Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I am distressed. It seems that I have lost a friend, a reader. I have been debating whether it is appropriate to write about this in The Buddha Diaries, but decided this morning that my friend had already made the issue public by posting in the "Comments" section yesterday. I invite you to take a look at the exchange, should you wish to do so.

Here's how it happened. I wrote a piece a few days ago--you may have seen it--about what I saw to be a thread of scape-goating in our culture. My observations were prompted in part by the Amanda Knox trial in Perugia, Italy, in part by the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray here in Los Angeles. I wrote without prejudice in either case: I am not sufficiently informed to make an opinion as to guilt or innocence. But I was interested in that very ancient need to find a scapegoat, to have someone to blame when things go wrong in tribal or societal life, I extended my thoughts to the situation of President Obama, comparing him to a Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians--and it was this that caused my friend to comment that he found the analogy offensive.

My response to his comment was glib and thoughtless. It was intended as a joke, a little jibe to provoke what I hoped would be a chuckle or, at most, a sharper jibe in response. We have diverged radically in our opinion of the President, and my friend has commented frequently with disapproval of my position. I have responded generally, I believe, with unfailing politeness and respect for his opinion--and often with a sense of shared disappointment. This time I was tired, I was preoccupied, I was careless and my response was glib: "Always happy to offend..."

Which is, of course, precisely the opposite of the truth. It has been an "issue" throughout my adult life, that I have been overly reluctant to offend, too deferential, too "polite" in that knee-jerk English way that masks a great deal of grievance and anger! I have worked hard at learning to be honest and authentic without the fear of offending others with my views, taking responsibility for them instead of projecting them on those around me. At the same time, I take very seriously my Buddhist intention to "do no harm", and it distresses me to know that in this case I have done exactly that.

Even so, my friend's response astonished me. My glib remark caused further offense--more than I could have possibly imagined; so much so that he deemed it worthy of excommunication--and I mean that in a literal rather than an ex cathedra sense: his return comment made it clear that he wished to have no further communication with me. I know what it feels like to have the door slammed in my face. I do not believe that my casual remark deserved so radical a response--but that's beside the point. I own my responsibility. This is not an exercise in exculpation or excuse. I very much regret my hasty words, and would take them back if it were not already too late.

That’s the personal part. The other part is bigger than either of us. It has to do with the way in which this contretemps mirrors our growing inability, as a society, to communicate with each other in an effective way. It’s not merely the tiresome and paralyzing argument between left and right; it’s the increasing inability of left to communicate with left, and right with right. Our national dialogue has been reduced to endless bickering and non-communication, a refusal to listen or respect the other’s view, a sense of incontrovertible rectitude that puts an end to conversation. I hold no key to exclusive rightness, but nor does any other human being that I know of--not even my friend. It pains me to have caused offense; it pains me much more to hear that my offense is so inexcusable as to bar further discussion and, worse, further friendship. But that is where matters seem to stand. I now have to deal with my distress as best I can.

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