Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Happy Pendulum

It seems like there are only a few basic patterns of movement, or development, that occur within nature. The most common, which I have alluded to over and over, is that of growth from zero to infinity. The presence of heat moves in that manner, as does light. There is no cold, says the guy who just moved from Winnipeg, and darkness does not have an existence. They are merely the absences of the positive values of heat and light.

A form of movement that we see time and again is that of a pendulum, oscillating in its eternal path.

Society moves like a pendulum, back and forth, back and forth, only staying at the happy medium for a single moment. Anyone who has ever studied societal trends knows this, whether it is the movement from the "back to nature" ideal in the 60s in the States to the ultra-materialism in the US 80s, or the regular shift in laws from unbridled permissiveness to extreme control. A pendulum is the path it describes.

A fun example that seems to fit into this category is the various ways that some Baha'i communities tried teaching the Faith for decades. Many got onto the band wagon of expansion. "Go out and teach as many people as you possibly can. The deepening will follow." Then the pendulum seemed to shift. "You have to thoroughly deepen every single Baha'i before you can teach anyone else." Of course, neither of these extremes is a recipe for success. It is only when we follow the guidance of the Guardian, and the more recent guidance from the World Centre, by teaching a bit and deepening a bit, simultaneously allowing those who are taught to move into the teaching field for practical experience, that we see more sustainable growth.

Remember, "Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence."

I think it is interesting to note that this not only works as a model for societies, but also for individuals. This is the point that fascinates me.

For quite a long time unhealthy role models were held up to be the ideal within society, ranging from the ultra-violent, testosterone-laden Rambo male type to the anorexic bimbo Barbie-style female. And what happened if you didn't fit into one particular model? Well, chances are you were, or still are, ostracized.

But what I am interested in is how this dynamic affects relationships.

You see, a number of years ago this inadvertantly came up when I went out for coffee with a woman. Some would call it a date, but that is probably a topic (or a rant) for another time.

We had a thoroughly delightful time, talked tons, and decided that we really wanted to do it again in the future. Quite some time later, after we had been seeing each other for months, she told me an amusing story about that first coffee together. It seemed when she got home, she had gone straight to the phone and called her mom.

"How was your date," her mom asked.

"It was wonderful."

"So, what's he like?"

"Well, he is very nice," she reported, "and loves musicals. He's a writer and an artist, and not at all pushy. He didn't even try to kiss me when he left."

"Oh," her mother said, disappointed, "he's gay."

I can't help but smile when I write that, for I find it very amusing that this would have been her mother's assumption. Why would that have been? Because I didn't fit into the typical male role. You see, because I wasn't the one extreme, the macho militant, she thought I should have been the other, gay. In her mind, there were only the two extremes, and if I wasn't one, I had to be the other.

It has often occurred to me that many people probably think like this about themselves, too. When talking about this with some of my friends, a few of them had thought that they were homosexual because of this type of reasoning. When they realized that there was a male-type between those two extremes, they actually discovered themselves, as they put it, and found they were much happier, regardless of their sexual orientation.

All of this, in my own opinion (remember, this is only my own opinion, and nothing "official") has to do with our understanding of the various attributes of God and how we understand our virtues.

How? Well, I'm glad you asked. I'd be kind of stuck here if you didn't ask, dear Reader.

We often think of many things in the world as being opposite of each other, without realizing that there are no opposites in nature. Remember back at the beginning of this article? Light and dark? We often think of gentleness and roughness as being opposite, the former being feminine and the latter masculine. But this is not the case. Roughness is the absence of the feminine trait of gentleness, not its opposite.

Submissiveness, which is often mistakenly thought of as a feminine attribute is actually the absence of the masculine attribute of assertiveness.

Oh, and before you even go there, masculine and feminine are not limited to men and women. All of us have all of these qualities within us, to a greater or lesser degree, and they need to become more balanced. When speaking of the civilization of the future, 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals -- or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."

In the context of the quote, it is evident that He is speaking of the various virtuous attributes that we place importance on. Compassion will become of more importance than force, to cite just a single example.

Back to the earlier example, when someone who only thinks in extremes realizes that they are not particularly gentle, they often presume that they must be rough. I have seen too many examples of people who figured if they were not a genius, they must be an idiot, never realizing that nearly all of us are somewhere in the middle.

Now, to take another example of this, let's take a quick look at abuse. In a typical abusive relationship there are two positions: the abuser and the victim. It almost helps to see the abuser as being above the victim, for that is sort of how it works. When one who has been a victim is in a new relationship, they generally only see those two positions. And if they are no longer in the victim postion, they then seem to feel that they have to be in the abuser position, moving like the pendulum.
This happened with Marielle and myself. She had been in an abusive relationship (or actually more than one), and had me read about what I would go through while she was healing. This is what we learned. And sure enough, as I was not abusing her (except with my jokes) she unconciously tried to place herself in the abuser position. It took time and effort on both our parts for her subconcious to recognize a new dynamic: one in which the two partners are standing next to each other as equals. Fortunately, that's where we are today (except that she is sitting opposite me at the table) (Hey, wait, maybe there are opposites in nature. Ahh, never mind.).
In all cases, balance is needed. Remember, when the Master was speaking to the very first Pilgrimage group from the West, He told them, at the end of a very profound talk, "This is the balance. This is the balance. This is the balance." So important is this concept of balance that He mentions it three times. Perhaps I'll analyze that talk in another article, but for now, it is a digression.
If the man does not embrace his feminine qualities, then he could become rough and aggressive, instead of compassionate and caring. If the woman does not embrace her masculine qualities, then she could become submissive and dominated. This generally occurs when people do not see them as part of a continuum, but as opposite sides of a coin.

They swing from one end of the pendulum to the other, never really stopping in the middle. And while the pendulum may be a very useful tool, it never really seems to go anywhere. Just like those people who live in that manner.

Of course, if you see the path beginning at zero and continuing on towards infinity, then you realize it is a path we can walk, journeying through life, and ending up closer to our Creator.

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