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the hard work of seeing ‘what is’

Readers’ comments — sent to me directly or posted here — frequently help deepen my understanding about the things I write about. Each time I reply, I’m enriched. Thank you for taking the time to read and to comment.

Still in Germany, my brother continues to be my teacher. The main obstacle to appreciating the many learning opportunities rests in my reluctance to be the pupil. In her essay, The sovereignty of good over other concepts (1967), the philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) writes that the difficulty in seeing things as they are (with things, people, ourselves) is that the Ego continually wants to retreat into the fog of self-pity, prejudice, doubt, and wishful thinking. In short, “to be truly virtuous is to embrace the realism of everyday life.”

So I set out to learn. What is it, for instance, that I can learn from being around someone who continually annoys me with his absent-mindedness, his need to win every argument, his impatience with things outside his experience, his prejudice towards foreigners (especially those wearing headscarves), his unwillingness to deal with interpersonal issues head-on, etc.? O my, what a menu, just listen to me.

Opportunities to be patient and compassionate abound. I have begun to observe my reactivity as it arises, to listen carefully without responding, and to look more closely at this man as he sits, walks, and shakes his head. How little I know him! Calling him ‘brother’ assumes that he and I are intimate terms and that he’ll mysteriously behave in ways that meet my needs of belonging. In fact, we spent only a few years together as children and have lived separate lives for the last 45 years.

The very label brother — indeed the naming of anything — tends to obscure what is there. Instead of seeing and appreciating the person before me, I react to an abstract concept. Unclear of my expectations of a brother, I react instinctively from places deeply rooted in childhood deficits. What goes on in my heart-mind continues to be a mystery — what goes on in his, I can barely guess.

Work to do!


7 responses »

  1. this could be me writing this post – the assumptions we make about each other – what it means to be brother sisiter mother father and the cultural messages we are given that create expectations about who these people are (what about who i am?). recently i wondered what kind of sister my brother thought i was… intersting i thought – we don’t know each other at all, really. he is he, i am me and by some quirk of fate we are ‘related’ with all the baggage that entails. helped me appreciate our differences and to accept me as who i am and he as who he is… a work in progress. good for you p…

  2. This may not be too helpful, but one of the things I’ve had to admit to myself, is that the most annoying people in my life, have tended to be a lot like me. “NO! I’m nothing like him!” And yet…

    The other thing I’ve noticed about myself, is that it’s the oldest input, that is things from early life, that seems to just burst out before I can get ahold of it.


    • yes, chong go, i too am aware and spooked by the similarity between me and ‘them’ .. a matter of degree perhaps, but similarities nonetheless. thus i bow to them as my teachers.

  3. Peter,

    Beautifully thoughtful, honest and authentic! Your awareness of self is truly inspiring! Many people never get to the place you are, they just continue to avoid or join in with the menu at hand.

    I have many of the same situation with my brother, the differences are truly amazing when looking on the outside, the way he and I live our lives.
    I have friends that know more about me and are closer then my brother! Hmm?

    I look forward to witness more of your journey with this process!

    I am Love, Jeff

  4. “The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” (Erma Bombeck)


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