We are our deeds. It’s a popular heathen saying, and the title of a well-written heathen book by Eric Wodening. What we say, what we do is a reflection of our own self. How we behave is what defines us.
Our society is full of examples, however, of bad behaviour being rewarded, or being applauded. In Britain, famous television presenter Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the popular television show, Top Gear, because he had punched a producer in the face when he found out that there was no hot food available on set. No charges have been made against Clarkson’s assault, and indeed, he is making light of the whole situation, thereby condoning violence. In a recent spin-off live show in Belfast it opened with a video of him throwing a left-hook, as if it were right to punch a colleague in the face. Everyone cheered. When it was rumoured that comedian Sue Perkins would possibly replace Clarkson on the show, she had to leave Twitter because of all the death threats that she was receiving. Violence breeds violence.
What we think, what we say, what we do defines our self. When we live in a world that no longer seems to care about personal responsibility, about compassion, about just being nice to other people, it is even more important that we take up the reins and provide an example of how to be in the world in good, honourable relationship.
We are blessed with foresight. We can think about the outcomes of our actions. We have memories of the past to consider when making our actions. And yet some people still behave badly, willfully, out of spite and their own demons, or out of ignorance that there is a choice.
This is what it all comes down to: we always have a choice. We can choose to behave badly, remaining stuck in our bad habits, remaining trapped in our attachments, allowing our emotions to run riot over ourselves and others. Or we can choose to take up personal responsibility, to think about things that we have done and things that we are going to do, and how they will affect others. It’s not fun being mean to other people. It makes our hearts small. It tightens and constricts them until we become mere shadows of ourselves. We may hide behind comedy, delusions or the lies that we have told ourselves over and over again to justify our behaviour. Ultimately, however, we know on a deep level when we are doing things that are wrong, and we can choose to continue or not.
Take responsibility for your actions. Shrugging off bad behaviour doesn’t make it right, and you will eventually have to face it at some point in your life. Clarkson knows that what he did was wrong, which is why he’s making fun of it rather than face up to the fact that he was wrong. It’s all about saving face, about personal egos, illusions and delusions. How many other people do you know who are like that?
If nothing at all, these people remind us of who we do not wish to be. We can still have compassion for them, seeing that they suffer from their own demons. However, that does not mean condoning their behaviour. We can speak out against it, and still hope that they find peace in their own lives.
There is a Zen story about a samurai who asks a monk about heaven and hell:
Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen master, was once visited by a samurai warrior.
“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.
Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”
“I am a samurai,” announced the proud warrior.
“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the samurai.
The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.”
The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.
“And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.
May all beings find peace.