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Lions Roar : May 2014
never.” So I try to almost mechanically remind myself of that— to see when my resistance or temper flares up or when I find myself pigeonholing somebody. That would take up most of our life, just to try to do that much. Perhaps it’s all a self-fulfilled prophecy. We live in an unkind world because we believe it’s an unkind world. The thing I’ve noticed is that if you go out into the world ready for confrontation, then confrontations find you. But if you go out with a sort of diffusing energy, the world reads that and feels more friendly toward you. So I think there’s a circular effect. In the media and in our political rhetoric, we’re told don’t be a sucker, be firm, be strong, push back, they’re trying to get you. If you buy into that—even on a molecular level—the world smells it on you. Whereas—and here’s where it sounds corny—the world responds to you differently if you go out thinking, alright, I’m going to pretend that everybody out there is my brother or my sister, and if they are temporarily behaving like they’re not, I’m going to pretend that they’re just confused. I’m going to insist, through my mannerisms and my tone of voice, that I see them at their highest. I don’t mean to be naive—there are obviously times when a person has to stand their ground—but I would argue that the best form of standing your ground is to be gentle. It often takes a lot more guts to be gentle than it does to be confrontational. Is there any connection for you between kindness and writing? I do a lot of revising—hundreds of iterations—and I will work for years and years on a story. A really wonderful thing happens in that process. In the early drafts, you may create a caricature or a character that you’re looking down on, getting some jokes out of. But the story’s form doesn’t like that. The story’s form doesn’t like condescension or puppeteering, so it responds by being boring. The reader feels it’s a static story, that the writer is holding all the cards and dominating his characters. As you try to address that in revision, the characters myste- riously become fuller, because as you reconsider them you’re actually loving them more. you’re paying closer attention to them. you’re listening a little more closely, and so the sum total of the story gets funnier, smarter, faster, and the characters come to be more equal to the author. When you go through this process, you’re making the prose tighter and smarter, but also kinder. you’re looking with a little more genuine curiosity at the character, and you do it through the prose. For example, you might start off a story with “Jack was a jerk.” But the story says, “That’s a kind of a boring sentence. Can you give me a detail?” Okay, let me revise: “Jack snapped at the waitress.” That’s a little better. But it’s still a bit foggy, so your subconscious might say, “Jack snapped at the waitress because she reminded him of his dead wife.” And suddenly you’ve come a long way in terms of sympathy, from “Jack was a jerk” to “Jack was out of sorts because he was thinking about his dead wife.” I think that process can sort of train the writer to enact the same procedure with real people. Maybe somebody bumps into you at the airport. your first impulse is to say, “Asshole.” But because you’ve trained yourself in revision, you say, hmm, let me think about this a second. I wonder why he did that. Then your mind gives you all kinds of reasons because you’ve done it yourself so many times. It’s a good way of training oneself in the flexibility of judgment that we talked about earlier. To what extent was your speech inspired by your Buddhist practice, or was it simply a reflection of who you are as a human being? Hard to distinguish between the two, I guess. I’m really a begin- ner, but I do try to keep my ears open, and that was a place where my actual experience and the tenets of Buddhism suddenly came together. In my writing work, I’ve noticed that if you do anything with real intensity, and with a real interest in the truth of the matter, then it ends up being dharmic somehow. Whether it’s basketball or photography or whatever, if you’re really, really interested in PHOTOBykERRyRyANMCFATE,COURTESyPACEgALLERy The Dahlias, The Cherries, The Swiss Chard, 2010 SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 40