As It Is ~ IF ...
THE WORD "IF"
consists of just two letters, but it's a big word
on which so much often depends. "If only I hadn't
done that!", we sometimes say, or "If it
had only turned out like that instead of like this,"
etc. Thus, we are torn between what is and what might
Because the future is not ours to see, it
is inappropriate to make promises (which concern the
future, not the past or the present), for between
the making and the fulfillment of a promise, many
things are sure to happen? some of them unforeseen?
which might easily prevent the keeping of the promise.
Thus, promises, when made at all, should be made with
a qualifying "if' or "on condition that,"
so that, if something comes up to prevent the promise
being carried out, there will be a reasonable excuse
or justification for it, such as "There was an
accident on the highway, and I got stuck in the traffic,
and had to wait," or (if it really did happen),
"I got a flat tire." Such mitigating circumstances
are understandable and acceptable, as they are beyond
our control, and were not intentionally brought about.
In making promises, as in all things, the
Golden Rule should govern our conduct: "Do unto
others as you would like them to do to you."
Making promises with an 'if clause’ can be and
often is used as a way out of the promise; but, since
we are not very pleased if someone uses that device
upon us, we should think twice before doing it to
There are cases, as I have shown above,
when promises cannot be kept. But, as far as possible,
our given word should be of sufficient value to us
that when we make any kind of arrangements with others,
we should treat them as important even if they are
only minor things. For if we treat small things as
important the probability is that we shall also treat
bigger things as important. And observant people will
come to know us as dependable, so that if there is
a need for assistance and someone reliable, people
will automatically think of someone they know who
can be trusted, rather than of someone who has let
them down in the past.
I am writing about Dharma here, and I presume
that anyone reading this will be concerned enough
about their own integrity to realize the importance
of keeping their word to others. We can all see room
for improvement in the world, and would like it to
be a better place to live in. But how can we reasonably
expect it to get better if fulfilling our commitments
is not important to us?
Have you noticed how hard it is for some
people to apologize? Is it that they have such a high
opinion of themselves that to admit to making a mistake
or being in the wrong would amount to something like
self-destruction? Is it a matter of maintaining a
facade at all costs that saying sorry is just inconceivable
and out of the question? Is it that they are so insecure
that they are afraid to bend a little bit? Or is it
that they are so proud that it is beneath their dignity
to apologize to 'lesser beings'? Whatever the reason,
it is not a positive characteristic. And some people
will go to amazing lengths to preserve their 'face',
piling more mistakes on top of the mistakes they were
so unwilling to admit, and the problem becomes compounded
It is unpleasant to be with such people,
as they often try to put the blame onto others for
things that they themselves have done. It is also
very difficult to discuss and reason with them, as
they soon 'clam up' and go on the defensive, feeling
as if they're being attacked. They become prisoners
of their own pride.
At the other end of the spectrum are people
who are forever apologizing, as if they are afraid
of causing anyone the slightest inconvenience?"Sorry
for breathing in your air space," kind of thing.
Their subservience and obsequiousness becomes quite
tedious; they behave like beaten dogs with their tails
between their legs. We get the feeling that they will
do anything to please, but their ingratiating ways
lack sincerity, and it is easy to imagine that they
could not be relied upon, and would betray others,
at the drop of a hat.
Apologizing from the heart and not merely
from the tongue means exposing oneself, and there
is a risk that others will misunderstand, and take
one for a weakling. But there are dangers in everything;
life is dangerous, and so, if we realize we have said
or done something wrong, and have upset or hurt someone,
the only right thing to do is to try to make amends
as soon as possible, either by a straightforward "I'm
sorry for what I said or did; please excuse me and
understand that I spoke in haste, and didn't mean
it," or by doing something to demonstrate one's
There are many ways to speak, and not just
with the tongue; and if our words of apology are not
followed by appropriate actions, the words probably
don't mean very much. The sooner we can correct our
mistakes, in some measure, the better, for the longer
we leave it, the harder it becomes; time doesn't always
resolve things, and sometimes it compounds them. It
might be compared with cement: when it is freshly
laid, it can be made to go where we desire, but when
it has set and hardened, it cannot be changed.
Some people find it hard to forgive injuries
done to them by others, and apologies are lost on
them. But this should not deter us from apologizing
to them if we have cause to, for it is just as important?and
maybe more so?to forgive ourselves as it is to be
forgiven by others. If we carry around a head full
of guilty feelings about the harm we have done to
others, we will never be at peace with ourselves.
I’ve several times written letters of apology
to people who I’d hurt years before, and felt
a great sense of relief at doing so. Carrying unresolved
grudges and feelings of guilt is both useless and
injurious to our mental equilibrium. But conscience?which
is more developed and sensitive in some than in others
(indeed, some people seem not to have any at all,
but it is there nevertheless, buried deep in the dark
recesses of the mind, awaiting its germination)?does
not permit us to go on making mistakes and doing wrong
Flattery is another form of speech to beware
of, as it is seldom sincere, and comes usually from
an ulterior motive?something is wanted or hoped for
in return. It is pleasing to hear nice things about
ourselves, is it not? (Some people become addicted
to it, and crave more.) But we should know ourselves
well enough to be able to distinguish between genuine
praise and hollow flattery. We should also try to
minimize the amount of flattery we lay upon others.
