Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bootlicking and Buddhism

Actually, I don't really know that Buddhism is what I'm going to talk about. But I was thinking about the difference between the internal world and the external world and what we create in those spheres.

By the internal, I mean our minds and bodies; by external, I mean all that stuff out there. Looking at the world with such ego-boundaries is not, I suppose, too Buddhist. But anyway...

I was talking with a friend who was angry at someone. This person had wronged him, by pretty much any standard of how people would judge the matter, but not exactly a grievous crime--certainly he was hale and hearty to tell the tale of how he was wronged. Now I've been wronged (and I've wronged others, too--nothing grievous, I hope), and I've been angry as result. It doesn't feel good. And I've been able to rekindle anger for old wrongs, too; that doesn't feel good either.

What I've been working with is too focus my attention on those things that provide me with the greatest opportunity to move forward. This means, on the one hand, not focusing my attention on the wrongs that I've suffered, and on the other, not necessarily airing my grievances against difficult people.

Which brings me to the first world of my title: bootlicking. When I was talking with my friend, I was thinking about a writer I've been working with whose chair makes snide comments and tends to obstruct the process--like the time she said "I'll submit a draft in two weeks; when do you think you'll be able to give feedback" and he said "in three months." Hopefully you will never have this kind of problem, but should you, what is the effective response?

For the long run it seems to me that the more important response is the internal one: what response protects your health and your ability to work? The response that looks to the future, the one that avoids the stress and anger, is the better.

What does this mean about the external response? It means that one is clear about what one is trying to get, and one tries to avoid getting caught up in proving that one is right. It's not that an injustice might not have occurred; it's just that that proving injustice, or discussing injustice places attention on things that rightly generate anger and stress. This means that responses to injustices are framed with equanimity and courtesy, and thus might appear to be bootlicking.

It should be noticed, of course, that there are times when an injustice must be addressed. A chair, for example, who regularly refuses to give feedback sooner than three months, and who does not want the writer to show the drafts to other readers until he has seen them, is obviously creating obstacles that need to be addressed. Something would need to be done to changes the feedback schedule, to get timely feedback. But even if action is needed, where does one direct one's attention? On the injustice? Or on finding a solution to the injustice?

The writer in question whose chair said that feedback would not be forthcoming for three months, submitted a draft on the schedule she had proposed. She ignored what he had said about schedule and just courteously requested feedback as quickly as possible; her chair apparently has promised feedback within six weeks, not three months.

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