If you’ve read my previous blog or enough of this one then you know that my mother was not looking to have another child when I came along. I have no judgments about that, so we can give any name we want to her reaction, but the important point is that it was difficult for her to be warm under the circumstances.
The natural reaction in me was to seek that closeness by being good at things—I tried to impress her. When that didn’t work, I began to shift my attention to winning my father’s favour, which was challenging because he owned his own business and he worked long hours. He’d been given a recliner when he left his old job, and I remember waiting at his feet while he read the newspaper in it. That chair ended up playing an important role in our family.
Because Mom had her experience of disappointment over her intended pregnancy, I wanted to be close to Dad and that translated to me wanting to sit in his recliner while we ate lunch. And by we I mean the two sisters and brother that my family took as foster children. It’s important to note that I didn’t see them as foster siblings. Within a month they were as much my brother and sisters as my much-older biological brothers were. But it never occurred to me until adulthood that’s likely not how they saw it.
Every day we kids would come home from school for lunch and there would be a race to see who got the good seats for watching Gilligan’s Island. Every day I would claim dad’s recliner, simply because I wanted to be close to Dad. For a couple years I never realized that my sisters and brother were conceding it every day because they felt like I was the real son. Eventually I began to think that maybe they wanted it too, but I realized they probably didn’t feel they should take it.
My point in relaying this story is to communicate this idea: realities are separate. So since we can never agree on what is going on, we also can’t agree on an appropriate response. This means the ideas of right and wrong and good and bad go out the window. Instead there are only the intended consequences, and the unintended consequences.
My Yin was to be closer to my dad. It was motivated by love. But I also loved my brother and sisters, yet unbeknownst to me I was generating a Yang in them because I inadvertently gave them signals of being more important when my objective was to become more important–to Dad.
This is why you must surrender your ideas of an idyllic world. Yes we can avoid a lot of large scale agonies by being more empathetic and generous, but don’t think we’re working toward a world of no suffering. There will always be suffering and it can and will be created by the same sorts of loving, meaningful acts that I made in wanting to sit in that chair. So even with the best of intentions, in my wake I will leave darker details like the lowered self esteem of siblings that I’ve always loved.
Even taking great care, you will inadvertently hurt all kinds of people in your life. You cannot try to guide yourself around their pain. You must instead guide yourself with what feels right for you. And in the healthiest situations, what will feel right for you will be generosity, compassion, and love. But it is always important to remember that even those things will have unintended consequences. Such is the Yin and Yang of life.
Enjoy your day.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.