There are surely good things about anyone
for us to perceive and praise; of course, we all have
negative qualities, but this is not because we want
them; they cling to us like barnacles to a ship's
hull, and impede our progress through life in a similar
manner. To focus on people's negatives, and ignore
their positives, does not help us in any way, as would
paying attention to their good points.
It is easy to fall into the habit of complaining
and faultfinding, and hard to break it once we have
gotten into it. The faults of others are easy to perceive,
while it is hard to see our own, especially since
we rationalize, disguise, and refuse to face them.
We like to be praised, but are often niggardly
in praising others. To develop the antidote to blaming
and censoring others, we might say to ourselves something
like this: "This person has qualities that annoy
me, but he's also a human being, struggling through
life, just like me, and wishes to be well and happy,
too. Therefore, let me overlook his bad points, and
try to find something worth praising about him,"
and if we look closely enough, we will surely find
things about him?or anyone? that are appealing and
praise worthy. If we have seen something of our own
positive qualities, we might feel that others have
theirs, too, even though they might not be aware of
them themselves; it might even be possible for us
to help others discover their own good qualities,
in which case we shall have done them the greatest
There is a story of a housewife who once
served chicken feed to her family for dinner, and
when they thought she had gone mad and protested about
it, she calmly said: "I didn't think you’d
notice, because I've been cooking for you for the
past twenty years, and trying to please you, but never
once have I received a word of praise from any of
you for my efforts!"
Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration ?
twenty years, and no word of praise!? We often do
take people for granted, however, and relationships
grow stale and dull because of this, whereas, if we
would bestow a little praise now and then, where it
is deserved, and some encouragement when needed, just
to show that we care, there would be that essential
element of joy and togetherness that is beyond price.
Everyone likes to be appreciated, but we must give
out before taking in, as is the usual order in sowing
and reaping; we cannot expect to reap where we have
I knew an old couple in their eighties who
lived alongside their daughter and her husband in
a 'granny-flat'. Because their son-in-law worked long
hours, and had little time or energy for taking care
of the grounds around the house, they helped out by
mowing the lawns, weeding the gardens, and keeping
things in pretty good shape. But never once did their
son-in-law thank them for their efforts, or told them
how nice things looked. One time, however, when the
oldies were unwell, their daughter mowed the lawns,
and her husband was later heard to say: "She's
made a very good job of that!" Clearly, his approval
depended upon who did the job, and not how it was
done, which was sad, was it not?
I would like to end this off with an anonymous
little poem, entitled:
pleasure you are viewing
Any work a man is doing,
If you like him and you trust him,
Tell him now.
Don't withhold your approbation
Till the parson makes oration,
As he lies with snowy lilies o'er his brow.
For no matter how you shout it,
He won't really care about it,
He won't know how many tear drops you have shed;
If you think some praise is due him,
Now's the time to slip it to him,
For he cannot read the tombstone when he's dead.
More than fame and more than money
Is the comment warm and sunny,
And the hearty warm approval of a friend;
For it gives to life a flavor,
And it makes us stronger, braver,
And it gives us heart and courage to the end.
If he earns your praise, bestow it;
If you like him, let him know it;
Let the words of true encouragement be said;
Do not wait till life is over,
And he's underneath the clover,
For he cannot read the tombstone when he's dead.
"The source of Man's unhappiness is his ignorance
of nature. The pertinacity with which he clings to
blind opinion imbibed in his infancy .... and the
consequent prejudice that warps his mind .... appear
to doom him to continual error.... He takes the tone
of his ideas on the authority of others, who are themselves
in error, or who have an interest in deceiving him.
To remove the Cimmerian darkness .... to guide him
out of this Cretan labyrinth, requires the clue of
Ariadne, with all the love she could bestow on Theseus.
It exacts a most undaunted courage .... a persevering
"The most important of our duties,
then, is to seek means by which we may destroy the
delusions that can never do more than mislead us.
The remedies for these evils must be sought in Nature
herself. It is only in the abundance of her resources
that we can rationally expect to find antidotes to
the mischief brought upon us by an ill-directed, overpowering
enthusiasm. It is time these remedies were sought;
it is time to look the evil boldly in the face, to
examine its foundations, to scrutinize its superstructure.
Reason, with its faithful guide experience, must attack
in their entrenchments those prejudices of which the
human race has been too long the victim....
"Let us try to inspire man with courage,
with respect for his reason, with an inextinguishable
love for truth, to the end that he may learn to consult
his experience, and no longer be the dupe of an imagination
led astray by authority .... that he may learn to
found his morals on his nature, on his wants, on the
real advantage of society; that he may dare to love
himself; that he may become a virtuous and rational
being, in which case he cannot fail to be happy."
(d'Holbach, German philosopher, 1723-1789).