Saturday, August 8, 2009

Objectivity

Emotions -- whether justified or not -- are the biggest hurdle to thinking objectively.

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.

10 comments:

vindicreated vision said...

'blink' is an awesome book, just finished 'outliers'. Round table and analytical discussion and objectivity coming from someone who was fully involved in the center is truly rare. Best of luck on your following posts.

Y. said...

Thanks for the good wishes ... I'll need them.

Hope you'll continue to contribute, when inspired, with more comments.

Celia said...

True, very true. I spent 22 years in the centre. Much of that time was very positive and a beautiful experience. I can say that I am a much better person for living that way of life. My last two years were beyond painful both mentally and emotionally. Physically only when I had to run the darn marathon! (I'm kidding...sort of)
Every human being is different. Just because we may have witnessed the same event does not mean that we will have seen it in the same way. I have had the same experience as some of my close friends. To me it was a horrific revelation of what secrets have been kept in the centre. To them it was a beautiful enlightening experience. Who can argue. To each his own. There are certain indeniable truths about the centre and CKG himself.
Like I said before, the truth is the truth. You can accept it or reject it but you can not change it.

I think what you are doing is really great. All you can do is put it out there then your work is done. (by you I mean me or anyone) You can not force anyone to believe anything. It is and will always be up to the individual. Sometimes people want to believe the truth but is just too painful so they block it out or deny it. Again, what can you do?

Thank you for your posts.

Elizabeth K. Kracht said...

Guru and I definitely had a boxing relationship. I look back on those times with no emotion. I think the people who witnessed how guru treated me felt more sorry for me than I felt for myself. In fact, I didn't feel sorry for myself at all, and still don't--that's not quite my style.

I remember at one point in my discipleship not making excuses for guru anymore in how he treated me. Instead of telling my little sister Elena, for example, that what he did was for my own good, I just didn't say anything, and very consciously thought that was guru weaving his own relationships at that point and that I was no longer going to finesse things for guru. A person has to be accountable for how he/she treats others, or they risk losing those relationships or never having them at all.

At one point I told an outside and objective friend what was happening with guru and my cafe and his treatment of me--this was on guru's birthday, the day I left the Centre, in August of 2001. My friend said simply, "That's just mean." Guru himself said to a disciple who asked if she could help me at the cafe that perhaps he was being "mean." No doubt about it, guru could be mean and nasty, and affect how all your friends and family looked at you--and then suddenly change back again--much like an alcoholic.

Ultimately, and very differently from my brothers, I don't have any feeling for guru anymore, which is maybe the effect of his simply being mean. And that's his loss, not mine. I don't regret my time in the Centre at all, and know that I am a better person for knowing him, even if it's just because I am confident in myself and in who I am as a result. There was a lot of learning what NOT to be as a human being when in the Centre.

I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for our experiences. I think guru had some power for sure, but what did he really, concretely do for me that I didn't have to work very hard to do for myself? I don't know, maybe that's the point--own two feet.

What I do know, is that guru had a tidy little secret life, which I now confidently believe as a result of guru banking on one of my old friends to be part of that tidy little secret--bad investment, as she acknowledges herself. And although people look at guru differently, some never holding guru to a celibate standard, or saying they never heard guru say he was celibate (technicality), it was something that was understood and reinforced by the mythology of the Centre.

It didn't happen to me, and the knowledge of it changes my particular stance very little except that I now have a sense of knowing that these stories are true and that guru wasn't exactly what I thought he was. But to the extent that I care about other people, and that it disrupts the psychology of his disciples (or ex's) and their lives and beliefs (including my family's), I feel it was wrong action on his part; he was keeping a secret, and he knew he had to keep that secret for a reason and probably looked very consciously for those people that he could tell his secret to.

...

I agree with all your points in this post, bro. Looking forward to your perspective on the upcoming posts. I think many of us are going to have to put guru in that little envelope of uncertainty of things that we don't know what to do with. You know the one? The one where things don't make sense and you have to sock it away for awhile until things unravel and you really see what you're working with--or they just continue to make no sense and you learn to live with it.

Elizabeth K. Kracht said...

PS: You better publish my comment.

Anonymous said...

I remember a contest that CKG held in the late 70s. It was a sort of poll to determine who the most beautiful and who the ugliest girl disciple was.

When we believed that CKG was the greatest of all Avatars, as he had claimed to his inner circle, we justified this competition as a "cure" for any possible vanity. There was always a hidden divine reason for everything he did.

Looking back now, I believe that this contest was terribly cruel and unnecessary. There is no doubt in my mind that Sri Chinmoy had a cruel streak. The poor girl who was voted ugliest must have suffered terribly (she eventually left the path).

