Meme Busting: It's All Relative
Problems with What We Think We Know
What does it mean that something is relative? "It's all relative" is something we say when the truth of something depends upon the context to which it is applied. For example, while one person might love wearing the knitted socks he got for his birthday, another person might, given those same socks, line the cat bed with them. So the statement that "knitted red socks make fabulous gifts" would be relative. Or as another example, someone working a minimum wage job might be thrilled and over the moon with a $1 raise. However, a CEO of a big bank would be left incredulous, laughing in the face of his board members.
So who is right and who is wrong? Ah! There's the rub. There's the thorn in the ego's side. In our second example above, is the minimum wage worker a fool to celebrate a $1 raise or rightfully grateful to celebrate? Is the CEO greedy and entitled or simply expecting what he feels he actually deserves? I bet you have your own feelings about that right now. I know I do! The point is, morality aside, whether or not a $1 raise or a million dollar bonus is a good, just or right thing depends upon one's perspective.
Why am I talking about relativity? Because if we don't keep an awareness of it in our hearts and minds, we can be truly gullible, not just vulnerable to the memes others would have us accept but in danger of blinding ourselves with our own. I've written about the fact that memes are always "half the story" before. It might be more appropriate to say they are a fraction of it.
Yet again and again we grasp ideas—memes—in order to prove our "rightness." We dogmatically attach to our concepts, defending them to the last, even at the expense of losing friends and family, driving them away...or at the least, driving them crazy. We blind ourselves to context, contradiction, new information, and on and on and on... The minimum wage worker cannot conceive of the CEO's plot nor can the CEO conceive of the minimum wage worker's. At the same time, neither questions their own.
The following two quotes, each by different Tibetan Rinpoches, offer a perfect example of why relativity is so important to understand:
A teacher influences your life. If you meet the wrong kind of teacher then you are influenced to go the wrong way. It’s not a small danger.... This goes for any kind of teacher—religious teachers, spiritual teachers, or any other kind of teacher because the role of a teacher is to guide you. So the wrong teacher can misguide you, either intentionally or unintentionally.
~ Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche
And then there's this:
If we jump from one fad, one teacher, one book or one idea to the next ... hoping for enlightenment or healing ... it is another trap - Unfortunately, there is no easy way out; the work of life goes on as long as we live. We can find ways of being that help us to grasp the whole more fully and without judgment, but there is no healing for life except death.
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
So who's right? Bearing in mind both of these quotes have been taken out of their original context, should we stick with one teacher our whole lives as Trungpa Rinpoche seems to imply or discern when one teacher is leading us in a false direction and move on as Chowang Rinpoche states? Wouldn't it be a teaching relative to the person being taught?
If a student is using his flitting from one teacher to another to avoid an aspect of his ego, then certainly Trungpa Rinpoche could support staying in place as surely it would serve the student to stop bouncing from one practice to another. But if that student would be better served by another teacher, then Trungpa Rinpoche's statement, or at least this interpretation of it, is dead wrong.
If a student who is beginning to see that his charismatic teacher may be leading him down a false path, then Chowang Rinpoche's statement would be wisely considered. But if that same student is merely projecting his own weaknesses and manipulative qualities on his teacher, then couldn't Chowang's statement be misused to justify one's parting from his teacher when in actuality, if he stayed, it would lead to a breakthrough?
There are no black and white answers.
What do we learn from all of this anyway? I leave that up to you to consider.
And, I leave you with this busted-up mean to ponder, which goes like this:
A lot of us walk around with pent up trauma calling it a personality trait.
Then again, I think just as many of us are walking around with a personality trying to blame it on pent-up trauma!
By the way, Terence McKenna has some very poignant things to say about relativity in this video which also features clips from Jordon Peterson. It's definitely worth a listen.