I've found this to be true in my law practice. Sometimes, parties to a lawsuit hate each other so much that they'd prefer to pay their lawyers to continue the lawsuit rather than pay one another to settle the case. In such circumstances, I often find myself playing two roles.
On the one hand, I must show my client support. The last thing he wants to hear -- while paying me lots of his hard earned money -- is any sympathy from me for his opponent. In this regard, I sometimes need to do a little hand holding, to give my client a shoulder to cry on, to let my client know that I'm in his corner no matter what.
On the other hand, however, I'm not being paid to be a yes man. I'm being paid for my best professional advice, which in turn requires me to be objective. I'm not being paid to tell my client what he wants to hear, but rather what he needs to hear. This is true particularly when it means acknowledging the strengths of the other side.
Balancing these two roles -- being empathetic versus being coldly rational and objective -- can be tricky, and I've struck upon a phrase to describe the biggest obstacle to thinking rationally about highly charged affairs.
The phrase is "emotionally induced autism" and it comes into play when thinking about Guru and the Center.
I struck upon this phrase after watching this great talk given by Malcolm Gladwell about his book Blink. Autism, in its most general sense, is a disorder that can -- among other things -- impede one's ability to process sensory data. In his talk, Gladwell discusses the physiology of certain types of police encounters. Specifically, the impact of stress on the decision making of police officers.
Gladwell suggests that police officers' experiences of intense stress temporarily work on their brain's processing ability in a way similar to how autism affects the processing ability of people suffering from that disorder. In other words, as police officers approach a scene of danger, various physiological processes -- like the release of adrenaline and increased heart rate -- impede the officer's ability to process many types of extraneous sensory data. This, in turn, enables the police officer to focus upon and respond to only the perceived threat in front of him or her.
As Gladwell makes clear, however, this phenomena is both good and bad. In terms of personal survival, focus on the bad guy: good. In terms of blindness to data suggesting the "bad guy" isn't actually a bad guy: not so good. Gladwell uses the sad case of Amadou Diallo to great effect to illustrate the devastating downside to the autistic-like impact of stress and emotion on the reasoning mind.
High emotions -- however caused -- threaten to disable one's ability to be objective. Case in point: trying to think rationally about Guru and about one's experience in the Center.
Some people saw nothing bad. Their honest experience was a positive one, and many (though not all) of these people are still in the Center. When presented with evidence, suggestions, or arguments contrary to their positive experiences of Guru, many of these people naturally get defensive. Guru, the Center, the disciple-life is central to their identity. By challenging Guru -- and their personal, direct experience of Guru -- you are challenging them.
When a person feels defensive, thinking rationally about a problem is more difficult.
This logic applies to those on the other end of the spectrum, too. Some former disciples have nothing but bad feelings about Guru and their Center experience. Whatever the cause, their feelings are heartfelt. To acknowledge the good of the Center -- the help Guru provided them -- is almost impossible. To them, acknowledgment of the positive smacks of justification of the negative.
This, of course, is especially true for those few who truly feel victimized by Guru, who feel that whatever good came of their Center experience has been far outweighed by the bad. For these former disciples, objectivity may not be possible nor perhaps advisable.
Of these two camps, I fall squarely within the former rather than the latter. I saw nothing bad. On the contrary, my disciple experience was overwhelmingly positive. There were things I didn't like -- the proselytizing, the tattle-tailing, the weightlifting, the public relations campaigns in general -- and I've been upfront about that in this memoir.
The effects of some of the meditations I had sitting in front of Guru, however, still linger with me today.
And while Guru for the most part treated me with kid gloves, he wasn't so gentle with my sister Nirbachita. In other words, I'm personally aware that when looking back on my Center experience for explanations, I cannot simply extrapolate in a straight line from my experience to some larger positive conclusion.
That said, neither was I scarred -- emotionally or otherwise -- by my nine years in the Center. Perhaps that will allow me to muse objectively about some very emotional topics in the coming posts.
That's Malcolm Gladwell above. Here's an archive of his great articles for The New Yorker.