Y. said...

Due to some technical difficulties, Sam asked me to post the following comment (which, due to its length, I'll post in two parts):

Sam says:

I tried to leave this comment from your last entry in your blog, but I am not sure if it worked. Let me know if it does not go through or if you feel there is something controversial about it (or me):

Great reading. Great bridge to exploring the psychological component and the individual component in all this. I think it is difficult when we do not have emotional "tie-ins" to experiences others have had. We can not speak from an emotional place. Only a theoretical one. Also gives a platform of being neutral (good and bad in that as some valid pain can sometimes not be decoded and understood).

Another words, the experience that one person may have with another is truly individual. A person can seem like a great guy to person A -- while person B can have a very negative experience. Same goes for group dynamics, etc.

I think it is also possible for there to be very positive experiences in a group that is a "mixed bag".

In my case, as I grew up in the center I can not say that I had even a 70% negative experience (at the time) as I had no other comparisons at the time. My reality was only what it was. I think this is perhaps what Yogaloy is trying to express as well? Overall, during my childhood the center and even Guru felt like a positive experience.

Later of course, I realized that being a "7 year old boy" emotionally -- does not translate well to living a balanced life outside of the center. I also now look at my former life as an episode of the "twilight zone" or a scene from the film the "Matrix", but that is besides the point.

Making the transition from the center (after having grown up in it) to living outside the center is an interesting experience to say the least.

Children have joy and great moments even living in the middle of a war for example. Children are pure and experience life differently. There were a lot of great moments of "life" when I was in the center. That is a fact. How it all ties in I am not sure.

Y. said...

Here's part two from Sam:

Another fact is that when you grow up in the center the people around you (in a high-demand group like this) become your extended family. Even people that have dysfunctional families can not deny the fact that "family reality" and the bonds that are formed and exist. In the case of the center family, those bonds last well past the date when one leaves. We can see that demonstrated by the amount of time Yogaloy has spent thinking about his family in the center on this blog and the attention his blog receives from those of us who are in the same place. Denying that emotional reality does nothing for us. Perhaps anger or hate is healthy for period of time, but if we have an extended denial of our positive emotions and memories (of people) then we will never be able to move on in a healthy way.
Just my opinion.

It is an interesting situation, particularly for those that grew-up in the center. As Yogaloy has stated, a very unique experience (when remarking on Jayanti's book). I think many ex-disciples/disciples (if they search their feelings) will find that there are many similarities between those that "found family" in the center to those that were raised in the center. There are some strong similarities although the two situations are also very different.

I think that disciples who had issues with their immediate family found a great opportunity to find a new one. This also helped to shape & define the experience for those that fall into that group. Whatever odd reality the center is/was -- those people automatically found belonging and family, perhaps at a time when they needed it. If a spiritual dimension was introduced as part of that -- then the experience was that much more powerful. It is a strong cocktail of spiritual development and immediate family all at the same time.

As an aside, it is always interesting speaking to those that came from a strong family and also had a diverse spiritual back-ground before joining the center. That is a minority segment (of those that came to the center) but an interesting group to try to identify. Can you think of such a person from you memory banks?

Trying to stay on topic, we can also say that the spiritual dimension transcends any particular group or Guru. The realities that "are" simply "are". We can find a connection to that dimension in almost any situation and there is a great deal of spiritual truth in almost any so called spiritually based group (even fanatical and dangerous ones). Most would say that there was something very special in the Sri Chinmoy center. Having said that, I have also heard similar sentiments from disciples of other Guru's (and associated organizations) as they sift through the pro's and con's after leaving.

Sam

Y. said...

Wow ... I'm getting behind...

@Celia ... Thanks for the very kind words. Coming from you, that means more than you can imagine. I hope we hear a lot more from you in the near future and by all means, please continue to share your thoughts here!

@Liz ... You're not the boss of me!

@Anonymous (4:57) ... Yeah, I could never have endured such treatment. I hope we hear from more female disciples about how such things affected them (because, frankly, they were much more prone to this kind of "attention" from Guru).

@Sam ... Thanks for the post and sorry for the technical problems. No need for me to add anything to your fine comment, but let me address the second sentence only: you're always welcome to post here. Thanks for taking the time and for your encouragement.

Niklas said...

Great post, and great comments. I, too, had mostly positive experiences. Yet leaving was necessary and painful. And I do regret that I sold myself out in some ways to conform to the path, but that reality is mixed with inner changes which are still very alive in me, and have given me a foundation for my continuing inner work.

And speaking of emotions, today I value and learn from them. I don't "transcend" them; as a matter of fact I've come to loathe that world. I highly value any emotion as often there is something to learn from it.

Love this Blog!