There’s a part in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where a family’s constantly leaking faucet contributes to a tense atmosphere in the house. Whenever something else goes wrong, a glass breaks or some other minor incident occurs, it’s almost too much.

 

The house’s delicately maintained equilibrium is thrown out of balance, the concentration necessary to ignore the dripping faucet and go about their daily routine is threatened — and they lash out at this latest interruption. As the book’s writer, Robert M. Pirsig, puts it, “You always suppress momentary anger at something you deeply and permanently hate.”

 

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society.

 

“It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others... Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.” — Pema Chödrön

 

“When in doubt about who’s to blame, blame the English.” — Craig Ferguson

 

This is the essence of blame — assigning responsibility for an event to one actor in a situation. In complex things like real life situations, total designations like this almost never reflect the truth. But slowly they become the only truth that matters.

 

A List of Facebook Expat Group Tropes

 

— “I don’t want to be culturally insensitive or anything, but is it normal that [something culturally insensitive]?”

 

— “3, 2, 1, here we go again...”

 

— Something off-topic about McDonald’s

 

— [A gif that says “If you don’t want a sarcastic answer, don’t ask a stupid question”]

 

— “I don’t want to criticise [the subject], but...”

 

— “Actually, I want to criticise [the subject]!”

 

— “This might be an analogy you’ll understand [person commenter is arguing with]...”

 

— “Don’t mind [person commenter disagrees with], he’s just a troll”

 

We’re all guilty of these freakouts. Something doesn’t go our way, and we get angry. Anger is a powerful emotion, while sadness isn’t. It’s easy to be humble when we’re doing well, but a person’s true test comes when they’re not doing well. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

 

What I’ve Learned on the Roads of Vietnam

 

This is my particular freakout, and it happens over and over again. I leave my house late, start driving a bit fast and encounter some sort of roadblock — a person not turning in the right turning lane, someone going slowly and not leaving enough passing space, a bus. I lay on my horn and silently smoulder with resentment. Eventually I get past the roadblock, crisis averted. Except the crisis is something I continue to carry with me, like Pirsig’s leaky faucet.

 

One of my favourite things about Vietnam — something that continues to astound me every rush hour — is the occasional victim of my anger. Traffic will be going slowly at a green light, and I will get to the bottleneck in time to see someone pushing along the cart they’ve worked at all day, someone walking alongside their out-of-gas bike. (Sometimes it will be someone parked in the street for a reason that isn’t as good, but whatever.) And I’ll start to relax, and notice the calm faces of those around me.

 

That live-and-let-live attitude is what makes this country special, what has made it capable of undergoing great changes in the past century while still keeping its soul. As an American, it was a surprising thing to me when I first landed — and now it strikes me as Vietnam’s fountain of youth, its pipeline to continual possibility.

 

The Zen teacher Alan Watts gives this exercise: the next time someone bumps into you while walking, imagine instead that their shoulder was just a doorframe, one that you were clumsy enough to bump into. Forget whose fault it was. See how sore your shoulder is and ask yourself, “Can I carry on?” If you can, then go on your way.

 

It’s a profound thing to forgive grudges, and look forward to the future with clear eyes. An even more profound thing? Turning that leaky faucet off, and not picking up these grudges in the first place. — Ed Weinberg

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