pretty objective, actually.  The Self wrote it. Thanks for the donation.



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