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005 - On The Stealth Philosopher - Moral Letters for Modern Times

Nothing turns a sharp ear deaf more quickly than the listener sensing you feel superior to them.
Pastel houses with ocean in background - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

I take heart in the fact that you are daily working to improve yourself. The path to greatness is not travelled in one giant leap. It is the accumulation of many miles that require a lifetime of walking. But although the journey be a thousand miles, your task each day is the same: make sure you take at least a single step.

Do not let your progress go to your head, however, and by no means should you preen your development before your fellow travelers. Nothing turns a sharp ear deaf more quickly than the listener sensing you feel superior to them.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “pacing and leading” and wondered what it meant. It’s simply this. If you mean to influence another to change, you first have to come into harmony with them: I hear your words, I understand your situation, I feel your pain. It is not just on the mental plane that you seek to harmonize. You may breach the gates of their resistance by observing and subtly adopting the posture, emotions, and mannerisms of your audience. It is only when the gates have been unlocked, let alone flung open, that your words can find entry.

Once the resistance of your audience’s minds has been loosened by your pacing, then, and only then, do you have a chance to lead. You lead by showing the way, and not by forcing anyone along the path. The moment your pupils feel pushed, they will rear up like stubborn donkeys and go no further. He treads the path most surely when it is a path of his own choosing.

Numerous other ways in which you may spook the horse: either through an overly aggressive delivery or a manner of dress inconsistent with your message. Just as we would buy no suit from a disheveled tailor, take fitness lessons from the unfit instructor, or follow the health advice of the smoking doctor, so will your audience dismiss even your brightest observations if you deliver them from an inappropriate vessel. If you wish your fine wine to be enjoyed to the fullest, serve it from a crystal decanter. Although we struggle to discern others’ true intentions and inner thoughts, we have no such difficulty judging their appearance. True, appearance is irrelevant to the truth of your words, but for your words to work, you first must be heard.

Nor should you make the opposite mistake of dressing yourself too ornately, for this too will strike your audience falsely. If your audience is one that is comfortable in jeans, why then so must you be if you hope to have them hear you. And if to another group casual Friday means not wearing the pin-striped vests of their three-piece suits, then you may break out your suit and tie. Know your audience first by fitting in with them, and they will know the truth of your words.

Here for your daily improvement is an idea that will give you companionship on many a quiet night’s contemplation. The Buddha advises us to let go of both grasping and aversion. Cease to desire, and your monkey mind will be calmed. Cease to push away things you dislike, and likewise will you calm your troubled spirit. “But how,” you ask “can avoiding two polar opposites create the same effect?” In this way, my dear Deuteros: though they seem like opposites, they are in fact the same. Just as gravity causes the feather and the cannon ball to fall at the same rate, so grasping and aversion both find the same cause in our fear.

In the case of grasping, we fear not getting that which we desire (or losing that which we have acquired). In the case of aversion, we fear being confronted with that which is hateful or painful. The fear is rooted in another cause, namely not centering your mind in the present. It is only in the future that we may lose what we currently possess, or be harmed by that which may afflict us. To be able to see into the future the consequences of our actions is humankind’s greatest advantage. But this foresight comes at the cost of carrying back haunts and demons that bedevil us.

Banish worries about tomorrow to where they belong – the future! They have no place in your daily meditation.

Be well.

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