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24 September 2012

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I really liked this post! I'm still thinking about it. A question you probably don't have time to answer but if you do, I'd love to hear your thoughts - did you/she mean, stop doing the accounting because it can't help, or stop doing it because it's explicitly wrong? And if it's wrong, more on why...?? It's a new idea to me, but starting to feel like a really worthwhile one. (On a separate note, you and your blog are awesome. I'm sorry I don't have time to comment more, but I really value reading your thoughts.)

I'm so glad you hit 'post' before changing your mind. These are really important questions and ideas that you are pondering. I think first and foremost we are all pretty hard on ourselves and this probably starts from very young as we try to 'measure up' to some standard set by teachers, parents or friends. We most likely perceive others as being good and wondering why we have these wicked thoughts ourselves. This concept is particularly difficult for a bright young boy like Mr. Pants to reconcile. Plus the concepts of being good or being happy or being nice are all impossible to quantify or measure. I also suspect that Mr. Pants is already noticing the difference between little girls and little boys in a classroom setting. Unless, things have changed, I'm guessing that little girls still receive far more verbal messages about how good they're being. So many things for a young child to process - body language, verbal messages, rewards. The fact that you care and are there to listen to him will make the most difference as he works through these early school years. Keep writing, dear niece. You always make me think. xoxo

Hi! (This is a response to Trish, it just took me so long to write that I missed Rita's comment in the meantime!) Good question, and I don't have a clear answer, but I'll just list some of the things I'm thinking about in relation to it...

This has me thinking a lot about the Calvinists and predestination, where they thought God had explicitly decided the fate (damned or saved) of every soul before they were even born. So, then, what you did in your life had no "point", in that there was no way you could "earn" your way out of damnation if that was what you'd been dealt. (bizarre, yes; the protestants have their twisted sides. don't ask me to defend this one; maybe someone else can.) But the Calvinists had super strict codes of conduct and people went to extreme lengths to be so very very "good" because... they wanted everyone around them to THINK surely, they must be among the saved.

Or MAYBE, it was partly trying to convince THEMSELVES that they were destined for heaven, an attempt to shelter in some sense of comfort and security amidst this bleak theology.

And I'm thinking what does this all mean to me, anyway, since I was raised with no belief in hell and very little belief in heaven, at most a kind of idea where the evil a person has done or felt dies with them and if anything is immortal, it is the good, which gets subsumed into some infinite cosmic nirvana-type-thing, maybe recombined and continually spread around in a kind of non-individualistic reincarnation process. This is not clear, clearly!, and mostly I avoid thinking too much (and certainly talking about) an afterlife because it seems so... pointless? Like, how could we possibly comprehend any such thing if there is any such thing? (Kind of how I feel about talking too much specifically about God, frankly.) But my point is, if you're not afraid of damnation, who cares about being good? What's the point?

So then I'm thinking about intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards. For instance, let's take the classic star chart. And so as not to beat up on Kindergarten too much, let's take the star chart we had at home for pooping in the potty. That's an extrinsic reward. Whether it's the fun of getting the star sticker or the stars add up to some reward at the end, you are being rewarded for pooping in the potty by getting something that has nothing to do with pooping in the potty. But, ultimately, we all move on and realize that it's reward enough to be able to deal with your own bodily functions with a minimum of fuss. Intrinsic rewards of pooping in the potty, then, are independence, feeling clean, that kind of thing.

So I kind of think that what Mary is getting at is that everything is much simpler and less anxiety-producing and has less danger of perversion if virtue is its own reward. If you're stuck on racking up stars, then it's easy to stay stuck on racking up stars, quietly comparing your star count to someone else's star count, building up a little margin in the hopes you can rest on your laurels for a little while, worrying about the star chart details of what exactly counts for exactly how many stars and whether everyone else is recognizing the same rules as you are, or if they're not, how they can be convinced to or at least somehow translated between. But if you've moved beyond the star chart to just recognizing goodness and leaning towards goodness and seeking out goodness and breathing goodness in as deeply as you can, then it's probably safe to trust that your actions will tend towards goodness, and will tend towards goodness more and more the more intrinsic joy you get from goodness as time goes on. (not that backsliding isn't possible, of course)

And of course it's not to say that if you've got the star chart thing going that you can't also have some experience of the intrinsic reward. In fact, like potty-training children, it can be a good, maybe even a necessary, tool to get you headed towards that. Maybe? (I think you could argue the other way, too.) But that the most important thing is to realize that the star chart is not the end goal. The star chart is not the real thing.

And if you realize at some point that something about the star chart is actually keeping you from getting as close to the real thing as you could, then maybe it's time to try to leave the star chart behind.

And I fully recognize that there are ways in which I fail at all kinds of star charts all the time. But maybe the energy that I am wasting (and, again, I feel like this is almost entirely subconscious on my part) worrying over the star charts is actually more of a hindrance, keeping me from tending as much towards the intrinsic comfort of goodness as I maybe could.

How does all that strike y'all?

At our innermost essence we are all good and don't have to worry about duality. All we have to do is clear the cobwebs to find it.

I agree with Elizabeth, and try not to notice the cobwebs too much.

I think there are maybe at least two kinds of "good" here. The star chart kind is the effort to civilize our rather animal selves so we develop civilized habits of cleanliness, politeness, industry etc. The "good" that makes us good citizens who contribute to the common good and are pleasant for others to live with.

The second kind of "good" comes from connecting with "that of God" within us. I believe God is, in essence, a large cosmic force for good. Love. That good we need to just clear away the cobwebs to find, but it might take that star chart kind of good to help us learn to clear away the cobwebs.

The danger, as you note, is that we stop at the first or get hung up on the first, which is very externally driven, and then neglect or ignore the second, which is internally driven. It is in the interest of society to make sure that the first "good" is firmly inculcated in children. The second "good" can make things downright uncomfortable for society. Society defines the first "good" in a way that suits those in power and it can change over time (remember when Europeans thought it was good not to bathe?). God defines the second "good", which doesn't change and which is often not so supportive of those in power.

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