In the last of his series of six short essays Roy Mitchell discusses making adjustments, and how to find a balance between your own comfort and that of others.
In the preceding papers I have talked about the equality of all and stated that, despite outward appearance, all relationships are equal in that the parties to that relationship are both givers and receivers in equal measure.
This assertion seems to fly in the face of our observed reality, for inequality and difference is all around us. The inequalities and differences extend across all facets, including physical attributes, intellectual abilities, health or illness, wealth or poverty and even access to the necessities of life itself. The central fact remains, however, that feelings of comfort or discomfort arise whatever the outward appearance or relative situation and we all seek some sort of control in maintaining or improving our comfort level. It is plain to see however that there is no one right answer to this dilemma. There are countless examples of ways individuals seek to become more comfortable; by acquiring more or taking and needing less. We are as a result in a constant state of adjustment, often to circumstances over which we have poor or no control. It is a major driver in the human condition to seek to find as much control as possible over these comfort-threatening adjustments. This is the shared and equal path which cuts across the inequality divide and makes us both givers and receivers in equal measure as we show each other our different ways of being.
As we age and journey through life the comfort we feel and the comfort of those around us is constantly in a state of change. It is natural to experience this as challenging and to seek a measure of control. It is common to us all and we are all deserving of equal compassion. Just as with all other attributes the balance between a compassionate or control response will vary greatly across individuals, groups and cultures. We have much to give and learn from each other and we do this by making adjustments which themselves will be as varied as any other aspect of human behaviour for our capacities/place on the road of life are all different.
These differences are not good or bad but neutral. They are the circumstances of our life journey that we are working with and they need to be faced and accepted. Nor are they an excuse for not seeking to be as fair as possible in offering or making an adjustment to your own comfort to increase the comfort of another. Fairness requires an exchange with all parties sharing the cost/benefit to the comfort of all parties and for many who are fortunate in their abundance sharing this abundance can improve their own comfort in myriad different ways.
I was very struck by some research in children which looked at competitiveness and fairness. A small group of boys were set a physical and intellectual challenge with all the rewards accruing to the one who performed the best. In this experiment one boy had very good physical and intellectual abilities and was the clear winner for which he was awarded all the goodies. Rather than take all the goodies for himself he voluntarily shared the goodies equally with all the other boys. He did not boast about his prowess or his superior abilities but treated the other boys as equally deserving of the goodies and of equal status as him. He was able to enjoy his abilities and the other children were able not to feel resentful or diminished by their inferior ability as the rewards and status were equally shared by him. Several such studies in children suggest that this is perhaps our basic nature and that competitiveness may be a more limited trait and possibly more culturally dominant as a result of what and how we are taught.
At the other end of the scale sometimes the adjustments we may be asked to make are, we feel, too big a threat to our own comfort, for us to make and bad feeling between individuals or groups may result. In such situations it is natural to seek distance whether physically or socially and a state of apartness becomes a buffer to bolster and protect your own feelings of comfort. How then to use this space? Is it to bolster your own sense of rightness? Is it to find fault and blame with the other? I have found that the space is best used as a time to find the level of apartness that allows you to hold the other in love waiting in the silence for the circumstances to arise and the adjustments to present and occur which will allow a greater togetherness. Perfection, I think, is sometimes accepting where we are and being open to both loving at a distance and the seeking of a future possibility of our changing to a closer state of loving.
I have set out above two polar opposites in comfort-adjustment terms and there is infinite variety between the two. It is this variety that is life’s condition, and it is our challenge to navigate that condition by accepting and loving the changes life in all its glory and difficulty presents to us. The more accepting and loving we can find for ourselves by making adjustments the more accepting and loving we can be of others. Finding fairness in comfort between self and others is a constantly challenging journey.
All journeys have value and learning in them. It may not feel that we have chosen the particular circumstances of our own journey as we are confronted with discomforts we would not choose, but we are granted freedom to choose our response to our personal circumstances and to those of others. I will leave you with this final thought. The more you can grow trust in yourself to be yourself the more comfortable you will be in trusting others to be themselves. George Fox called this finding that of God in everyone (including yourself).
Thank you for reading these discussions. I appreciate that I have skated across this subject and would be interested to hear of Friends individual experience with diversity and inclusion issues or answer any questions you may wish to ask me about what I have written.
In loving kindness and friendship, Roy Mitchell.
Beach art installation by Vanessa Mitchell.