Inquisitive Part V: Asking “What Else?”
Submitted by admin on Sat, 01/10/2015 – 14:53
As a quick recap, I’ve covered what I see as costs of getting stuck on “I know,” followed by the power of asking questions, especially when those questions begin with “I wonder.” Now I want to take it even a step further by adding the question, “What else?”
Humans are equilibrium-seeking creatures, which is why allowing ourselves to remain uncertain can be so unnerving. Latching onto what we know gives a feeling of safety and it takes both humility and courage to truly seek. As exhilarating as breakthroughs are, it is always a temptation to slip right back into the comfortable armchair of the known world. Yes, it’s a bigger world than before but what is still foreign can be staggeringly vast, and frightening.
Sometimes I smile about how God must think my understanding is on par with my two pups. They are good at being dogs, content and having no idea how much they don’t know. It’s a capacity thing. God probably thinks it’s cute when I learn a new trick and then pant for a pat on the head and a treat. Anyway, I digress.
My point is that rather than basking after we discover something new, it is possible to move on to the next question, perhaps tugging at the same thread for further insights. I like to ask, “what else?” Truths are entwined with similar truths, and very often the first answer is an over-simplification. Perhaps that is what frustrates me so much when people give Primary responses to nuanced questions. Yes, what they said is probably true as far as it goes, but it sounds hollow because it sidesteps the more complex facets of our humanity.
I have waded through some of the inevitable questions all seekers eventually get to: “why do bad things happen?” and its cousin, “why do people do bad things?” Captain Obvious can hardly wait to shoot up a hand to reply “Agency! We have the freedom to choose.” Okay, true. But why? “Because we need the opportunity to learn from our own mistakes.” That’s a little better, but when you’re the one who made the mistake, this answer has the edge of self-righteousness. “Have you learned your lesson yet?” I especially love this one when I’ve made this exact same mistake before. Knowing what is smart and doing what is smart can be entirely independent. At least for some of us, or for all of at least us some of the time.
Everybody marks a dot on the continuum of rule-following and wherever that dot lands will bring unique burdens. The innately obedient types (you know who you are) often live in the nicer quarters reserved for those who can observe quiet hours after nine. And if their patience runs a wee bit short with those who carry on at 2 a.m., well, they come by it honestly enough. If the rule abiders say things like, “I am sorry this happened, but you made a choice,” it is because they understand cause/effect relationships. They general act accordingly. It can be tough to see why other people make such idiotic decisions, and especially hard to show sympathy when an obvious consequence ensues. Basic “love and logic” at a toddler level, folks.
What then, when it happens to you? What about the time you absolutely knew better? Have you ever felt like a five-year-old whose grown-up asks, “Why on Earth did you do that?” You stand there in your Osh Kosh overalls and the only truthful answer is, “Because it looked fun. Because I wanted to see what would happen.” You brace yourself for “I’m sorry you got hurt, little one, but you made a bad choice.”
What then, when we’re not talking about cookie jar infractions, but choices in the dangerous adult world? What then when those choices hurt others more than they hurt you?
When this happens, shame, fear and guilt can snuff a person’s light. Those who have made mistakes and must finally recon with them can be so terribly vulnerable. Lectures, judgment, and condemnation all await.
But what if instead of giving a lecture, even one Christ-like person sees beyond the consequence to how much you’re hurting? What if that person senses that you already understand the lesson and what you need now is love? You need love that does not contain the word “but” anywhere in the sentence. When that happens, you learn a lesson, and it’s not the one you expected.
There is a reason this virtue shines as a pinnacle above the others. Now you understand what the word means. You understand how compassion can save your soul. You understand what a generous gift someone can give by loving without judgment or any expectation of return. You did not believe you deserved it, but you accepted the gift anyway. When that happens, your mistake can teach a second lesson, and again, not the one you expected.
You understand what it is to have another pay a debt you could not. You understand what it is for someone to put you back together after you did a damn fool thing and broke yourself apart.
Yes, you’ll do your best to make better choices in the future. You might even succeed more often than not. That’s a valuable lesson in itself. You will get your gold star for that (or a pat on the head and a treat), I’m just sure of it.
One lesson really matters, though. It is how to love another when they are bereft. Because you have been on the receiving end, you also now understand the cost of judging someone else’s choices, or worse, their character for making them. Now you know—not in your mind, but in that deep place that somehow knows everything—the meaning of atonement.
Without the opportunity to make our own–and sometimes tragic–mistakes, we may never become even small, mortal embodiments of love. And that, I believe, is why we are here.
In the case of “why are we allowed to make mistakes?” Agency is the obvious answer. The opportunity to learn love, compassion and grace are “what else.”