essays on suffering and awakening

When our righteousness gets in the way of what's right

Over dinner last night, a friend made a comment worth reflecting on. “I share in almost all progressive political goals,” he said. “But I really don’t like the aggressive way so many people promote them.”

His words pointed towards something many of us struggle with: what I would describe as the distinction between being right and being righteous. Most of us have a fairly clear sense of right and wrong—and it feels good to honor that. But our motives for doing so color the quality of our efforts. If we want to be effective advocates for right action, that’s worth examining.

Questions we can ask: are we standing up for what we believe because we care or because we want to win? Do we want to help others or just feel better about ourselves? Perhaps most important: how wide is our circle of compassion?

Our limited sense of self tends to sneak in everywhere and wrap around even our very best intentions. But that’s the mindfulness game. If we want to give our truth a shot at being heard, it helps to speak from a place of generosity towards all those listening. Otherwise we may close the very doors we seek to open.

After all, who likes being yelled at?

Ian Cooper