Every other Sunday, services at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier include an opportunity for individuals to come forward and light candles of joy and/or concern. I am usually shy about speaking in front of the congregation, but on the first Sunday of 2012, I was moved to light a candle of concern for what I suspected would be a tumultuous year ahead. I spoke of a desire to face such turmoil with a loving heart.
Be careful what you ask for! I have in fact been given the opportunity to face turmoil with love: last week, much to my great surprise, my Happiness Paradigm was included as an object of derision in an online tirade against “the happiness crusade.”
The article — “Happiness is a Global Tax” — is on the Accuracy in Media website. When I first read it, I felt a cold sense of dread reading my own words (taken from the Online Store page of this blog) being somehow used as a weapon against me and my colleagues coast-to-coast working to advance the gross national happiness concept.
A few days later, I could laugh at the author’s connection between my happiness artwork and discussions held at the United Nations summit on “Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” in early April. Though I unfortunately had nothing to do with the U.N. meeting (I’m still on grandmother leave!), the Accuracy in Media author wrote: “And so, from tiny recycled gratitude journals do mighty international tax plans grow. …”
Seriously? Seriously! Now that is funny.
But back to that love thing … When I had more time to reflect on the article, I knew I wanted to react with love and compassion. I know nothing about the author, but it isn’t hard to feel compassion for her. After all, what are the wounds and struggles that would cause someone to approach happiness with such fear? I’ll likely never know, and even asking the question seems a tad presumptuous — but it does allow me to think of her with love, and that makes me happier than hanging on to anger, hate, or fear.
For some reason, this incident made me recall my lack of compassion during another era when I acted against a dominant paradigm. I was in the ninth grade, a normal 14 year-old girl (read, “boy crazy”), except for my home life. My family were liberal Democrats, and fairly open-minded on issues like race. So when I got a romantic phone call from a black football player, I was simply thrilled (A boy!! Calling me!!). Race didn’t matter at all.
Little did I know that our relationship would lead to public anger and approbation in my very conservative, overwhelmingly white school because the reigning paradigm did not condone inter-racial dating. The worst disapproval came from two of my closest friends, Debbie and Cindy, each of whom told me that her parents forbid her to have anything more to do with me.
And for that, Debbie and Cindy suffered. We were in the same section together — that is, we shared all our classes. For a variety of reasons, the section coalesced around me. Debbie and Cindy became the outcasts. I don’t remember wanting to hurt either of them, but I did want and need the support of the rest of my classmates and friends. I’m sure I gave little thought to their pain.
Today, I think of the 14 year-old Debbie and Cindy with compassion. And I hope to hold my more mature self to a much higher standard of love and compassion than my adolescent self was capable of.
The Accuracy in Media article also brought to mind a video I watch frequently after meditating: a beautiful and moving rendering of the St Francis of Assisi prayer by Sarah MacLachlan. In particular, the request in this song to “seek not so much to be understood as to understand” resonates today.
However, compassion and understanding for happiness naysayers does not mean less advocacy for the cause of shifting our individual and collective aspirations toward well being rather than materialism. Indeed, I was tickled when my husband emailed me this message, “Congratulations! You made it to stage two!” Attached was the following quote:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”– Arthur Schopenhauer
Indeed, I hope the happiness paradigm will someday be accepted as self-evident. Until then … well, here’s to understanding, love, and compassion!